What is it?
The fourth generation of the Seat Toledo, and sister car to the Skoda Rapid. Built on an extended version of the Seat Ibiza’s modular platform (which in turn underpins the Volkswagen Polo and Skoda Fabia), the latest model marks a return to the original three-box saloon silhouette its reputation was originally built on.
Compact sedans are notoriously unpopular in the UK, but underneath its orthodox profile the car is actually a hatchback, and thanks to its elongated wheelbase (actually 24mm longer than the current Seat Leon - a model it is supposed to sit below) the Toledo is blessed with generous rear legroom and an impressive 550-litre boot.
Meant to appeal to young families and bargain hunters, the range is destined to start from around £12,500 - slightly lower than the entry-level Skoda Rapid. For that you get a rather old-fashioned 73bhp 1.2-litre petrol engine and not much else.
For British buyers - and Seat admits it doesn’t expect there to be many - the 1.2-litre TSI, in 85bhp and 103bhp flavours is likely to form the real bottom line, and they kick off at around £15k for an S trim model.
A 120bhp 1.4-litre TSI mated to the seven-speed DSG is the range-topper, but for commuters with motorway miles to chew, the familiar 103bhp 1.6-litre TDI in SE spec is the headliner, and that’s the car we test here.
What's it like?
A bank robber’s dream. The Toledo is staggeringly bland to look at; so much so that it in silver it manages the unique trick of fading into the background of a car park populated solely by other Toledos. Possibly the blazing sun in central Spain did it no favours - in the shade or covered in dust, it’s possible to appreciate the clean lines of the ultra-conservative design - but it still seems desperately insipid after the ambitious swoops of Walter de Silva’s admittedly flawed third generation model.
The innocuous theme continues inside, where the Volkswagen Group’s most traditionalist dashboard design - usually found gracing a Skoda - is stretched across the Seat’s innards. A design award winner it is not, but its low-key attitude and basic robustness is actually a step up from the Spanish brand’s usual chintzy architecture.
In terms of the sheer space on offer, the Toledo is at an obvious advantage. Exactly like the Rapid (unsurprisingly) its extraordinary saloon length and routine supermini width offer just the right kind of family-friendly space. Adults are easily accommodated in the back, and the boot puts most hatchbacks to shame. It’s also conspicuously easy to navigate and park thanks to its comparative lack of girth.
Unfortunately, driver appeal is not a prerequisite part of an otherwise enterprising formula. As we found with the Skoda, the Toledo’s suspension has a tendency to fumble difficult road surfaces. The rear beam axle is liable to ricochet over relatively minor obstructions, and even on Spain’s marzipan smooth motorways, the car never seems to settle. It isn’t entirely at ease with spirited driving either, where the steering barely seems to take up the strain before considerable body lean turns quickly into whining steady-state understeer.
Nevertheless, the 1.6-litre TDI is well-mannered and earnestly economical. It rasps through its five-speed gearbox, but settles into an acceptable background hum when required. On the SE trim’s 16-inch alloys it is reputedly capable of 70.6mpg and emits just 106g/km of CO2. An even more frugal version is expected next year rated at a parsimonious 88bhp, but Seat says it is likely to remain above the UK tax threshold as it won’t get the automatic start/stop necessary to lower emissions beneath 100g/km.