Think SEAT and what comes to mind? You might well ask. That's a pity since the Spanish company has spent a great deal of advertising money on trying to convince new car buyers that the Cordoba saloon and coupe range have built-in 'passion' and 'Iberian flair'. More importantly, SEAT quality is now as good as parent company VW's, yet misplaced caution by many used buyers means the all-too-rare Cordobas are still seriously undervalued, compared to many rivals.
The Cordoba has always been priced cheaper than its natural rivals to give SEAT dealers something of an advantage over the opposition. For the used buyer, this is great news, for under the skin, the Cordoba shares its chassis with the acclaimed VW Polo. The same quality, durability and roominess apply, yet it comes much cheaper.
The Cordoba's Polo heritage is a strongpoint, as the VW supermini's chassis is arguably still the best in its class. SEAT's version of the Polo saloon actually arrived before the VW, in May 1994. Engines were shared with other models of the Volkswagen group, so, for example, the hottest Cordoba uses the Golf GTI's 2.0-litre engine. Diesels are all 1.9-litre units.
The range was revised in 1995, with a new 1.4-litre base model appearing below the existing 1.6-litre entry level cars. Though it lacked only a sunroof, the 1.4 CLS was never a popular seller, compared with its bigger-engined brothers and was soon dropped from the price lists.
For the 1997 model year, air conditioning was standardised and a 2.0-litre 16-valve engine added to the SX range. The 1.4-litre range was expanded slightly in summer 1997, when the new '1998' models arrived. Apart from the new 1.4 SE, the rest of the range was rationalised to four saloons and two coupes, though virtually every model was equipped with air conditioning. A few months later, a Vario estate version was launched with 1.6-litre petrol and 1.9-litre TDi engines. By 1999, the 1.4-litre model had been dropped as had the 1.6-litre coupe.
Visual tweaks to all three Cordoba body styles at the end of 1999 were supposed to suggest a family likeness to the larger Toledo. Hence a more aggressive front end dominated by a prominent new front grille featuring the SEAT 'S'. At the nicely resculpted rear, the prominent badge doubled as a boot release. As before, saloon and 'Vario' estate bodystyles were on offer with a coupe due later, with an engine choice initially restricted as previously to just 1.6-litre petrol and 1.9-litre turbo diesel power.
The new cabin was, quite simply, unrecognisable from that of the old model. Shiny plastic gave way to an upmarket look that wouldn't be out of place on a luxurious saloon costing £10,000 more. A screen mounted in the centre console displayed time, exterior temperature and climate-control air conditioning settings. More supportive seats and a three-spoke airbag-equipped leather-trimmed steering wheel also added to the quality feel.
Throughout, that other SEAT strongpoint, the three-year warranty, remained. The warranty even transfers to the car's next owner. For the used buyer considering a late model car, that's a major plus.