REVIEW DATE: 02 Jul 2009
Recognising that interior space is a big factor when choosing MPV-style vehicles, SEAT has stretched the Altea. By Andy Enright
To be brutally frank, I've never really 'got' the SEAT Altea. Yes, I can see that it's a very tidy car that drives well and is tightly priced but there's something about it that makes it easy to overlook. Drive one and you might well be a convert but getting bums on seats isn't easy, especially with the rather sexier Leon also available. SEAT has responded with a long wheelbase version that now justifies the Altea's existence. The XL is the car the Altea always ought to have been.
It's also a wholly sensible car. It's enormously gratifying that, after levering another 18.7 cm onto the Altea's rear end, SEAT's marketing crew didn't insist on seven seats to try to claw a way into another part of the mini-MPV market. Instead of building a seriously compromised seven seater, SEAT has instead come up with a beautifully resolved five seat family car and one that could, on the quiet, be one of the best buys in its class.
Although that 18.7cm stretch doesn't sound much, imagine an extra seven inches to cram in that extra bit of luggage. The Altea XL is a decent choice for a family that has forgotten how to pack light. Boot space rises from an already impressive 409 litres in the standard car to a cavernous 532 litres. With the Altea's rear seats shifted forwards, that can increase to 635 litres. You'll search in vain for a broadly similar car that can carry you, the kids and quite this much gear. If you're after the ultimate in capacity, book the kids a babysitter, fold the rear seats down and you've got 1,604 litres or room back there. Park up in Kensington and you could rent it out as a studio flat.
"Stretching the Altea makes all sorts of sense"
The rear seats of the Altea XL benefit from longer runners than the standard model, slotting back an additional 2cm for when you really need to stretch out. Let's just say you won't be fretting about coming down with a dose of deep vein thrombosis.
The additional length has been built into the Altea's styling in a sympathetic fashion and it's only when you put the regular model next to the XL that you can see where the additional centimetres have been teased out. The side profile still 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. The front doors on the XL are a good deal longer than in the standard car but the swage line that runs from the front wheel arch to midway down the rear helps disguise this. The roof bars are the biggest giveaway with the split rear light clusters also XL-specific. The latest models can be spotted by their sleeker headlights and reshaped grille with a smaller SEAT badge at its centre.
Inside, there are more than thirty places to stow and stash goodies, including a supersized 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 two-tiered boot can be variously extended via the rear bench with a 60/40 split. This also features a fold down armrest incorporating cupholders. 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.
Based on the fifth generation Volkswagen Golf chassis, the Altea serves up a set of sophisticated road manners. The multi-link rear axle and McPherson struts up front offer a very good ride/handling compromise, helped in no small part by one of the best electro-mechanical steering systems we've yet come across. Turn-in is surprisingly sharp for a vehicle that's fully 1570mm high and body roll is very well controlled. The Altea isn't found wanting in terms of safety provision, being SEAT's first car to be sold in the EU with twin front, side, and head airbags as standard. Three-point anchors for all five seats, ISOFIX child seat attachments, anti lock brakes and traction control are all offered.
Prices start at around £15,000, that figure representing a premium of around £500 on the standard-shape Altea. Five engines are available; Two petrol and three diesel. The petrol engines comprise a 102bhp 1.6-litre entry level unit and a peppier 123bhp 1.4-litre TSI variant. Diesel buyers choose between the 103bhp 1.9-litre powerplant, the 138bhp 2.0-litre turbodiesel unit and a 168bhp 2.0-litre TDI engine with common-rail fuel injection technology.
Safety is a key priority for any vehicle aiming at the family market and the Altea XL acquits itself well, gaining a full 5 stars in the Euro NCAP passenger protection tests and a creditable 3 stars for pedestrian protection, making it one of the safest cars in its class.
The XL gives the Altea an extra dimension in practicality and it seems destined to increase the appeal of SEAT's compact MPV offering.
The results below show the top ALTEA XL 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|
|VIEW MORE DISCOUNT ALTEA XL DEALS|
|For ALTEA XL RANGE|
|OVERALL||7.5 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||9|
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