REVIEW DATE: 08 Nov 2010
SEAT's latest Alhambra is a quality large MPV choice at a value price. Jonathan Crouch checks out the popular 2.0 TDI 140PS diesel variant.
SEAT's Alhambra is a large, 7-seater Galaxy-sized MPV that has value, technology, practicality and sheer cleverness on its side. If you're browsing in this sector and this car isn't your shopping list, then it should be. Here, we check out the most popular 2.0 TDI 140PS diesel variant.
We're so used these days to seeing SEAT as a 'sporty' brand that it's easy to forget the Spanish marque's other core attribute: value for money. Attempting to combine both things isn't easy and it may have prevented the company from becoming the kind of Iberian Alfa Romeo that its German owners want it to be. But many family buyers loyal to the brand won't care if it means that the Spaniards can continue to bring us Volkswagen designs at more affordable prices. Cars like this one - the Alhambra 7-seater MPV.
With its other superminis, family hatches and saloons, SEAT has clothed the Golf or Polo mechanicals borrowed from its parent company in designs that are quite different from those in the Volkswagen line-up. In many cases, the driving experience is sharpened too. There's little of that here. The Alhambra gets a smart SEAT family nose but otherwise, it's a Volkswagen Sharan through and through, which means that it's a very classy people carrier indeed. At a significantly more affordable price. Let's check it out in 2.0 TDI 140 diesel form.
This car has plenty to live up to. The original Alhambra was, after all, based not only on Volkswagen's Sharan but also on the first generation Ford Galaxy, a people carrier that was astonishingly good to drive for a car of its time. This one doesn't emphasise driving dynamics quite as much, but its handling is still light years ahead of its predecessor - as you'd expect given that its designers had fourteen years to come up with something better. They haven't wasted their time either, achieving the apparently impossible conundrum of creating a car that though significantly bigger, is at the same time significantly lighter by some 30kgs. Impressive.
"It's lighter, faster and better-built, plus hi-tech engines like this 2.0 TDI 140PS diesel cost less to run than ever before.."
Take a seat behind the wheel and you find yourself in something that doesn't feel that far removed from any ordinary family hatchback. It's certainly large, but the commanding view you get out of the glassy cabin compensates for that, while there are standard reversing sensors to make sure that parking isn't too much of a bind and an optional Park Assist system that'll even self-steer the car into tighter spaces. Out on the road, though not as sharp as a Ford Galaxy - the steering for example, could offer a little more feel - the driving experience is impressively car-like, with a supple ride and bodyroll that's well controlled.
It feels eager too, even when fitted with an apparently unpromising 1.4-litre TSI entry-level petrol unit, though frequent use of the smooth 6-speed gearbox is required to maintain rapid progress. More relaxed, predictably, is the 2.0 TDI 140PS diesel we tried. It's the unit that most customers will choose, relaxed, refined and with plenty in reserve for short notice overtaking. Pulling power here is impressive, enough to increase this car's towing limit from the 1,800kg figure you get with the 1.4-litre petrol variant to 2,200kg. Its merits are certainly enough to ensure that the more powerful option - a 170PS 2.0 TDI diesel - will remain of minority interest. As usual with modern SEAT products, the clever twin-clutch DSG semi-automatic 7-speed gearbox is available as an option.
Inside, there's plenty of versatility in all models thanks to the Easy-Fold seating system. You needed a MENSA IQ and the strength of a Ukrainian shot putter to maximise the luggage capacity of the old Alhambra, as the seats needed to be folded, unclipped from their mounts and lifted out. Now both rows of rear seats can tumble down beneath the floor with a minimum of fuss. The boot capacity isn't huge with seven people inside but there's as much as 1,167-litres with five occupants and up to 2,297-litres when you travel two-up, a figure that can be extended still further by folding the front passenger seat flat, allowing nearly three metres of load length.
If you're carrying people rather than packages, entry is now by optionally electrical sliding doors (so your kids won't re-sculpture the bodywork of adjacent cars any more as they throw themselves out into the supermarket carpark) and access to the third row (which is where my three always want to sit) is also made easier by the Easy Entry function through which the outer seats in the second row tilt and slide forward in a single motion. Once in these rearmost chairs, kids will be delighted to find that they sit a little higher than those ahead, while their parents will discover that this is one of those unusual things: a 7-seater that seven fully-sized adults can actually fit into.
Under the bonnet, most Alhambra buyers will want the 140PS 2.0 TDI diesel that we tried, also offered in 170PS guise if you're after a little extra performance. Whichever model you choose, you should find it decently equipped. Despite its lower pricing compared to the Sharan, entry-level customers get three important features they'd have to pay extra for on the equivalent Volkswagen, namely 3-zone (rather than 2Zone) climate control, 16-inch alloy wheels and reversing parking sensors. You can also expect to find Bluetooth connection for your mobile 'phone, all-round electric windows, rear power sockets for the children's gadgets, a decent quality DAB stereo with a socket for your iPod and an electronic handbrake with 'autohold' for easy hill starts.
Options include power for doors and/or tailgate, a panoramic glass roof, a full beam assistant that can dip the headlights for you at night, a sat nav system (though with a rather small screen) and a neat retractable towhook that disappears under the rear valance. Safety-wise, there's seven airbags (including a driver's knee airbag and curtain airbags that run the length of the cabin), ESP stability control, plus the usual braking and traction aids. You also get a tyre pressure monitoring system, there because this car doesn't have space for a spare wheel. Instead, thanks to an inner coating of flexible, self-sealing polymer, the tyres can seal all but the largest holes themselves once you have extracted the offending object.
All Alhambra models feature SEAT's green-fingered 'Ecomotive' badging thanks to their inclusion across the range of regenerative braking and a Stop/Start system which cuts the engine automatically when you're stuck in traffic or stopped at the lights. The diesel engines, which feature SEAT's Selective Catalytic Reduction technology, are especially impressive. This 2.0-litre TDI 140PS diesel grabs the honour of the 'E Ecomotive' designation reserved for the most eco-friendly models in each of SEAT's ranges, thanks to impressively low CO2 emissions for this class of car of 146g/km.
At the pumps, expect to see a combined cycle 50mpg figure achieved on a regular basis, whichever of the two 2.0-litre TDI variants you choose. Residuals won't be quite as strong as Volkswagen's, but for the many customers buying this car as a long term ownership proposition, that won't matter quite as much as it might normally.
As a full-size MPV with a king-size carrying potential, SEAT's Alhambra might not be quite of the sporty, stylish persuasion you'd normally expect to associate with this Spanish marque but it has plenty of other virtues. Now that there's proper adult space for seven and seats that fold easily into the floor, it can compete on equal terms with the direct rivals it easily undercuts, both on price and specification.
It's lighter, faster and better-built, plus hi-tech engines like the 2.0 TDI 140PS diesel we tried cost less to run than ever before. All attributes that families shopping in this sector will find hard to ignore from a car offering this kind of value proposition. People carriers have come on a long way since the last time you tried one. And if you want proof of that, you'll find it right here.
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