The Toledo is a VW Bora in disguise and offers a good blend of style and safety with reasonable performance
Have a Seat, it sure looks great Seat Toledo 1.6 Auto

SOME people say certain marriages are made in heaven, while others are destined to failure from the start.

Ford's takeover of Jaguar could be considered heavenly while BMW's ill-advised, questionably-managed alliance with Rover was clearly headed for the rocks within the first two years of acquisition.

So was the troublesome union between Seat and Fiat when Socicadad Espanole de Automoviles de Turismo was founded in 1950.

The Italian giant wanted a base to build cheaper cars in Spain basically. But with inadequate forward planning and a lacklustre range of vehicles, Seat never blossomed under Fiat's wing.

The cars also suffered from quality problems and were downright unreliable. Seats were as temperamental as the excitable Italians and the fiery Spaniards, so the eventual breakup was not really unexpected.

Along came the cool, emotionless Germans as the saviour of Seat. With Volkswagen as a willing suitor, Fiat was more than happy to give up its troublesome Spanish subsidiary in 1981.

A declaration of cooperation was signed with Volkswagen in 1982, with the German company taking a 75-per cent stake in 1986.

Volkswagen has done a remarkable job of turning Seat around.

Unlike the Italians, the Teutons had a master plan for their Spanish acquisition, with their cars sharing a great many parts with Volkswagen group products.

This was the start of the cost-cutting common platform plan by the clever folk at Wolfsburg.

When VW took over Skoda, they further enlarged their overall game plan to have a marque aimed at the slightly differing clientele in a wide variety of price ranges.

And so it comes as no surprise that the new Seat Toledo shares the same floorpan as the VW Golf, Beetle and Bora, the Skoda Octavia, as well as the Audi TT and A3.

This common use of parts, which are expensive to develop, is the reason the group generates such high profits. In the VW hierarchy, Seat straddles the gap between Skoda and Volkswagen, with Audi further upmarket. The new Toledo is a Giugiaro-inspired design that looks good at first glance and manages to look better with longer acquaintance.

Seat's new corporate nose has great BMW overtones, no bad thing bearing in mind the strong market acceptance of the Bavarian marque. At the rear, the shape of the C pillar also bears an uncanny resemblance to that of the 3 Series. Besides looking quite a bit like it, the Toledo has the same solid, integrated feel of the Bavarian.

Inside the car, the top brass at Wolfsburg have pretty much succeeded in its alignment of Seat in the VW group. The Toledo cabin is more luxurious than the Spartan Octavia but not quite as upmarket as the Bora.

Though budget-priced, the new Toledo cabin is not low rent. Standard items include a leather-covered steering wheel, trip computer, twin air bags, front central armrest and instrument lighting rheostat.

Lighting for the gauges is in a reddish hue, a colour not very restful for the eyes. The built-in radio/cassette is of decent quality. Also included is a locally-fitted CD changer.

Under VW control, Seat has come a long way in the quality stakes. Besides the fiddly switch for the door mirrors, the standard of fit is very close to the high standards of VW cars.

The seats are not quite as hard as the equivalent of VW or Skoda models - maybe Spanish bottoms are not as well padded?

The front backrest has less of a pronounced C-shape, so it is quite possible to have decent lumbar support.

Space is only about average for the class. Realising that rear legroom is not particularly generous, Seat has given the rear of the front seatbacks deep depressions to help.

A single retractable drink holder allows a cup to be placed right in front of the air-con vent, just the position to keep the contents cool.

Three versions of the Toledo are sold here - the 1.6 with a choice of five-speed manual or four-speed auto, and a 20V 1.8 auto.

The 1.6 auto will, no doubt, be the bestseller.

The 100bhp 1,595 cc in-line four is the same powerplant found in the Golf, Bora and Octavia.

Although endowed with only two valves per cylinder, it still manages a credible 100bhp and 145Nm torque.

Revving freely up to its 6,000 rpm redline, the manual version is reasonably lively, with 0 to 100 kmh in 11.5 seconds.

Autotrans blunts acceleration quite a bit, with the century sprint taking two seconds longer.

In this application, the engine has a little less of the irritating low-rev drone that afflicts its group mates.

The ride is firm but reasonably comfortable, with the ride/handling biased correctly between comfort and handling.

There is a trace of diagonal pitch round fast sweepers but most drivers will not corner fast enough to realise this.

The boot is a huge 500 litres, one of the largest in the class. Fortunately, the Spanish have opted out of following slavishly the German tendency for impractical deep and narrow boots.

But the Toledo has to overcome strong lingering prejudice here against the Seat reputation.

However, its launch price of $104,800 (with COE) for the 1.6 auto should help it find a few takers. It offers a good blend of style and safety with reasonable performance.

For a car that is substantially a VW Bora in disguise, there is also 30-per cent discount compared to its stablemate with a more illustrious nameplate.

FAST FACTS

Seat Toledo 1.6 Auto

Price: $104,800 with COE

Engine: 1,595cc in-line four

Max power: 100 bhp at 5,600 rpm

Max torque: 145 Nm at 3,800 rpm

Top speed: 184 kmh

0 - 100kmh: 13.5 seconds 

For enquiries: Call Barcelona Motors on 272-3333