SEAT Toledo

There was a time when the car market was simple. You could buy small cars, medium-sized cars and big cars. Then came MPVs, SUVs and models that were smaller than small, such as the Smart, or bigger than big, like the Maybach.

The new Toledo is an interesting car, and could appeal to drivers seeking something with more individuality and design flair than the usual family models. But it's difficult to place the SEAT in context, and its unusual market positioning could confuse the buying public.

There was a time when the car market was simple. You could buy small cars, medium-sized cars and big cars. Then came MPVs, SUVs and models that were smaller than small, such as the Smart, or bigger than big, like the Maybach.

These days, the choices are so diverse that no manufacturer knows quite where to innovate next. As more and more niches appear, it's getting harder to produce genuinely original ideas. SEAT is the latest maker to try to create a unique opening in the market with the new Toledo. It's unlike its utterly conventional predecessor, and doesn't fall into any cut-and-dried category.

The newcomer looks similar to the Altea MSV (Multi Sports Vehicle), featuring SEAT's fresh family nose and having a similar high-sided appearance. But the Toledo is larger - as long and as wide as a Ford Mondeo.

It's neither a hatchback nor an estate. The rear window wraps round to meet the reverse-raked C-pillar, while the flat bootlid lifts up with the glass to give a truly huge load area. The boot itself measures 500 litres with the rear seats up, while beneath the floor is a separate 91-litre hidden compartment, which is large enough to store three decent-sized shopping bags.

It's similarly spacious inside, with a well laid out cabin and a firm, supportive driving position. We found that the steering column didn't quite provide a comfortable position for us - although it's adjustable for both rake and reach, we were always too close to the wheel, even with it set as far away as possible.

Accommodation in the rear is excellent, with good legroom and ample seating for three adults, while the high roofline gives great headroom all-round.

We drove the 2.0-litre TDI, which will be the flagship Toledo when it goes on sale next year. Its 140bhp VW-sourced engine is crisp and responsive, as well as frugal and refined, and can be mated to a choice of six-speed manual or DSG clutchless manual transmissions.

Performance is impressive, with the 0-60mph sprint completed in a shade under 10 seconds and a 124mph top speed. But it's the in-gear acceleration that really grabs your attention. Hit the throttle on the way out of a corner and power is always instantly available, even from low down in the rev range.

The handling is tidy, if not exciting, with a comfortable ride and good body control. Our main criticism concerns the steering, which feels lifeless and offers little in the way of driver involvement.

So the only question is where the new Toledo falls in the marketplace. It's a tough one to answer, and even SEAT seems unsure. The car tries to combine the virtues of a family hatchback, an estate and an MPV, and goes some way to succeeding. The combination of all three styles has resulted in a few compromises, and there are better hatches, estates and MPVs on the market - yet few cars are as good at multi-tasking.

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