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Better late than never as new Toledo sparkles

THE first generation Toledo was so dull I can hardly remember one single thing that stood out -- good, bad or indifferent.

Peculiar when you consider that it was the launch pad for the now VW-owned brand.

There should have been fireworks back in 1991 celebrating the birth of an exciting new era in automotive world -- mixing German excellence with fiery Spanish design.

Instead of exploding onto the scene it emerged with a reluctant splutter and faded almost as quickly.

A great shame considering it was built on the same platform as the MKII Golf and was more spacious than the much pricier Jetta/Vento.

Sales were sluggish and the Toledo remained pretty much unchanged from 91-98, bar the addition of new engines.

Then came the Toledo MkII -- a total role reversal of the previous eight years.

This new offering was much closer to what had been originally envisaged and it was agreed that it would be built in Audi's plant in Belgium and not Spain.

In fact, the really only trace of Spanishness remained on the boot lid in the guise of the logo and the Iberian place name.

The chassis was that of the MkIV Bora, the dash was straight out of the previous generation Audi A3 and the switch gear from the Skoda Octavia.

All the ingredients of a runaway success?

No so I'm afraid.

It was priced to go head-to-head with the Mondeo and Vectra instead of the Golf and Focus which proved to be far too expensive for the cash-savvy Irish punter.

Now in it's fourth generation (the third morphed into the Altea) and SEAT think they have finally cracked it.

The sleek new design makes it look like a conventional saloon, but it is in fact a hatchback and a big one at that. Sitting at nearly 4.5 metres long, she is almost as long as a Skoda Octavia and longer than the Ford C-Max.

Inside you can feel the quality and everything is rock solid if not a tad bland especially the over-use of hard plastics. On the up side, there is bags of room on board with excellent head and elbow space for this six footer.

But it's in the rear where the Toledo starts to shine with what can only be described as a gargantuan boot. It offers 550litres of space (200 more than the current Leon) and with the split folding rear seats down can be trebled.

Twin that to a gutsy 1.6 litre, 105bhp diesel unit that returns 65mpg while keeping emissions at just 114g/km -- meaning annual road tax of just €190 -- and you'll be soon feeling pretty good about yourself.

Standard kit on the Style (€22,490) includes 16 inch alloys, cruise control, air con, leather multi function steering, Bluetooth & USB connectivity, electric windows all round, cornering fog lamps and onboard computer.

A good drive but more importantly, bloody good value for money.

Prices for the Toledo 1.2L start at €18,260.