SEAT's new Toledo looks like a saloon, but features a wide-opening hatchback - just like the original car of the same name. Its boot is cavernous and the cabin is generously proportioned too. Competitive pricing and decent equipment levels make it a real contender for the attention of family buyers, though its value-focused remit is a little at odds with the sporty Latin image SEAT likes to portray.
In the Metal:
The best word to sum up the exterior design of the SEAT Toledo is simply 'neat'. It's a contemporary shape, if more conservative than SEAT's other forthcoming new models (such as the Leon). The flanks have shades of the current Volkswagen Passat in them and clearly the overall profile is shared with the Skoda Rapid it was developed in conjunction with. There are plenty of SEAT-specific details, but not so many to justify using the word 'sporty' anywhere in this car's description.
Nonetheless, the interior is simply brilliant. While there's little in the way of design flair - or soft-touch materials for that matter - there's generous room front and rear and a simply huge 550-litre boot. Buyers can choose between all-black or black and beige colour schemes - and the latter really brightens things up. Remove the SEAT badges and this cabin could be from any brand in the Volkswagen Group portfolio, though there's a clear gap between it and say the new Golf in terms of ambience and 'perceived quality'.
So long as you don't buy the Toledo with sporting dynamics in mind you won't be disappointed. It's competent and, as mentioned elsewhere, a good all-rounder. At a high-speed cruise it proved to be stable and refined, while its damping deals with undulations ably. In tighter cornering it's safe and predictable. The steering hasn't a lot of feel, but the five-speed gearbox and the pedals are light and easy to use and hence the car feels light and agile on the road. Visibility is noticeably good thanks to relatively slender A-pillars.
The 1.6-litre TDI 105 engine is relatively hushed, thanks in part to a high top gear in the five-speed manual gearbox. There's plenty of in-gear performance too. We also tried the 1.2-litre TSI petrol engine in 85- and 105hp formats and it's a willing powerplant that thrives on revs. If you don't travel too far in your car it's worth considering these as cheaper alternatives to the default diesel choice.
What you get for your Money:
SEAT Ireland will offer just two trim levels, Reference and Style. The former comes with Bluetooth, a multifunction steering wheel (in soft, tactile rubber/plastic as opposed to leather), heated electrically adjusted door mirrors, stability and traction control, plenty of airbags and a split-fold rear seat. For a €1,900 premium the more appealing Toledo Style adds cruise control, front fog lights, air conditioning, 16-inch alloy wheels, a leather steering wheel and a few other practicalities.
The entry-level engine is a 1.2-litre TSI petrol unit, available in 85- and 105hp with prices starting at €17,995. The likely best-seller is a 1.6-litre TDI diesel engine, offered initially in 105hp guise for €20,490 in the Reference model. A 90hp derivative arrives in the summer of 2013, with a price target of under €20,000. It's possible that SEAT Ireland will offer a 1.4-litre TSI petrol engine with 122hp at a later stage, in conjunction with the DSG dual-clutch automatic gearbox.
Historically the Toledo has been a huge success for SEAT - especially the first two generations of the model. It's hoping that the new version can repeat that, backed up by a whole new line-up of models. We got a glimpse at the Spanish company's plans for the next two years and they include a distinctly sporty Leon SC three-door hatchback, a Leon ST estate and an all-new SEAT SUV based on the platform of the Volkswagen Tiguan.
SEAT has shrewdly priced and equipped the new Toledo to undercut the best-selling compact saloons on the market - such as the Ford Focus and Toyota Corolla. The Renault Fluence is still a threat, though to our eyes the SEAT is a more appealing car. There may not be anything ground-breaking about the Toledo, but it puts forward a persuasive logical argument and will no doubt help SEAT realise its ambitious expansion plans in Ireland.