SEAT Toledo 1.2 TSI S

Does the spacious, sharp-looking SEAT Toledo signal a return to form?

Second place seems harsh on the Toledo, but this model’s practical, family friendly nature doesn’t sit as easily with SEAT’s sporty brand. The higher-powered 1.2-litre TSI S would be more in keeping with this racy image, but it costs an extra £1,030. Even so, the shortage of kit makes it harder to recommend over its more luxuriously appointed twin.

After 22 years and four generations, the SEAT Toledo has come full circle, and the latest model shares more with the five-door original than its boxy MPV-style predecessor.

The 1991 Toledo was the first SEAT to be built under VW ownership and shared its platform with the Golf Mk2. But cars have grown bigger since then, so this new version has more in common with the current Polo supermini. Yet despite this shift in class over the years, this model and its nineties predecessor share a five-door hatchback body, a cavernous boot and a value-for-money price tag. So does the new version represent a return to form for the Toledo?

The styling has certainly taken a giant leap forward, and the sleek saloon-like shape gives the Toledo a sporty look. Meanwhile, angular headlights and the slim trapezoidal grille echo the latest family styling from the new Leon and facelifted Ibiza. At the back, the light clusters wrap around the boot, giving the impression of a wider stance than the Skoda’s, while even this mid-range S model gets body-coloured door handles and mirrors.

However, the standard-fit steel wheels (our test car came on £275 optional 16-inch alloys) and wide plastic covers give the Toledo a low-rent look most buyers would be keen to avoid.

Climb inside and there are more signs that the SEAT has been built down to a price. Manual rear windows and a plastic steering wheel are the most obvious cost-cutting measures. And while the simplicity of the dash makes it feel a bit too basic, the layout is really easy to use. Plus, the overall quality is better than you’d expect considering this car is cheaper than most mid-range superminis.

The Toledo also comes with all the essential kit you could want, including a multifunction steering wheel, manual air-conditioning and Bluetooth connectivity. It’s just not quite as generously equipped as the SE-spec Rapid.

Still, at least you can purchase most options individually for the SEAT – Skoda prefers to combine its extras together in expensive-looking bundle packages.

Where the Toledo excels is on practicality, as the extended wheelbase means it can seat four adults in complete comfort. There’s plenty of room in the back and the boot has a vast 1,490-litre capacity with the rear seats folded flat. That means the car can carry more baggage than your average family hatch, although the SEAT does without the handy ice scraper and rear seat pockets that the Skoda gets.

But while it has the kind of cabin space of a car from the class above, the Toledo uses the same engines as the Polo – although in the case of the 84bhp 1.2-litre TSI, that’s no bad thing.

At low speeds it’s eager and refined, and despite modest power, in-gear performance is good. The Toledo trailed the Skoda in our straight-line tests, although our car had only covered a few hundred miles, which explains why it was nearly half a second slower from 0-60mph, posting a time of 10.7 seconds.

The gap between the two cars was much narrower in all other areas, but on the road the ride in the SEAT was noticeably stiffer as a result of its larger optional alloys.

The steering is accurate and responsive, if short on feedback, and body control is good. On the motorway, the Toledo is quite refined, but the burden of the larger body and absence of a sixth gear mean it feels more sluggish than an Ibiza supermini with the same engine.

To get around this, you can opt for the 104bhp version with its standard six-speed box. This is not only faster, it emits less CO2 and returns 56.5mpg. But that means forking out another £1,030, and unless you need the extra pace, the gains in economy are marginal.

As an ownership prospect, the Rapid nips into the lead, as it has better residual values and Skoda has posted back-to-back wins in our annual Driver Power satisfaction survey. But splitting these two cars will still be a very difficult challenge.

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