SEAT Toledo (1991 - 1998) review

BY JONATHAN CROUCH

Introduction

SEAT is not normally a name that springs to mind when used buyers look to update their family car. Perhaps it should be; the Spanish company's medium range Toledo has much to offer. It's well-built, roomy and the clever styling hides a huge hatchback boot, even though the car has the appearance of a mid-sized saloon. As an alternative to something like a Mondeo or Vectra/Cavalier, it makes sense. The Toledo has never been a big seller in the UK. Even after a freshening-up in 1995 and an all-new model in 1998, the cars have continued to find less success, new, than they deserve. So while a Toledo may well be something you should consider, you may have to search a little and be patient to find the exact car you want.

Models

Models Covered: 5-door hatchback: 1.6, 1.8, 2.0, 1.9 diesel, 1.9 turbo diesel [E, CL, CLi, GL, GLi, GLS, GLX, GLXi, 16v GTi, SE, SXE, GTi, 16v, 16v GT, Sport, D GL, CLD, Turbo GL, TD GLS, Turbo GLX, D SE, TD SE, TDi SE, TDi SXE])

History

The Toledo was launched onto the UK market in October 1991 with four engines and various trim levels. The base model had a 1.6-litre VW engine supplemented by 1.8, 2.0 and 1.9-litre turbo diesel engines for the higher-spec models. All cars were five-door hatchbacks, though they had the appearance of being saloons. The only update for the original models was the introduction of side-impact bars in the doors of all cars in November 1992. At the end of 1995, the Toledo got a minor facelift - and was all the better for it. The changes included larger, smoother bumpers, a deeper front air dam and what SEAT described as `striking` and more aerodynamic frontal treatment incorporating a new, `more imposing` front grille. Engines remained as they were, but trim levels were simplified and upgraded. There was now only one specification for 1.6, 1.8 or 2.0-litre cars - respectively SE, ABS SE and Sport. The choice of diesels was more extensive. There was a base model D SE, followed by the TD SE, TDi SE and TDi SXE. The high performance petrol versions were called GT and GTI 16v and used engines from the Volkswagen Golf. Changes for 1997 included twin airbags as well as central locking (most models had a remote control mechanism), a six-speaker RDS radio cassette player and an anti-theft immobiliser. By now, air conditioning was standard across the range and most versions also got the very latest anti-lock braking system as well as distinctive alloy wheels. As with the smaller Cordoba, the Toledo range was revised with '1998 model year' changes in early Summer 1997. The main changes were the introduction of twin airbags on every model, as well as a new base-model, the 1.6 E, the mid-range 1.6 SE and the luxury 1.6 SXE. Diesel models continued unchanged but the 'hot hatch' 16v GT became the subtler 16v. This range was replaced by an all-new Toledo model early in 1999.

What You Get

A roomy and versatile family car and one that may suit the enthusiast in you as well, if the performance versions appeal. The looks are also nicely understated and a little unusual. Equipment is also to a good level of luxury in most versions. Under the skin, the solid Volkswagen engineering should ensure any Toledo will remain a sensible purchase for many years to come.

What You Pay

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What to Look For

The first Toledos suffered from inconsistent build quality, though not all cars will have been affected. Be wary and check that all the panels line up and that the interior trim fits and is free of irritating squeaks and rattles. Mechanically, there are no particular problem areas, but check a turbo diesel's oil for signs of engine damage, as it's important to have the oil changed often, with the correct grade, with any diesel car. There should be no evidence of sludge under the engine filler cap, nor should the dipstick show overfilling or very dark oil. Corrosion is not usually an issue with later model SEATs but, to be sure, check the door sills, edge of the bonnet and base of the tailgate for bubbles or signs of trapped water.

Replacement Parts

(Based on a 1992 Toledo 2.0 and exclusive of VAT - approx) A new clutch will be in the region of £260 and a full exhaust (excluding catalyst) should be around £400. Brake pads vary from £19 to £45 for the front and £35 for the rear, an alternator will be around £150 to £200 and a starter motor about £150. A new radiator is about £150 and headlamps are nearly £90 each.

On the Road

On the road, there are no nasty surprises in the handling department - in fact, the 2.0 GT 16V is quite fun. The diesels are also good handlers too, but be sure you can live without the GT's performance if you've driven one of these cars and then decide a diesel would be the more sensible option. Ride comfort is fine and the Toledo makes an ideal family car for that reason; also credible is its ability to carry huge loads without the handling suffering too much.

Overall

It's something a bit unusual but the Toledo is well priced, well equipped and roomy. It makes a sensible, if unconventional, choice.