UK CAR Road Test
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Toledo - home of Spanish steel, famed world over for the quality blades which lead the sharp end of the Spanish empire halfway across the world.
SEAT - Spanish pseudo car maker, formally producer of cheap and nasty FIAT derivatives and now allegedly the sporting arm of the mighty all-enveloping Volkswagen group
Should be quite a ride then?
Actually I quite like the look of the current generation SEATs. Personally I
think that, bar some of the more stylish Audis, SEAT produce the best looking
cars in the VW conglomerate. The basics may be all VW but the Spanish seem to
add a little flair to the styling that would make you suppose it is of Italian
From the outside there is nothing that marks it out as cheap, cheerful and tacky (like the Costa del Sol). SEAT's frontal treatments are, I think, particularly attractive and, despite the SEAT badge not carrying much historical weight, it's not the cause of major guffaws, buffoonery and joking in the way that a Skoda badge would be. Being somewhat down the model pecking order it bears a boring set of slightly undersized looking wheels. There is little to complain about. It is hardly innovative like, say, a Focus but hey, in my eyes that is no bad thing.
Inside SEAT treads the narrow line between Skoda and Volkswagen with plastic trim veering more towards the Skoda line. The large plastic panels covering the doors are not overly attractive but, apart from their drab greyness, the interior is thankfully very conservative. SEAT have wisely stayed away from trying to build in some funky Balearic sunshine theme. Moreover, staying close to the VW minimalist approach.
The only thing you can't really directly place in the cockpit from a low end VW model is the chubby little steering wheel, though that is suspiciously Golf GTI in it's appearance.
Decent trim, shame about the door panel. Rear leg room just adequate
The same stuff you would get on a normal VW is here. And little else. The usual electric windows and mirrors - all the stuff that is taken for granted on a middle-of-the-road car. And little else. It becomes very difficult to say anything about spec levels on such average cars although that is a good thing because nearly every car is equipped to standards most would only dream about 10 or 15 years ago. Usually it is easier to point out some glaring omission and, from that point of view, there is nothing to mention.
We are all used to 1.8 saloons nowadays or the mid range grunt of a turbo diesel so it's slightly strange to be propelled along by a very staid 8-valve 1.6litre engine. It is a reliable well-tested and simple unit. It is also a very boring unit. In reality it is probably a fair match for the relatively compact body. Anyone expecting any kind of real gusto is going to be disappointed. More disappointing than the modest performance is the booming sounds emitted when pushed. At low to medium revs it's happy enough but as the revs push past 4k it starts to boom rather unpleasantly. A better exhaust note would have covered this up. As it is, you try to work between the paucity of low-end grunt and the beginning of the boom, cutting the rev range considerably. You also end up working the gear stick quite hard.
The gearbox is sweet enough in that slightly rubbery VW mould, though a slightly sticky and dull clutch pedal spoilt the experience somewhat.
The basic chassis rides pretty much like a Golf with a little road thump but a well controlled supple ride. At low speed wind/tyre roar is quite noticeable but with the slim tyres I am at a loss to explain why. Maybe the re-shaped bodywork is not quite so efficient as it's German cousins. Maybe it is the big SEAT badge disturbing the wind. Who knows?
Despite the small, thick, appealing steering wheel, it has no other pretensions towards SEAT's stated sporty market. Around centre the steering is dull and lifeless but stable at speed. Apply a quarter turn of lock in a bend and it firms up considerably, tending towards the heavy side. At sensible speed it's fairly solid in the corners, though the lack of rubber allows the front end to push wide quite easily. Nothing wild or worrying, just early. It's very easy to get the front end squealing without too much effort.
Its a safe, early warning system but spoils the handling for the keener driver.
Red highlights by day, red light district by night
Simple, straightforward, easy to read.
Forget dodgy old FIAT cast-offs screaming around the Costa del Sol driven by the world's craziest taxi drivers with you in your Union Jack shorts blubbering for your life in the back, SEATs are solid pieces of engineering nowadays. All the knowledge of VW's mid range motors down the years has found it's way into the SEAT's floorpan and frame, leaving you at least as safe as your average VW driver.
The SEAT badge still doesn't mean much to your Average Joe so the car is not a big attention grabber and will probably be more liable to opportunistic attack rather than pre-planned assault. The standard security should help out at least to that low level.
Brakes work admirably with a nice feel and have neither the over-grabby feel or over-ABS-assisted feel that afflicts many others.
It's just a car and, as transport, is pleasant enough. Easy to drive and park. Not the biggest car in the world and strikes me as quite compact, especially in the rear.
From the driver's seat it feels about the size of an Escort, which is probably about where this car is pitched. In dynamic terms it is a world ahead of an Escort but also a world behind the Focus.
As an alternative to a low-end Golf it is, for me, an attractive proposition. If you want the good points of a Golf but can't quite cope with the boring, boxy body, then the SEAT presents a most attractive alternative. Personally though, I would hang out for either the 1.8 or the 1.9 Tdi.
Be aware that, low rent badge or no, SEAT dealer servicing is competitive with VW dealers, ie not the cheapest in the world.
For all SEAT car specifications and data from: www.ukcar.com click here