REVIEW DATE: 02 Jul 2009
Most MPV style vehicles go large on practicality but offer meagre measures of style and sportiness. SEAT's Altea takes a different tack. By Andy Enright.
Product development offers a fascinating insight into the psychology of buying decisions. When Japanese manufacturers started making hi-fi equipment, everything was finished in either black or brushed aluminium in a bid to appear credible. Only with said credibility achieved could they begin to offer audio equipment in pastel shades with funky shapes and so on. A similar thing happened in the MPV market. At first, MPVs could only concentrate on safety and practicality. These days, cars like SEAT's Altea show how those shackles have been cast aside.
Customers these days take the practicality and safety angles for granted and demand more. Much more. Suddenly style and fun become key concepts for MPV drivers in an evolving market. Whereas an MPV-style car was once a grudge purchase for the cash-strapped, nowadays there are some very desirable offerings. Honda were probably the first to exploit this with the Stream, a seven seater that was a genuinely fun pedal. Fiat launched the quirky Multipla, Vauxhall launched a turbocharged version of their Zafira and Ford developed the Focus C-MAX, a car that tackled corners with relish. Now SEAT is in on the act and the Altea is unlike any MPV you've ever seen. In fact, the Spaniards shy away from the MPV tag, preferring the rather inelegant MSV (Multi Sports Vehicle).
"Based on the latest generation Golf chassis, the Altea serves up a set of sophisticated road manners."
The Altea unashamedly offers five spacious seats rather than seven cramped ones but weighs in with some innovative thinking. The side profile has the same 33:66 glass to metal ratio that features on so many sports cars and gives the Altea a far higher waisted and more dynamic look than, say, a Volkswagen Touran. Inside, there are more than thirty places to stow and stash goodies, including a super-sized glove compartment, big storage bins on all four doors, drawers under the front seat and even a storage area under the boot floor. Even the parcel shelf has a storage cubby incorporated within. The trim and build quality has been improved on the current cars and now does a better job of reflecting the exciting looks of the outside. The latest models can be spotted by their sleeker headlights and reshaped grille with a smaller SEAT badge at its centre. The Altea's greatest party trick is definitely the windscreen wipers - spot them if you can. Clue: they're hidden in the A-pillars.
The two-tiered boot has a capacity of over 400 litres in the standard model, which rises to 532 litres in the stretched XL bodyshape. In this variant, you can extend that to 635 litres without folding the rear seats if you slide them forward - or you can fold the rear bench and access 1,604 litres. Park up in Kensington and you could rent it out as a studio flat. Whichever bodystyle you go for, the rear bench is a 60/40 split affair with a fold down armrest incorporating cupholders.
Six engines are available in the Altea; three petrol and three diesel. The petrol engines comprise an 84bhp 1.4-litre, a 101bhp 1.6-litre and a peppier 1.4-litre TSI turbocharged option with 123bhp. Diesel buyers choose between the 1.9-litre powerplant in 89bhp or 103bhp forms, the 138bhp 2.0-litre diesel unit and a 168bhp 2.0-litre TDI which uses common-rail fuel injection technology. The DSG twin-clutch gearbox is available as an option on selected models and includes steering wheel paddle shifters, to add that motorsport element that's usually missing from the school run.
As befits SEAT's position within the sportier Audi side of Volkswagen's empire, the Altea's seats are supportive and the steering is meaty, the multi-adjustable wheel making it easy to find a decent driving position. The Altea rides on the same platform as a MkV VW Golf and also features the Agile Chassis Concept originally developed for the high performance Leon Cupra R. In other words, it's very good to drive, with surprisingly little body roll, despite its relatively high body and seating position.
Expect to pay a premium of around £500 for the extended wheelbase XL models. Four-wheel drive Freetrack 4 variants are also available with bigger bumpers and a raise ride height to emphasise their off-road potential.
SEAT have found that the 1.6-litre petrol engine and the entry-level diesel have shifted the biggest numbers in the UK. Tested back to back however, we think that most buyers would probably prefer the 105bhp 1.9-litre diesel which offers bags more torque and therefore superior real world performance. The trim levels range from S to S Emocion, SE and Sport.
The mainstream diesel engines in the Altea aren't the most refined you'll encounter but on power and economy, they're far stronger. You can get 52mpg and 146g/km emissions from the 1.9-litre TDI but the 2.0-litre version only gets 48mpg and 157g/km emissions. The range-topping diesel is an altogether more advanced affair with impressive refinement and emissions of just 146g/km despite its strong performance. The petrol derivatives aren't too shabby either with the 1.4-litre TSI model in particular looking like a good compromise between pace and cost.
Although the SEAT Altea may leave some potential buyers scratching their heads and wondering what exactly it's trying to be, if you're not too hung up on vehicle definitions and prefer something that's fun, stylish and practical, it's well worth a look.
A good deal more distinctive than most of the me-too family hatches that populate our roads, the Altea is a welcome breath of fresh air. Or at least it would have been if the rest of the SEAT range hadn't been styled to look just like it.
The results below show the top ALTEA deals on buyacar
|Seat Altea XL 1.6 TDI CR SE 5dr DSG diesel estate|
|Seat Altea XL 1.6 TDI CR SE Copa 5dr DSG diesel estate|
|Price £18,355||Save £2,380|
|Seat Altea XL 1.6 TDI CR Ecomotive SE 5dr diesel estate|
|Seat Altea 1.6 TDI CR Ecomotive S Copa 5dr diesel estate|
|Price £16,412||Save £1,373|
|Seat Altea 1.6 TDI CR SE Copa 5dr DSG diesel estate|
|Price £18,434||Save £1,576|
|VIEW MORE DISCOUNT ALTEA DEALS|
|For ALTEA RANGE|
|OVERALL||7.5 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||8|
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