Road Impressions

Take a Seat. . .

SEAT have made Spanish Fiats from 1953 onwards. The challenge from Renault proved too much, however, the Renault 5 made in Valladolid becoming Spain’s best-selling car. By 1980 Seat was on the brink of bankruptcy and the marriage between Fiat and this once-leading Spanish car maker came to an end. Seat was faced with the prospect of going into liquidation or fighting for survival. It chose the latter course, with the backing of the Spanish Government, the escape route being to design a car of its own, in conjunction with ltal-design, Karmann and Porsche. Seat coined the slogan “Technology Without Frontiers” for its new car, which arrived in Britain late last year

It was interesting to try a car of a marque which is not only totally new to the UK but which may well be the last new major Western European maker to enter the UK in this century. So I allowed Burson-Marsteller Ltd to fix me a 1.5 Malaga GLX four-door saloon to use while the creditably trouble-free Ford Sierra RS 4 x 4 went for its 12,000-mile service. This new car was developed from 1981 onwards at Seat’s research centre at Martorell, near Barcelona, Guigiaro designing crisp body styles, made by Karmann, and Porsche doing the power-unit and interior development, using a revised Fiat Strada floor pan. These cars the 1.2-litre and 1.5-litre Ibizas and the same engine-sized Malagas, are sold here by Seat Concessionaires (UK) Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Lonrho, and 92 dealers. There Is a six-years anti-rusting guarantee and a two-year warranty.

I supposed that as primarily a sporting journal we should try to resist testing what many term ‘little Euro-boxes”, or ruder things. My excuse for this one is that not every day do you get a chance to try a completely-new car from Spain. The £6,293 top-of-the-range Malaga 1.5 GLX is a shapely, high-sided saloon with a spacious boot, the lid of which provides for low loading, comfortable seats, and a generous area of glass. The 83×67 mm (1,461 cc) transverse engine spins smoothly and is quiet at cruising speed, its output 85 DIN bhp at 5,600 rpm. It has a belt-driven overhead-camshaft, a Weber twin-choke carburettor, and cr of 10 to 1. The bonnet-release is on the ‘wrong’ side but dip-stick, fillers and the 45 Ah Fensa battery are readily accessible and the distributor is driven directly off the end of the camshaft, as on a VW. The TOP or thermodynamically-optimised Porsche combustion chambers in the piston crowns are used. Careless use of the throttle can cause mild “kangaroo action” through the front-wheel-drive but this is only provoked by ham-footedness. The five-speed gearbox is notchy but not baulky, except into bottom gear, and functions nicely. The rack-and-pinion steering is low geared without a particularly small turning circle. The ride tends to choppiness over bad surfaces but is generally comfortable, the occupants well insulated from road shocks by the McPherson front struts and transverse rear leaf spring.

The alloy wheels were shod with Pirelli P8 165/65R14 tyres on the lest car and there is disc/drum braking. The Veglia instrumentation is simple and easily consulted, with the mph/ kph speedometer and tachometer flanking the fuel and heat gauges, the former not calibrated but reading steadily. There is only an o/s mirror, but it is internally adjustable. The controls are unusual, a rocking lever on the left working the turn-indicators, which is neat but not at first as convenient as a stalk lever, and apt to cancel too soon. The screen wipers are controlled by a r/h toggle which is far too close to the steering-wheel spoke, whether operated from above or below the wheel, to be acceptable. The wiper blades did a good job. at the expense of unwiped areas at the base of the screen.

The Seat Malaga has a simple-to-use effective heater and was supposed to have central door-locking but this did not work, nor would the “tit” on the o/s back door press down, even after fiddling with the child-proof levers, so the car had to be left unlocked. Lonrho are proud of the check-system at their Ramsgate Import Centre, so this was surprising. The front windows are electrically-operated, from fascia buttons, and other buttons are employed. on the right edge of the steering-wheel console for the lamps-selection and dipping, on the top left-hand side of it, for rear-window heating, rear fog-lamp and parking-lights. Five blanks on the fascia look like switches but are mere decoration, but four more buttons look after heater-fan speed. The GLX equipment includes adjustable steering rake and headlamps, rear seat-belts, laminated windscreen, tinted glass, a digital clock mostly useless in sunlight, flecked velour upholstery, rheostat instrument-lighting control, a map-reading lamp, stereo radio and cassette player (Philips DC 553 on the test car), and a check-control system, etc, and stowages include small door-bins and a small lidded but unlockable fascia cubby-hole.

This Seat Malaga is a useful if not outstanding, newcomer. To a claimed top-speed of 103 mph — nearer 107 mph, actually — and 0-60 mph in 12.4 sec, (11 sec in fact), can be added very economical fuel consumption, the 11-gallon fuel tank with lockable, filler emptying at the rate of only 33.8 mpg. The new Porsche/ Ital/ Karmann contrived Seat Malaga has a wheelbase of 8′ 4″, a kerb weight of 975 kg.. and a boot capacity of 16 cu. ft. In an age when motoring is growing ever more complicated, even unto cars that talk to their owners, there is something to be said, perhaps, for returning to the more simple vehicles; purchasers of Dacias, FSOs, Hyundais, Ladas, Skodas, and Yugos might club together. At one time the Seat could have been added, except that the new models compare too well with others in their class, although still needing some development. The Ibiza three-door hatchback undercuts in price and out-performs in terms of top speed and 0-60 mph pick-up the Fiat Uno 70SL and Peugeot 205XT. It and the Malaga, with their System Porsche engineering, are worth consideration by those who want a “different” small-car, but the Malaga seemed to crave the Spanish sun, because on cold days it would start effectively, then die out after a short distance and run roughly until working temperature had been attained. — W.B.