It’s got fixtures, fittings, driving characteristics and an engine that most company car drivers will recognise. But then it has a wild side, and I’m not quite sure what anyone will make of that.
Most of this unconventional, perhaps even deliberately challenging element comes in the packaging.
It looks odd for a start. That is not a criticism – looking odd can be attractive. But for a car that competes in a sector riddled with conservatism, it stands out, and perhaps even flummoxes people.
I’m still not entirely sure what I’ve been driving for the past week. Is it a hatchback, estate or saloon? What is its competition? How do you pitch it to drivers?
Overall, there is an MPV-ish quality to its shape, but none of the trick seats or multitude of storage bins. But it has a hatchback-style boot.
Worryingly, it’s proportions remind me of the Renault Vel Satis, and nobody knew what to make of that either.
SEAT has founded a strong reputation on being a cheap version of Volkswagen, the most conservative of all brands. But that coat-tail strategy has been thrown away and it is now striking out on its own. The question is, can the Toledo create its own niche within an increasingly combative price point?
At least the interior is typical of all SEATs, which means a smattering of Volkswagen Group buttons and dials, a decently put together dashboard, with some flimsy plastics burrowed away in less front-line areas.
Apart from when the lights are on, and the dash glows a soft red, it’s all black and matt though. The A-pillar is also thick, hindering visibility at roundabouts and junctions.
The 140bhp 2.0-litre TDI engine is a strong puller but a touch on the growly and unrefined side.
It is best suited to steady cruising – the physical forces created from its height ensure it can’t carry SEAT’s sporty tag with much aplomb – while the ride is a touch on the firm side, no doubt to counter the car’s height through corners.
The unusual shape means there is an exceptional amount of space for passengers front and back, as well as a lot of luggage room in the boot, including plenty of handy underfloor volume.
There are also six airbags as standard, and as the Sport model, it gets five spoke alloys, sports seats which pin you in place and ESP and emergency brake assist.
Its specification is high, so at least SEAT hasn’t rid itself of that strength.
Ultimately though, the Toledo raises more questions than it answers. Some people will take one look and say it is exactly the car they’ve been looking for all these years, but for others – myself included – it’s a bit of a headscratcher. Why don’t I just buy an MPV if I need extra space or a saloon or hatchback if I don’t?
SEAT Toledo 2.0 TDi Sport
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £17,027
CO2 emissions (g/km): 159
BIK % of P11D in 2004: 18%
Graduated VED rate: £135
Insurance group: 9
Combined mpg: 47.9
CAP Monitor residual value: £6,350/37%
Depreciation 17.79 pence per mile x 60,000: £10,656
Maintenance 2.58 pence per mile x 60,000: £1,548
Fuel 8.58 pence per mile x 60,000: £5,148
Wholelife cost 28.95 pence per mile x 60,000: £17,370 Typical contract hire rate: £355
At a glance
THREE RIVALS TO CONSIDER
IF you’ve read the first section of this roadtest, it will be apparent that trying to pick direct rivals for the Toledo is not easy. After much cogitation, upper-medium hatchbacks seemed about the best fit: large cars with plenty of accessible boot space. We’ve also picked sporty variants as much as possible, with powerful diesel engines for the 130bhp Mondeo and 150bhp Vectra. By comparison, the 114bhp in the Avensis looks rather weedy.
WE can’t remember a time in recent months when a Toyota’s service, maintenance and repair costs were not the best in a group test, and it’s the same in this one.
The Avensis tops the table with a pence-per-mile rate of 2.33, which equates to less than £1,400 over 60,000 miles – a very impressive figure.
But the others are not far behind. The most expensive is the Vectra, but an SMR bill for 60,000 miles of motoring of just over £1,500 is still pretty good.
NOT surprisingly, the Avensis wins the fuel economy contest as well at £5,064, but for the benefit of saving just under £100 over the next best two, the SEAT and Vauxhall, drivers will have to put up with some slow, chuggy motoring.
All have official fuel consumption figures in the high 40 mpgs, and three years of motoring in a car this size at those sorts of rates is a value proposition.
THE Toledo will depreciate the least and it is a combination of two factors. CAP reckons that used buyers will like the Toledo’s space and usefulness, while the other three are high volume fleet cars that have been around a while.
Residual values will inevitably suffer, but with the Toledo losing £3,000 less than the Mondeo in cash terms, fleet managers need to make sure their own discount terms are factored in with the sorts of money being offered off the Ford and Vauxhall models.
THE strong performance of the Toledo in retaining value after three years/60,000 miles is the reason it wins on our benchmarked wholelife costs, but only just from the Avensis which does well in all areas without excelling in any one.
The Vectra and Mondeo look further back at 33ppm and 34ppm respectively, but will be pretty equal for most fleets when their extra discount is taken into consideration.
EMISSIONS AND BIK TAX RATES
THERE is very little between these cars when it comes to benefit-in-kind tax, and all are Euro IV-compliant, which means they all forgo the 3% diesel BIK supplement. For a 22% taxpayer, the cheapest would be the Avensis, but only just. Thanks to the lowest P11D price it would cost £56 a month in 2005/06. Even the most expensive, the Vectra, would cost the same driver only £58 a month over the same period.
ON the face of it, the Toledo looks a strong proposition and it is – but only for certain individuals who understand it. For a fleet looking to buy a large volume of cars, its quirkiness might prove less attractive. Of the other three, the Mondeo does well but doesn’t stand out in any one area, while the Vectra would be an excellent option with its punchy engine, especially once you factor in personal discount. But while it might be the slowest, the all-round strong package of cost and reliability with the Avensis makes it hard to beat.