REVIEW DATE: 26 Apr 2010
The latest Alhambra has the technology to put SEAT at the head of the large MPV class. Steve Walker reports.
To view the advertising and marketing material coming out of Spanish manufacturer SEAT these days, you'd think it was being run by a bunch of testosterone fuelled teenagers. The impression is of a model range packed with hot hatchbacks and sports saloons majoring in speed, agility and Iberian attitude. The reality is somewhat different. SEAT is certainly towing a sporty line for that's the role it's been assigned by its Volkswagen Group owners. Fast, stylish cars are a major part of what it does but for every bone-shaking performance hatch, there's a clutch of more sensible SEATs like the latest Alhambra MPV.
The Alhambra could well be the most un-SEAT car SEAT makes. A big seven-seater MPV isn't quite on message with the brand's exuberant marketing but the previous generation model was such a success that a replacement was always likely. The old Alhambra was built by SEAT's Volkswagen Group paymasters in partnership with Ford, so it was all but identical to the Ford Galaxy and the VW Sharan of that era. Today, Ford has gone it alone with its latest Galaxy but the Alhambra and Sharan still have almost everything in common.
The claim from SEAT is that the sporting character and driving fun it builds into all its cars are very much intact where the Alhambra is concerned. It is a seven-seater measuring close to five-meters in length, though, so expectations may need to be tempered a little. The engines get a turbocharger each, which is an encouraging start. The 1.4-litre TSI petrol unit is actually turbo and supercharged and develops 148bhp all ends up. If you'd prefer a diesel as most Alhambra buyers doubtless will, there are 138bhp and 168bhp versions of the familiar 2.0 TDI common-rail injection unit.
"Alhambra is more focused on the job of providing transport for a large family, just as it should be"
Around town, the Alhambra can eek extra miles out of its fuel tank and contribute to cleaner air with its standard Start-Stop technology. When the vehicle is stationary, taking it out of gear and lifting the clutch stops the engine. All you have to do is drop the clutch to restart it. The DSG dual clutch gearbox is available as an option giving drivers the choice of fully automatic shifting or flipping through the gears themselves with the wheel-mounted paddles.
Size is not in short supply with the Alhambra but SEAT's largest MPV disguises its bulk well through some typically sleek styling. The bonnet and windscreen form a continuous, sharply-angled line from roof to grille for a wedge-shaped profile while the large headlights and low bumper add a little character to the nose. There's a lot of glass, so even passengers in the third row should get a good view out and getting light in won't be a problem. Getting passengers in should also be straightforward thanks to sliding side doors that provide a wide aperture and outer seats in the middle row that tilt forward giving walk-through access to the third row.
Seven seats are standard and 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 all of the 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 up to 1,167 litres with five occupants and up to 2,297 litres when you travel two-up.
The equipment list on the Alhambra is festooned with the usual array of storage options and convenience features you expect to find in a modern seven-seater but there are also some options you might not expect to find. The sliding side doors can be electrically powered if you like and the bi-xenon headlamps come with a Full Beam Assistant function that dips the beam automatically when it detects on-coming traffic. A panoramic sunroof also makes an appearance as does three-zone climate control to create different temperatures in different areas of the cabin. The highlight for anyone who's struggled when parking a vehicle of this size has to be the Park/Steer Assistant which can manoeuvre the Alhambra into tight spaces.
All models in the Alhambra range get seven airbags. There's also electric child locks for all of the rear doors, tyre pressure monitoring, ABS brakes and ESP stability control.
Fuel economy is helped by a Stop-Start system and regenerative braking which help reduce the workload of the Alhambra's engines. The upshot is 39.2mpg economy and 167g/km emissions from the 1.4 TSI unit. The 138bhp and 168bhp TDI diesel models meanwhile, return 50.4mpg and 48.7mpg respectively. The general emissions of these diesel engines are controlled by SEAT's Selective Catalytic Reduction technology and in terms of CO2, the pair produce 146g/km and 152g/km.
As a full-size MPV with a king-size carrying potential, SEAT's Alhambra isn't quite of the sporty, stylish persuasion we're encouraged to associate with the Spanish marque. SEAT will point to a moderately sleek profile and a turbocharged engine range but the Alhambra is more focused on the job of providing transport for a large family, just as it should be.
With up to seven seats that collapse into the floor, sliding side doors for easier access and some intriguing technology options, this Alhambra should continue where its predecessor left off. Running costs promise to be manageable thanks to a modern engine range and advanced efficiency technology fitted to all models. This being a SEAT, it should play the value for money card strongly too.
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|Seat Alhambra 2.0 TDI CR SE Lux  5dr DSG diesel estate|
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|Seat Alhambra 2.0 TDI CR Ecomotive S 5dr diesel estate|
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|OVERALL||7.5 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||7|
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