Review and road test of the SEAT Cordoba (2003 - 2006)
BY ANDY ENRIGHT
You're probably familiar with the SEAT Ibiza but its Cordoba sibling may not ignite a spark of recognition. Basically, the Cordoba is an Ibiza with a boot, the mere addition of which is virtually guaranteed to collapse sales - in the UK at least. Still, there is a small but dogged clan of motorists who value the added security of a boot over the flexibility of a tailgate and if you count yourself amongst them, a used SEAT Cordoba is as good as any small saloon out there and in many instances, significantly better. What's more, they're often available at very attractive prices. If five doors is one too many, read on.
(4 dr saloon 1.4, petrol, 1.9 diesel [S, SE, Reference, Stylance])
It's probably fair to say that the February 2003 launch of SEAT's Cordoba probably wasn't that year's biggest automotive event, even for SEAT dealers. Always destined to be a speciality interest variant compared to the big-selling Ibiza hatch, the Cordoba was nevertheless a welcome addition to the SEAT product line. Only three models were available to begin with, the range opening with a 1.4-litre petrol model in S trim followed by a pair of 1.9-litre TDI diesels - you could buy an S specified 100bhp model or an SE-trimmed 130bhp car. Not a great deal happened until 2005 when the trim levels were revised again. Broadly speaking, the S trim level was replaced by Reference and the SE model was swapped for the Stylance badge.
The Ibiza was facelifted in early 2006 and that spelt the end of the car's modest innings in this country - at least as part of the official range. The car's limited popularity on these shores meant that SEAT stopped promoting it and stocking it at dealerships but buyers could still order one if they really wanted to - few did.
What You Get
So who is a typical used Cordoba customer? The answer appears to be the more mature buyer looking for something that will go the distance. Even the Cordoba name has far more genteel associations than the young and hedonistic Ibiza title. So much for the badge engineering. The Cordoba does, after all, still have the same verve as the Ibiza and the styling, while unlikely to walk off with any Rear Of The Year awards, is neatly integrated. The rear light clusters reflect the trading of stylists between SEAT and Alfa Romeo, the lamps being very reminiscent of those of the Alfa 156, in itself no bad thing.
There's no shortage of storage space around the cabin with big door pockets, a decently sized glove compartment and under dash cubbies combining to make living with the Cordoba easy. There's even a hidden storage box under the driver's seat to keep valuables away from prying eyes. Trade up to Cordoba TDI 130 Stylance and you'll get a six-speed gearbox, 15-inch alloy wheels, Climatronic air conditioning, electric rear windows, a trip computer, twin headlights, fog lights and an alarm. Satellite navigation is even available as an option for the well-heeled few who didn't realise that there are map pockets on the backs of the front seats!
Safety was high on SEAT's priorities when designing this family of cars, and the Cordoba features twin airbags as standard. The passenger airbag can be deactivated by a key switch in the glove compartment if a child seat is used in the front seat. Electronic power steering with SEAT's acclaimed DSR (Dynamic Steering Response) gives a surprisingly natural, quick-witted feel, while anti-lock brakes augmented by emergency brake assist will pull you to a halt with the minimum of drama.
What to Look For
Tried and tested engines, the VW-standard quality auditing and an inherent feeling of solidity all bode well for the Cordoba's reliability. Unlike the Ibiza, the Cordoba will probably have enjoyed a rather easier life and there isn't a great deal of price differential between basic and well specified examples 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. Later Stylance and Reference models are particularly sought after.
(approx based on an Cordoba 1.9TDI 100) SEAT spares are reasonably priced, with consumables starting at just £4 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 Cordoba on the road shouldn't prove too expensive.
On the Road
Reflecting the more pragmatic buyer profile, the Cordoba range centres on two TDI diesel engines, both of 1.9-litre capacity and Volkswagen Group origins, which crank out either 100 or 130bhp depending how deep your pockets are. The alternative is a 1.4-litre 75bhp petrol unit which will appeal to those looking for a low upfront price.
The 1.9 TDI diesel engines are the pick of the range if you're into smooth cruising, but are too heavy to provide much fun through corners. Not surprisingly, the 130bhp is the better choice, being not only faster but, rather curiously, much quieter too. The more agile 1.4-litre car handles reasonably well but doesn't have the verve to occupy the attention span of your average press-on driver.
The Cordoba is an acquired taste but if you do want a boot on a well built, smallish car that won't have been thrashed, this is a great place to begin.
SEAT Cordoba (2003 - 2006) review by ANDY ENRIGHT