road test; Seat Cordoba

The driver's view

This is not a family car. Back-seat space is limited, and no books or toys can be left on the sharply sloping parcel shelf, which has an awkwardly placed air vent that "must not be obstructed". Nor is it a girl- about-town-mobile. You may enjoy the flash looks (raised rear-end, concave sides, spoil bars), but the diesel engine is noisy at slow speeds. Where this car comes into its own is on the open road: acceleration is exhilarating and the engine noise negligible at high speeds. A late start for a wedding had me speeding uncharacteristically down the motorway, cruising Porsches just a dot in the rear-view mirror. And it gets you from A to B without little wear and tear on your conscience. It has been designed "to damage the environment as little as possible" - harmful chemicals have been reduced in the paintwork and it has a "low polluting" engine. So it is ideal for environmentally conscious sales executives. And, as for the rest of us: well, despite its rumble and ludicrous looks, I wouldn't say no.

Ann Crookenden

The expert's view

This new Cordoba, which has reinvented the idea of the small saloon. Of the many Cordobas on offer, which range from the 1.4 CLS at pounds 8,695 to the 2.0 GT at pounds 12,695, the turbodiesel is not my favourite. In stop-start traffic, the vibrations from the engine at tickover are maddening. There is a nasty grumble through the clutch pedal when you change gear, too, though once you have picked up speed, things are quiet enough. You could buy a 1.6 litre, petrol- fuelled Cordoba with the same GLX trim level as this model, and save yourself pounds 1,000 in the process. You would have to drive many miles before the diesel's superior economy clawed back its extra purchase cost. Remember, too, that a diesel's environmental advantages are by no means clear-cut over a modern, catalysed petrol engine.

John Simister

rivals

Citroen ZX Avantage D, pounds 11,550 Dated looks but ride comfort exceptional. Turbodiesel pounds 535 extra.

Honda Civic VTEC-E, pounds 11,795 Fuel economy potentially excellent but the lean-burn petrol engine feels lifeless unless worked hard.

Peugeot 306 XRD, pounds 111,785 An extra pounds 600 for the turbodiesel - much quicker than the Cordoba.

Volkswagen Golf CL 1.9 TD, pounds 11,694 Quality is countered by soggy suspension. An extra pounds 900 for the faster TC version.

specifications

Seat Cordoba 1.9TD GLX, pounds 11,595

Engine: 1,896cc, four cylinders, turbodiesel, 75bhp at 4,400rpm.

Five-speed gearbox, front-wheel drive.

Top speed 103mph, 0-60 in 14.8 seconds.

Fuel consumption 43-45mpg.

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