The interior will remind you of the Audi, mainly because it's not much different, SEAT borrowing its engines, platforms and interior bits and pieces from the same parts bin as Audi. No bad thing of course. At least you know you'll be getting a decent car for your money. In fact, the Toledo is based on Ingolstadt's small A3 (as well as VW's Golf, Bora and Beetle models and Skoda's Octavia), but you'll probably prefer to tell your friends that it sits on the same underpinnings as Audi's Porsche-beating TT Coupe.
Strong equipment levels have helped to prop up the Toledo's residual value. During the summer 2000 range review as well as rationalising the range and cutting some prices, SEAT threw the options list at the Toledo range. The only item available on option was metallic paint. Even the entry-level 1.8 20V SE got the works. Forgive the indulgence, but for the bargain price the used buyer pays, the full equipment list must be mentioned, so take a deep breath. Four airbags, ABS with brake force distribution, EDS traction control and electrically adjustable and heated door mirrors were all standard. 15" alloy wheels, electronic air conditioning, front and rear electric windows and remote control central locking/alarm were also part of the deal.
A cruise control system, trip computer, CD autochanger and a height and reach adjustable steering column make a used Bora or Beetle look exorbitantly priced. The point was rammed home with front fog lights, height adjustable seats, rear headphones socket and an exterior temperature gauge. This equipment is also fitted to the TDi 110 SE, whilst the V5 got 16" alloys and Alcantara and leather upholstery with electric adjustment for the front pair. At these prices, SEAT managed to make even Skoda look expensive. And that's by design rather than accident. Most cars in this sector are bought by companies and driven for corporate, rather than family purposes. The Toledo has proved no different, SEAT know that nearly 90% of all sales have gone to business users. These people particularly like the prospect of low operating costs, thanks to the three-year unlimited mileage warranty, and the prospect of a 56mpg average from the turbo diesel and the cars are usually well maintained, another bonus for the used buyer.
Those cars that did make it into private hands were bought for less logical reasons. The styling is undeniably attractive (though Body Development Manager Carlos Cervera's citing of Michelangelo as an influence may be overstating things a bit). Inside, the quality is self-evident and the driving position is near-perfect thanks to that rake and reach-adjustable steering wheel. The deeply bolstered seats hold you firmly in place whilst cornering and both the wheel and the gear stick feel good to hold: you really want to go and drive the thing. As previously mentioned, rear seat legroom isn't great, but there is at least the compensation of a huge boot. The split/fold rear seats help access this, which is just as well for the exterior opening is rather small. It all adds up to a car that's a world away from anything previously bearing the SEAT badge. Whilst not yet bearing the kudos of the Alfa Romeo badge, the Toledo is closer than you'd think to the best the Milanese company can offer.
Tried and tested engines, the VW-standard quality auditing and an inherent feeling of solidity all bode well for the Toledo's reliability. Having been on sale for such a short duration it's perhaps inevitable that no major faults have emerged, but watch out for neglected ex-hire cars. The Toledo is a car where the price differences between good and bad examples aren't too great, so be fussy. Look for a fully stamped up service history and reject anything that looks in any way tatty, grubby or vaguely dog-eared.
(approx based on a 1999 Toledo 1.8 20v) SEAT spares are reasonably priced, with consumables starting at just £4v for a spark plug. An air filter costs £20, a timing belt £40, an oil filter is £9 and a fuel filter a mere £6. Keeping a nearly-new Toledo on the road shouldn't prove too expensive.
If you've driven a VW Bora, VW Golf, Skoda Octavia or Audi A3 of similar age, the Toledo will come as no great surprise. It's a tidy handler with a slightly nose-heavy bias in diesel and V5 forms, but on the whole it's a little softer than its German or Czech counterparts whilst still impressing with the quality of cabin fittings. It is possible to see where corners have been cut to warrant the cost savings, but on the whole it's a class act. The 1.6-litre engine should really be avoided, and the 1.8, whilst reasonably brisk, feels vibratory, a little coarse and a bit shy of torque. It'll be far more rewarding to save for the V5 or plump for the gutsy diesel.
The V5 reaches sixty in 9.2 seconds on the way to a top speed in excess of 130mph, but all-out performance isn't what the V5 is all about, instead offering a decadently creamy power delivery that's reminiscent of one of the better small BMW sixes. The TDi manages sixty in 11.2 seconds, but combines this fair turn of speed with 56mpg capability and offers a huge wall of torque between tickover and 4000rpm. All it need to be an effortless drive is an automatic gearbox, sadly only available on the 1.8-litre car.
Despite the appeal of the Skoda Octavia, it has to be said that the smart money in this class goes on the SEAT Toledo. Costing little more than the Skoda but offering markedly superior equipment levels, corporate identity and the 2.3-litre V5 engine, the Toledo range has a lot to appeal to the used buyer. Look for decent nearly new V5s or turbo diesel models and you shouldn't go far wrong. It's one of the better used buys.