If you're going to be sensible in your choice of compact family car, then SEAT's Toledo has a lot to be said for it, especially in 1.6-litre TDI diesel guise. Jonathan Crouch tries it....
Ten Second Review
SEAT's Toledo might never be one of the stars of the Spanish manufacturer's model portfolio but it's a genuinely solid offering, with neat styling, a monster boot and economical engines like the 1.6-litre TDI diesel we try here. If you're a bit wearied of unnecessary complexity in cars, this could be the vehicle you were looking for but never realised you needed.
So you want a modern family five-door but you don't want to pay too much for it. It must have space, modern functionality and a badge that isn't too bargain basement. Where to start? What about with this car, today's version of SEAT's Toledo? I say 'today's version' because we've had no fewer than three incarnations of Toledo in the past from this Spanish brand, though I won't hold it against you if you don't remember any of them. The original five-door 1991 first generation model was probably the best in its era, though its saloon replacement, launched in 1999, had plenty to be said for it too. Rather more embarrassing was the third generation hatched version which arrived in 2005 and which almost nobody in the UK bought thanks to its awkward MPV-like styling that clashed with SEAT's proper compact MPV, the Altea. But forget all of that now. Today's Toledo is a far more handsome thing but mercifully reverts to the template of generations 1 and 2. A five-door hatch with a big boot. A straightforward proposition then - and no less likeable for that. Especially in 1.6-litre TDI diesel form.
If you feel a little baffled by the complexity of modern cars and don't really want to select one of five suspension modes, a gearshift map, ride height adjustment and the amount of steering assistance you get, you'll probably like this back-to-basics Toledo. Old schoolers having a squint under the car will rapidly conclude that there's nothing radical here. And they'd be correct. There's a simple strut front suspension and a torsion beam rear end with tried and trusted Volkswagen Group engines plumbed under the bonnet. What's a little less predictable is the way this car has been created. The front end is a modified Polo platform, whereas the rear end comes from the Beetle. The result is a car which rides firmly and probably won't appeal to enthusiast drivers. Still, light steering and excellent all-round visibility make the Toledo an easy car to drive. The 105PS 1.6-litre TDI diesel I tried manages rest to 62mph in 10.4s on the way to 118mph and is a powerplant that certainly gives you more pulling power than the petrol options. But then it needs it thanks to the additional heaviness the TDI unit adds to a kerb weight that on petrol models is significantly lighter than on other family hatchback rivals. Which makes this car actually quite agile through the twisty stuff if you really need it to be. You just won't find yourself seeking excuses to put that to the test.
Design and Build
The Toledo's basic proportions take a little getting accustomed to. It's fairly long and relatively narrow (4.48 metres in length, 1.7 metres in width). It's a hatchback that looks much like a saloon and it's also a good deal bigger than you first expect and indeed expect at its price point. While it's not extrovertly styled in any way, this feeling of sparse utility is really rather refreshing in a market rammed with gaudy attention seekers. Move inside and you'll find that the cabin is very similar to that of this model's design stablemate Skoda's Rapid. In fact, apart from the door handles, dials, upholstery and badging, the two models are identical. Still, that's probably no bad thing as the overall result is surprisingly smart and elegant for the prices being asked. Certainly, this car seems very well screwed together. In the back, you'll find that rear legroom is very good - though shoulder room is tighter, which may make the back seat a pinch for three. Plenty of space for your head though. Further good news can be found in the form of a boot that, as with the Rapid, is bigger than that of a Ford Mondeo and accessed through a huge tailgate, once you've negotiated a rather high loading sill. It would be good if the 60/40 split/fold rear seats were to fold completely flat though.
Market and Model
If you're one of those people who reels whenever you look at the price of today's cars, this SEAT Toledo might offer a little welcome respite. Prices start at just under £13,000 for the 75PS 1.2 E variant, with the cost of the 1.6 TDI diesel we tried pitching in at around the £17,000 mark, once you've allowed for a few well chosen extras. The entry-level E model is fairly sparsely equipped but does get front electric windows, an MP3 CD player with AUX-in, Electronic Stability Control, driver and front passenger airbags, front side and curtain airbags and ISOFIX childseat fastening points. Go for the S and the kit list also includes electric heated door mirrors, a rear windscreen wiper, air conditioning, Bluetooth with voice control, a USB port, remote audio controls for the six speaker stereo, a trip computer, split-folding rear seats, a height-adjustable driver's seat, an alarm and remote central locking. The range-topping Toledo SE adds 16-inch alloy wheels, front fog lights with a cornering function, climate control, cruise control, rear electric windows, leather trim for the steering wheel and gear knob and a height-adjustable front passenger seat.
Cost of Ownership
Though this Toledo isn't the most efficient contender in the Focus-class family hatchback sector, it probably does just about enough to satisfy most owners. Most effort has been reserved for the eco-orientated 'Ecomotive' version of this 1.6-litre TDI diesel, which at launch was the only variant in the range to get a Stop/start system (a set-up subsequently added to the 1.2 TSI petrol unit) able to cut the engine when not needed, say when you're stopped at the lights or waiting in traffic. Thanks both to this and features like low rolling resistance tyres and kinetic energy recouperation (which gathers in energy that would otherwise be lost when cruising or braking), fuel savings of between 5 and 8% and a combined cycle fuel figure of 72.4mpg are possible, though CO2 emissions still can't dip beneath the magic tax-busting 100g/km barrier that some rivals breach - expect 104g/km. An ordinary Toledo 1.6 TDI like the one we tried without the Ecomotive gadgets manages 64.2mpg and 114g/km.
Though this Toledo is certainly not one of those SEAT products that screams 'auto emocion' at you, it is, nevertheless, an eminently sensible car and buyable car, especially in 1.6-litre TDI diesel form. Those who might have admired this model's design stablemate, the Skoda Rapid, but remain slightly sceptical of that Czech brand's badge now have a Plan B. There is, after all, a lot to be said for pared-back utility. Certainly, this SEAT offers plenty of practicality without a myriad of electronic functions that many buyers feel they neither need nor want. With a Toledo you get the important bits - and just the important bits. True, even the priciest model might look a little sparse inside, but the Spanish brand reckons that you'll find that to be all part of the charm. So there you have it: a car that never feels as if it's trying too hard. Not a bad thing in my book.