SEAT OFFERS US A GLINT OF STEEL
THERE was a time when cars made in Britain were given place-names, some homely, some ironically exotic in this island of little sunshine …the good old Austin Cambridge, the Morris Oxford… the Ford Granada, the Capri, the Cortina, the Triumph Dolomite.
Can you imagine it now? The Honda Swindon, say, or the Nissan Sunderland? The Americans, of course, made a Plymouth.
Spanish car maker Seat has been at it for years. There were the Ibiza and the Marbella, bringing visions of castanets and straw donkeys dangling from the dashboard; the Alhambra and the Cordoba, and all those sexy, heel-clicking adverts whispering auto emocion.
Then there's the Toledo, named after Spain's city of steel. It's been through a few incarnations, this one, and today that steel has been tempered with a hefty accent of German sensibility from Seat's parent company Volkswagen.
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Take a look at it now: Mk IV Toledo has more than a touch of VW's Passat about it, with its crisp angles, slinky headlamps, and discreet black grille: here is understated elegance.
There's a solidity about the Toledo; step inside and you realise this is a no-gimmicks car. It isn't going to pour you a gin and tonic, run a jacuzzi, or confuse you with how to run a hotline through to the Pentagon.
The cabin is very VW – and a near-clone of another of its offspring, the Skoda Rapid: quality black plastic, chunky switchgear – no fiddly buttons on the Toledo's dashboard. Dashes of red on the dials depart from the lovely soothing midnight-blue of older VW models, but it's still a pleasant place to be. My finicky French friend, cosseted over the years by squashy Citroens and Renaults, declared the Toledo extremely comfortable, with great all-round visibility. She was even happy with the sporty suspension – a firm ride, in other words.
This driver was happy, too. The Toledo simply feels at home on the road and in the hands. The gearchange needs a bit of a shove until you get used to it; conversely, steering is light and responsive. The 1.6 diesel we tested – alleged to reach 64mpg on the combined cycle – seems to punch above its weight, with plenty of oomph in reserve. It's surprisingly smooth and quiet, too.
This is above all a practical car. Leg and headroom is more than generous. It's loaded with safety features. And then there's that boot. The car looks like a saloon, but is described as a hatchback – lift that hatch and it's an open-sesame moment. Five hundred litres of space. It's cavernous. Never mind the golf clubs, you could fit a symphony orchestra in here.
So. Maybe this new Toledo isn't going to make the heart race to the tune of Y Viva Espana. But at around £12,495 for the entry-level petrol model, and the two diesels starting at £16,640, buyers will be getting a terrific lot of car for their money: no nonsense, no frills, does what it says on the tin. Or steel.
LOCAL DEALER: SMC Plymouth SEAT, Christian Mill business park, Plymouth PL6 5DS (01752 773399).