Seat newborn conservative but classy
FIRST DRIVE SEAT TOLEDO:FOR YEARS SEAT has had to make do with hand-me-downs from within the VW Group. Take the Seat Exeo: it’s effectively an old Audi A4. But times are changing for the loss-making brand, with a new product line-up on the way that promises to bestow a new identity.
Having a range of new cars is certainly a progressive step, but these need to be backed up with investment to increase brand awareness among consumers. Seat Ireland has promised to spend €20 million doing just that over the next five years.
Seat has publicly laid out its ambitions in Ireland: a 3.5 per cent market share by the end of 2013, to grow to 4 per cent by 2016. That might seem pretty paltry considering the sales held by its sister brands in the VW Group, such as Volkswagen and Skoda, but you have to remember it’s starting from a low base of 1.8 per cent.
First up in the range may have been the little Mii city car, but it’s really only a Seat take on the VW Up! The new look for the brand really comes with this fourth-generation Toledo, due to go on sale at the end of November. From launch there will be two petrol and one diesel version on offer, with prices starting at €17,995.
The petrol model line-up consists of a 1.2-litre TSI with two power outputs, 85hp and 105hp, with the former seated in tax band A, while the 105hp model is in tax band B.
These two models will only contribute to about 10 per cent of total sales with the diesel-powered variants becoming the key sellers. Initially the volume-seller will be the 105hp 1.6-litre TDI variant, with a 90hp version arriving in June 2013. Both diesel-powered Toledos fall into the lowest tax bands.
For a new look model designed to revitalise the brand, the styling of the new Toledo is conservative. Unless you drive around in a bright fluorescent one I doubt many will detect you’re in a new model, apart from seeing the date on the registration plate.
But its interior is a key ingredient that differentiates it from its closest competitors, which include, yet again, a sibling from the VW ranks in the form of the new Skoda Rapid.
It has a higher-class feel inside, with a subtle mix of plastics and chrome. As such it’s a more upmarket environment to be seated in than its competitors, including the Renault Fluence, Toyota Corolla and Ford Focus, with the latter coming closest in terms of refinement.
The test car was powered by the 1.6-litre TDI diesel engine, a quiet unit offering decent power with 105hp and 250Nm of torque on offer. The five-speed manual transmission is light to touch, with a notably tall fifth gear, perfect for motorway cruising.
While the Toledo offers a relaxing drive there’s little in terms of character: the steering, although proficient, doesn’t give the same forthcoming feedback that’s evident in the Ford Focus. The Focus also provides a more involved driving experience from its chassis and suspension setup.
For short drives carrying out the family duties, the Toledo, coupled with its cavernous boot (550 litres), will reward its owners. It’s comfortable and capable but not inspirational, although not quite as dreary as the Toyota Corolla.
This new Toledo may not represent Seat’s original sporty ethos, but it is a sensible family saloon that has been cleverly positioned to sit below the Ford Focus and Toyota Corolla in terms of price, with a decent level of standard equipment. The entry-level variant has sufficient on-board equipment to satisfy the majority of motorists’ requirements, with essential items like Bluetooth, a multifunction steering wheel, electronic stability control and electronic brake assist all included.
Seat’s new Toledo is going head to head with some of the pre-eminent saloons in the market. Its strengths are clearly its competitive pricing, combined with respectable equipment levels on offer.
This is backed up with Seat’s introduction of a third year’s warranty and three years’ free servicing and roadside assistance. In this regard it outguns the competition, which has a strong following across Ireland.
The Ford Focus offers an ardent driving experience and a touch of flair, while the Toyota Corolla has a solid reputation across the country. For Seat’s sake I hope they can achieve the required sales to boost their rebirth and increase that all-important market share. Only time will tell.
Engine1,598cc turbo diesel putting out 105hp at 4,400rpm and 250Nm from 1,500rpm with a five-speed manual transmission
Performance0-100km/h 10.6 seconds, max speed 190km/h
EconomyUrban 5.6l/100km (50.4mpg) extra-urban 3.7l/100km (76.3mpg) combined 4.4l/100km (64.2mpg)
Emissions(motor tax) 114g/km (€160)
SpecificationsReference model: standard features on the entry-level Reference include Bluetooth, multifunction steering wheel, electric and heated mirrors, full size spare wheel, on-board computer, split folding rear seat, driver-seat height adjustment, ESC and EBA, 15in steel wheels
RivalsFord Focus 1.6 TD 92hp €22,185 (motor tax €160); Toyota Corolla Terra 1.4 D4D 90hp €21,545 (motor tax €225); Renault Fluence Expression 1.5 DCI 90hp €20,590 (tax €160)
Our rating5/10. Attractively priced offering value and comfort