THERE are no bargains any more, at least conventional wisdom would have you believe. For whatever reason – maybe branding, possibly rules and regulations – the notion of a properly inexpensive product is completely loaded with the baggage of poverty. It seems idiotic that us consumers would pay more in order that we can feel better about ourselves.
But maybe the tide is beginning to turn. The latest Seat Toledo could represent the bargain of the year. But we’ll talk about the price later; in the meantime there are plenty of other reasons why you should give it a look.
This is the fourth-generation Toledo and in some ways follows on from the previous model in that it has the outward appearance of a saloon but actually hides the utility of a hatchback within its silhouette. If that sounds like a contrivance then don’t worry yourself: you get to park a solid and understatedly-handsome design on your driveway, and don’t forget that saloons always look classier than hatchbacks. If you want to, you could always wait until the neighbours have gone inside before opening the hatch.
There’s an obvious family relationship with the Ibiza that is more than skin deep, but the Toledo is significantly longer than its supermini sister and as well as adding space inside it gives the car a little more presence and purpose. You’ll want to choose one of the higher-spec SE models that come with alloy wheel as standard for the best look, but S models and above have the body-coloured door handles and mirrors which make a big difference.
On the inside, the theme of affordable comfort continues. It’s a subtle thing, but the mixing of grey and light brown trim in the cabin gives it a classy feel, and being a Seat you expect and get a certain standard of quality. There’s a balance to be struck between keeping the sticker price down and the ultimate in luxury, but in the Toledo you feel like that balance has been well struck. It’s laid out with customary clarity and the precision of the switches, the instrument graphics and the way everything operates is very reassuring. There’s no hint of the bargain about it.
It’s only when you venture out of the driver’s seat that you begin to realise the Toledo’s ace card. The modest stretch in length has freed up some significant room for rear-seat passengers, making the Toledo a genuine car you can pile adults into the back of without getting any complaints.
Behind that is the boot which, thanks to that hatch-like arrangement offers up 550 litres of space with the seats in place, 1,490 litres with the seats folded. It’s a vast amount of space, well-shaped too, and it’s hard to underestimate the value of packing this much space into such a compact car. Once you’ve had it you’ll never want to go back.
The driving experience comes straight out of the standard Seat textbook. With a mechanical legacy from the Ibiza, it’s no surprise that the Toledo drives with the same slickness and composure. There’s a broad choice of engines and although the diesel might seem like the sensible default option, there is that initial extra outlay to cover. On the other hand, you can have the 1.2-litre TSI petrol unit in two outputs for significantly less. The 84bhp version tested here is a sweet little engine and with the turbocharger boosting the torque, it feels more than sufficient.
The same can be said for the ride and handling. There’s no performance-oriented FR option for the Toledo so you get a more comfort-biased suspension set-up that suits its likely roles. For a car of this size, it does a fine job of staying controlled over uneven road surfaces and cabin occupants will only be disturbed by the worst kind of bumps. The Toledo isn’t intended to be a hot hatch but the steering communicates well and there is more than enough grip to cope with what most drivers could ask of it.
There’s a chance that the svelte Ibiza and the larger, more glamorous new Leon could overshadow the Toledo, and that would be a shame, because it offers so much versatility in a compact shell and does so at a remarkably low price. Small estates and larger hatchbacks should watch out – the Toledo deserves to steal sales from them all.
CAR Seat Toledo 1.2 TSI S
PERFORMANCE Max speed 114mph, 0-62mph in 11.8 seconds
MPG (combined) 55.4mpg
CO2 EMISSIONS 119g/km