LIKE it or loathe it, the controversial styling of the new SEAT Toledo range is set to play a significant role in helping the company achieve its ambitions of 40,000 UK registrations next year.
Shaped to have a rear quarter section featuring the ‘bustle’ look, the hatchback that succeeds a pure saloon design tends to polarise opinions – but it will win more friends than enemies, according to SEAT UK business sales manager Dominic Elms. He said: ‘The styling is so radically different compared to its predecessor that the car could well have carried another model name.
‘But the boldness in styling does underline the point that our brand now has the credentials to be recognised as a genuine alternative to run-of-the-mill mainstream rivals. Our cars used to share much of their appearance with other Volkswagen Group models as well as their technology, but now they have their own original styling and we believe that will gain us more appeal in the business sector.’
Speaking as the company launched its new-look range in Spain, Elms said he was confident the car would become as well accepted as the Altea, the sporty multi-purpose model on which it is based.
He said: ‘By the end of this month we will have registered more than 1,300 examples of the Altea, which only arrived in the UK in July. I expect this car to be received with similar enthusiasm.’
Due in the showrooms early next year, the Toledo will be expected to underpin the progress that has been made by the Spanish brand with leasing companies and user-choosers, even though only a ‘conservative’ total of 2,500 units are due to be ordered by the UK subsidiary during 2005. Elms said: ‘Our big push is due to come in 2006, when we are enjoying the full benefit of the Toledo and Altea, and also have an all-new Leon line-up to boost our offering. But while we will never be able to take on Ford or General Motors, the future still looks good for us as a brand that is demand-oriented, rather than price-inspired.’
Discussions are still going on over UK pricing for the Toledo, but Fleet News understands the car will follow the Reference, Stylance and Sport trim levels that have been established with the Altea and will be offered with 1.8-litre and two-litre petrol engines, the latter with FSI, and 1.9-litre and 2.0-litre turbodiesel units meeting Euro IV emission regulations.
SEAT officials insist the Toledo has a three-box shape and claim the car ‘redefines’ the classic saloon style. Yet behind its big hatchback rear door lies a cavernous, split-level luggage area offering more than 500 litres of space – 100 litres more than is offered by the Altea, which is 18cm shorter in length.
‘We will position this model as a saloon, not a hatchback. This is an innovative design and the new face of the saloon car. It has much more room for people and luggage than the Renault Laguna, Peugeot 407 and Vauxhall Vectra, which we regard as its main competitors,’ said a spokesman.
Asked for his comments on the car, CAP Monitor managing editor Mark Norman said it was likely consumers would regard it more as a hatchback than a saloon. He said: ‘For that reason, residuals will probably improve. The image of the brand is improving, but I think the overall perception of SEAT is still toward the cheaper end of the market.’
Elms added: ‘We believe the Toledo will be seen as exclusive in its sector and will appeal to user-choosers who want something a little different, but I accept that the current Toledo is more fleet oriented because it is more of a true saloon.
‘We will work more closely with the leasing companies to market this car and we will operate a 100% buy-back plan to make sure we manage the disposals through our network.
‘Our plan is to also offer demonstrators to companies which have never heard of SEAT before because getting established in the market is not something that is achieved overnight. Three years ago, our research showed that only seven people in every 100 had heard of the brand. That figure has now reached 14, which is a lot better – but we still have a long way to go.’
Behind the wheel
Is it a saloon or is it a hatchback? Most people will view the bustle on the Toledo’s tailgate as making the car look more like a scaled down Renault Vel Satis than a traditional family saloon.
But from any viewpoint, the usefulness of this radical design is instantly obvious. About 70% derived from the Altea, which shares its underpinnings with the VW Golf, the Toledo treats its driver to the same high seating position and provides a commanding view of the road ahead through a huge windscreen.
The interior design is attractive and well laid out, but some of the plastics feel hard and probably don’t feel as expensive as they actually are.
With only subtle changes to the suspension, the car also shows its close relationship with the Altea by having much the same handling characteristics, minimum roll through corners, precise steering and a ride that provides a good compromise between firmness and comfort.
Having been allowed access to most of the VW Group parts bin means the ultimate turbodiesel Toledo now has the latest 2.0-litre unit under its bonnet – and what a difference it makes.
Only 60cc bigger than the ubiquitous 1.9 TDI, the new engine has a revised cylinder head and injector units and provides ‘big car’ power as it sweeps along motorways spinning at a lazy 2,500 revs in sixth gear.
This engine seems favourite to win most orders, yet with a new management system taking output to 105bhp, the old-timer 1.9 remains a solid performer.
Still feeling lively in acceleration and out on the open road, this motor proves to be equally suited to long-haul use despite being restricted to a five-speed gearbox.
For maximum ease of operation though, the 2.0-litre engine is best harnessed to the group’s brilliant DSG automatic transmission, which provides the smoothest of shifts and manages to select just the right ratio for every situation.
WHATEVER you might think about the rear end treatment, there’s no denying the Toledo has a dynamic stance and offers a surprising amount of room. The boldness continues on the inside and looks attractive, but it’s a shame some of the materials feel cheap.
|1.6||2.0 FSI||1.9 TDI||2.0 TDI|
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||102/5,600||150/6,000||105/4,000||140/4,000|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||109/3,800||147/3,500||184/1,900||236/1,750|
|Max speed (mph):||112||128 (auto: 126)||113||124 (DSG: 124)|
|0-62 mph (sec):||12.9||9.7 (10.1)||12.4||10.0 (9.9)|
|Fuel consumption (mpg):||37.1||34.4 (31.7)||52.7||50.1 (47.1)|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||182||196 (214)||146||157 (162)|
|Fuel tank capacity (l/gal):||55/12.1|
|Transmission:||5-sp man;||6-sp man;||6-sp auto;||6-sp DSG|
|Service intervals (miles):||10,000|
|On sale:||Early 2005|