SEAT Toledo (1999 - 2005) review

BY ANDY ENRIGHT

Introduction

It's hard to believe that in one form or another the SEAT Toledo has been around since 1991, quietly garnering a modest share of the corporate fleet market. It was always one of those cars with little or no identity, but which did speak volumes about the esteem your boss held you in when you were presented with the keys. The Mk2 incarnation of the Toledo changed all that. Here was a car that looked good, was priced aggressively, boasted build quality to die for and was part of an increasingly sexy range of cars. A used Toledo lets you buy into these values for an almost laughably low price compared to a mechanically identical new VW Bora or Audi A3. It's said you always get what you pay for, but in Barcelona, SEAT's bosses may wish to question that assertion.

Models

Models Covered: (4 dr saloon 1.6, 1.8, 2.3 petrol, 1.9 diesel [base, S, SE, V5])

History

The SEAT Toledo has traditionally been viewed as a modernised Volkswagen Jetta, embodying the 'old' SEAT virtues of taking other companies tired stock and breathing new life into it in a cheap and cheerful manner. The MK2 Toledo, launched in March 1999 is a very different proposition. Based on parent company Volkswagen's standard Audi A3/Volkswagen Bora/Skoda Octavia body platform, the Toledo offered the best value of all. With some sharp pen work from Ital Design, the lines are a huge improvement over its brutally cubist predecessor. The Toledo was only offered in four-door saloon format, and came with 1.6, 1,8 and 2.3-litre petrol engines, plus a 1.9-litre turbo diesel. The petrol engines were standard off-the-shelf VW Group products; the 100bhp 1.6-litre four-cylinder, the ubiquitous 125bhp 1.8-litre 20-valve and the creamy 2.3-litre 150bhp V5 unit, effectively the old VR6 engine with a cylinder lopped off. The diesel was the impressive 1.9 turbo diesel developing 110bhp. A base 1.6 trim level was added to the range in October 1999, but SEAT soon backtracked by deleting the 1.6-litre engine option and all models below SE trim in July 2000, leaving just the 1.8 20v SE, 1.9 Tdi SE and 2.3 V5 models in their line-up. A 1.8-litre turbocharged Sport with 180bhp on tap was launched in Spring 2003, bringing a welcome dynamic edge to the Toledo line up and it was followed soon thereafter by a 130bhp version of the 1.9-litre Tdi diesel. An all new Toledo went on sale in the first part of 2005.

What You Get

The interior will remind you of the Audi, mainly because it's not much different, SEAT borrowing its engines, platforms and interior bits and pieces from the same parts bin as Audi. No bad thing of course. At least you know you'll be getting a decent car for your money. In fact, the Toledo is based on Ingolstadt's small A3 (as well as VW's Golf, Bora and Beetle models and Skoda's Octavia), but you'll probably prefer to tell your friends that it sits on the same underpinnings as Audi's Porsche-beating TT Coupe. Strong equipment levels have helped to prop up the Toledo's residual value. During the summer 2000 range review as well as rationalising the range and cutting some prices, SEAT threw the options list at the Toledo range. The only item available on option was metallic paint. Even the entry-level 1.8 20V SE got the works. Forgive the indulgence, but for the bargain price the used buyer pays, the full equipment list must be mentioned, so take a deep breath. Four airbags, ABS with brake force distribution, EDS traction control and electrically adjustable and heated door mirrors were all standard. 15" alloy wheels, electronic air conditioning, front and rear electric windows and remote control central locking/alarm were also part of the deal. A cruise control system, trip computer, CD autochanger and a height and reach adjustable steering column make a used Bora or Beetle look exorbitantly priced. The point was rammed home with front fog lights, height adjustable seats, rear headphones socket and an exterior temperature gauge. This equipment is also fitted to the TDi 110 SE, whilst the V5 got 16" alloys and Alcantara and leather upholstery with electric adjustment for the front pair. At these prices, SEAT managed to make even Skoda look expensive. And that's by design rather than accident. Most cars in this sector are bought by companies and driven for corporate, rather than family purposes. The Toledo has proved no different, SEAT know that nearly 90% of all sales have gone to business users. These people particularly like the prospect of low operating costs, thanks to the three-year unlimited mileage warranty, and the prospect of a 56mpg average from the turbo diesel and the cars are usually well maintained, another bonus for the used buyer. Those cars that did make it into private hands were bought for less logical reasons. The styling is undeniably attractive (though Body Development Manager Carlos Cervera's citing of Michelangelo as an influence may be overstating things a bit). Inside, the quality is self-evident and the driving position is near-perfect thanks to that rake and reach-adjustable steering wheel. The deeply bolstered seats hold you firmly in place whilst cornering and both the wheel and the gear stick feel good to hold: you really want to go and drive the thing. As previously mentioned, rear seat legroom isn't great, but there is at least the compensation of a huge boot. The split/fold rear seats help access this, which is just as well for the exterior opening is rather small. It all adds up to a car that's a world away from anything previously bearing the SEAT badge. Whilst not yet bearing the kudos of the Alfa Romeo badge, the Toledo is closer than you'd think to the best the Milanese company can offer.

What You Pay

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What to Look For

Tried and tested engines, the VW-standard quality auditing and an inherent feeling of solidity all bode well for the Toledo's reliability. Having been on sale for such a short duration it's perhaps inevitable that no major faults have emerged, but watch out for neglected ex-hire cars. The Toledo is a car where the price differences between good and bad examples aren't too great, so be fussy. Look for a fully stamped up service history and reject anything that looks in any way tatty, grubby or vaguely dog-eared.

Replacement Parts

(approx based on a 1999 Toledo 1.8 20v) SEAT spares are reasonably priced, with consumables starting at just £4v for a spark plug. An air filter costs £20, a timing belt £40, an oil filter is £9 and a fuel filter a mere £6. Keeping a nearly-new Toledo on the road shouldn't prove too expensive.

On the Road

If you've driven a VW Bora, VW Golf, Skoda Octavia or Audi A3 of similar age, the Toledo will come as no great surprise. It's a tidy handler with a slightly nose-heavy bias in diesel and V5 forms, but on the whole it's a little softer than its German or Czech counterparts whilst still impressing with the quality of cabin fittings. It is possible to see where corners have been cut to warrant the cost savings, but on the whole it's a class act. The 1.6-litre engine should really be avoided, and the 1.8, whilst reasonably brisk, feels vibratory, a little coarse and a bit shy of torque. It'll be far more rewarding to save for the V5 or plump for the gutsy diesel. The V5 reaches sixty in 9.2 seconds on the way to a top speed in excess of 130mph, but all-out performance isn't what the V5 is all about, instead offering a decadently creamy power delivery that's reminiscent of one of the better small BMW sixes. The TDi manages sixty in 11.2 seconds, but combines this fair turn of speed with 56mpg capability and offers a huge wall of torque between tickover and 4000rpm. All it need to be an effortless drive is an automatic gearbox, sadly only available on the 1.8-litre car.

Overall

Despite the appeal of the Skoda Octavia, it has to be said that the smart money in this class goes on the SEAT Toledo. Costing little more than the Skoda but offering markedly superior equipment levels, corporate identity and the 2.3-litre V5 engine, the Toledo range has a lot to appeal to the used buyer. Look for decent nearly new V5s or turbo diesel models and you shouldn't go far wrong. It's one of the better used buys.