Motoring; What do you want, a badge?

Seat is marketing the Toledo as a rival to Alfa Romeo. But, while it is fast and handsome, it lacks that sporting pedigree
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Indy Lifestyle Online
In these times of globalised production, a country's motor industry can no longer be truly considered a part of its national identity. We may fuss and fume about true-Brit companies like Rolls-Royce and Rover being sold off to the Germans, but it's time to let go. Nowadays, if a car appears to embody national characteristics (from the clinical efficiency of BMW to the passion of Alfa Romeo), it will be due as much to its marketing as to the toil of any engineer.

The new Seat Toledo is a case in point: a Spanish car made by a German-owned company using German engineering (it is part of the VW Golf/Audi A3/ Skoda Octavia family), and styled in Italy by Giugaro. As the final touch, it is built in Belgium. But Volkswagen, Seat's parent company, wants the Toledo to compete against Alfa Romeo and become a sporty alternative to the Ford Mondeo (hence the constant reference to Seat's F2 World Rally Championship success in its ad campaign).

We tried the top-of-the-range 2.3-litre V5 version, which costs pounds 17,600 and comes with air conditioning, electric seats and a CD multi-changer. It isn't as pretty or charismatic as the Alfa 156, but the Toledo is handsome and discreet, albeit in a distinctly BMW way. But the first few miles came as a disappointment. It was soon clear that this front-wheel-drive passion wagon doesn't especially like attacking corners, and the steering, brakes and gear change are all rather rubbery. But persevere and you realise that the engine (which can produce 150bhp) is a masterpiece of refined flexibility and the ride and general comfort levels make it more pleasant to drive quickly than many rivals.

One of the lights in the base of the front doors fell off while I had the car, but the rest of the finish seemed to be of Teutonic standard (the dashboard is lifted straight from an Audi A3, so it should be). This car should be taken seriously by fleet buyers - whether it will be is largely down to marketing.

Fi Weir

36, housewife, from Blackheath, London. Currently drives an Audi A6

"It looks quite BMW-ish and if you took the badge away I'd have absolutely no idea where it came from. It's got a lot of poke. I wouldn't say that it's sporty, but there is definitely enough power. It seems like you could overtake anything, but it's still comfortable and the ride is nice. It's quiet, the clutch is light, and the gear change is very smooth. It seems quite solid and very stable in the wet. Anyone who is interested in a BMW should certainly look at this - it's different, it has a bit more personality."

Ian Walton

43, interior designer, from Oval, London. Currently rides a Honda Fireblade motorbike

"It certainly feels powerful, it reacts really well, it's very smooth, and the ride is nice and firm. The dash is very clear and the seats are comfortable and feel sporty. You can't see much of the bonnet when you're driving, so it must be a nightmare to park. For work, I need to haul around antique mirrors, or rolls of fabric - I don't think I could get many sets of chairs in the back of this. It has a lot of style but I think I'd want something with a higher posing factor for my money. There's no cachet in the name, it's got no image."

Mark Painter

34, chartered surveyor, from Penge, London. Currently drives a Fiat Bravo

"This car appeals to me because I'm not a fan of Vauxhalls and Mondeos; it is different and it's good value. Inside it's nice, the plastics are of good quality, but I wouldn't say it has any great flair. The boot is certainly roomy enough but I would prefer the versatility of a hatchback. The clutch is light and it's easy to drive. It's a bit lifeless in fifth gear, but 60 to 80mph goes by in a wink. Depreciation would have to be a concern, despite the Volkswagen underpinnings, but it's something I would consider as a company car."

Paul McNicholl

32, solicitor, from Nunhead, London. Currently drives a Mini Cooper

"It's a lot more interesting than I expected, but build quality is a worry. Despite VW's influence, I don't know how well it will hold its value. It could appeal to Mondeo man, but will the reps like it? It would suit someone who's not worried about badge status, someone who wants to be individual. You get a high level of equipment and an interesting engine - and I liked the colour of this one. Even though I've got a short trunk and long legs, it is comfy. It's a nice car, not a BMW-beater, but I'd definitely pick it over a Mondeo."