6

Are you a form-over-function person, or do you incline more towards substance than style? If the former, there is nothing in this test of the new Seat Toledo that could possibly be of interest to you. If the latter, step this way: we have something to share.

The new Toledo is sensible to the point of making Hermione Granger seem louche. About as visually interesting as the inside of your eyelids, it is the automotive equivalent of a Bosch dishwasher: well made, utterly functional and entirely devoid of character. It takes the notion of quality white goods for the road and re-invents it on a level shared only by its badge-engineered sister, the Skoda Rapid.

A hatchback cleverly concealed behind a conventional three-box design, it's based on an extended VW Polo platform. There are three 1.2-litre petrol specifications, although the least powerful has just three cylinders and musters a mere 74bhp, appearing to exist only to allow Seat a sub-£12,500 entry point to the range. If you want anything approaching respectable performance you'll need the four-pot motor offering power of either 84bhp or 103bhp and a price point north of £14,000. There's a 120bhp 1.4 as well but it can only be specified with a DSG gearbox and top SE specification, at a £17,780 list price.

For most, the 1.6-litre diesel is probably the preferable choice, even at its £16,640 starting price. Like the top spec 1.2-litre petrol it has 103bhp, but vastly more torque and, at 72.4mpg combined, truly impressive fuel consumption. Performance is good on paper (0-62mph in 10.4sec) and even better on the road thanks to the wide powerband's ability to mask gaps between the five-speed manual gearbox's ratios.

But none of this makes the Toledo fun to drive. Lacking the sophisticated rear suspension of the Leon or VW Golf, body control is merely adequate and ride quality a little disappointing, proving rather too willing to let the presence of every-day lumps and bumps be felt in the cabin. Its chassis is safe but stodgy and lacking in the kind of finesse that will appeal either you as a driver, or your friends and family as passengers.

Its static qualities are more impressive, especially if you believe big is beautiful. By extending the Polo wheelbase and attaching what amounts to a big box on the back, Seat has provided the Toledo with a spacious interior and a simply colossal boot. How large? Bigger than that of a Mercedes E-class, Audi A6 or BMW 5-series saloon. That notchback shape does limit things a little when loading truly bulky items, but if it's just the usual shopping and luggage, the Toledo is second to none in the class. Rear legroom is exceptional too.

As for the driving environment, the kindest thing to say is that at least it doesn't make any promises about the quality of the drive to come. The dashboard architecture is, like the rest of the car, definitively functional and dull.

Some people want no more from their wheels, in which case the affordable and effective Toledo may make a lot of sense. But to those who want and even expect just a little sparkle even from our affordable family transport, they'll be better off looking elsewhere.

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