Seat Alhambra (second generation model)

By David Wilkins

Seat's first-generation Alhambra people-carrier, a close sister to the original versions of the Volkswagen Sharan and the Ford Galaxy, is one of the oldest mainstream models on sale. It wouldn't have survived for so long if it didn't do the basics well, but the world into which the first Alhambra was launched in 1996 was very different to that which greets its successor in 2010.

The Euro NCAP system of safety ratings, for example, had yet to be introduced and most drivers probably didn't know what CO2 was, or have a view on whether it was killing the planet; now it forms the basis of much of the UK's system of vehicle and motoring taxes and CO2 emissions figures feature prominently in car manufacturers' advertising and customers' buying decisions.

The new Alhambra has been a long time coming, so the question that naturally arises is whether it has been worth the wait; the answer, broadly speaking, is yes. Today's preoccupations with safety and emissions have been fully addressed with, among other measures, generous helpings of airbags and a range of strong and economical engines. People-carrier fundamentals such comfort, ease of access, and passenger and luggage space, have received a lot of attention as well.

The Alhambra has grown somewhat in the process. It is longer than its predecessor, at 4.85 metres but its most notable dimension is its unusually generous width - 1.9 metres. This makes itself felt in terms of interior space, in particular in the ability of the second row of seating to accommodate three adults in relative comfort. The third, two-seat row is also much more suitable than most for carrying adults. That's as much because the Alhambra provides for comparatively dignified access – the second-row seats have 16cm of fore-aft movement - as because it is fairly spacious. Sliding rear side-doors, one of the big changes over the original model, help, although these will apparently only be electrically powered on the more expensive versions. The second and third row seats can be folded down using a single hand (Seat calls the system EasyFold) to form a flat surface – an effect that could only be achieved with the previous model by removing the seats completely.

Seat says that the second row of seats is raised slightly to provide a better view to the front; I sat in the back of two Alhambras and only noticed this in one, when I sat on the middle of the three separate seats. That provided a slight feeling of sitting on, rather than in, the car that wasn't noticeable on the second example I tried, which had what felt like softer leather-clad upholstery – and in which I was sitting on one of the outer seats. Overall, though, this Seat performs very strongly on the practical side, helped by neat touches such as the ability to programme the tailgate opening height in order to avoid scrapes on low garage ceilings.

The new Alhambra reflects fourteen years of progress out on the road as well, although it presents an interesting comparison with one of its competitors, Ford's Galaxy. While the first Galaxy was part of the joint programme that also produced the original Sharan and Alhambra, Ford broke away to develop its own successor model, which appeared in 2006. The second-generation Galaxy probably tries to follow more closely the tradition, if it can be called that, of the original Sharan/Galaxy/Alhambra as something of a "driver's MPV", while the Alhambra feels a bit more comfort-orientated – a difference of emphasis between the two cars that runs through much of the wider Ford and VW group model ranges.

The most interesting Alhambra engine option is likely to be overshadowed by the diesels which tend to be the most popular choice for this sort of car but it is certainly worth a look; it is a 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol unit, badged TSI, which produces 150 horsepower (PS). The first buyers of the 1996 Alhambra would scarcely have been able to believe that Seat might eventually produce a larger successor that relied on such a small petrol engine to haul it around. If you'd told them that it would do a good, rather than merely adequate job, and that it would be the only petrol engine offered on a future Alhambra, at least in the UK (a 2.0-litre TSI option is available in some markets) they would probably think you had taken leave of your senses. And yet it is true.

The 1.4 TSI Alhambra is an effective performer; it has a top speed of 122mph and can accelerate to 100km/h (62mph) in 10.7 seconds. CO2 emissions on official tests start at 167g/km and combined cycle fuel consumption, helped, as in all Alhambras, by stop-start technology, at 39.2mpg. Only a very slight characteristic turbocharger wheeze gave any clue to the nature of engine was providing the smooth, refined progress the 1.4 TSI achieved during my test. Just one caveat; my driving was done with two occupants rather than with the full load of passengers and luggage that might be more typical of the sort of use to which Alhambras are likely to be put.

The two diesel options, 140 and 170 horsepower versions of VW's 2.0-litre common rail engine are equally impressive. Both are smooth for their type, leaving the roughness of the old 1.9 litre Volkswagen diesels behind, and buyers who opt for the less powerful version shouldn't feel short-changed – it's still pretty quick.

The diesels I tried used quick-shifting twin-clutch DSG gearboxes, which come close to offering the best of both automatic and manual transmission worlds. The 170 horsepower Alhambras have a top speed of 127mph (121mph for the 140 horsepower model) and can accelerate to 62mph in 9.8 (10.9) seconds. CO2 emissions start at 167g/km (143g/km) and fuel consumption is as little as 47.9mpg (51.36mpg) in official combined cycle tests. In all cases, it's worth checking again later for definitive numbers for UK models, which go on sale in November and differ slightly from their continental equivalents in terms of trim levels (expected to be generous) and configuration (all UK cars will be seven-seaters, whereas a five-seater will be available elsewhere).

The Alhambra is a handsome car, although its people-carrier proportions and close relationship with the new Volkswagen Sharan mean that Seat has had a bit less scope to provide the sort of visual dash that characterises the latest versions of its big-selling core Ibiza and Leon models; these have helped to sharpen up the Spanish brand, which previously struggled to define itself as clearly as, say, Skoda. It is, nevertheless, a strong addition to Seat's range.

Seat Alhambra (second generation model)

On sale: November 2010 (UK)

Price: from about £21,000

Top speed: 122 mph (1.4 TSI)

Acceleration: 10.7 seconds (1.4 TSI)

Fuel consumption: 39.2mpg (1.4 TSI)

CO2: 167g/km (1.4 TSI)

Also worth considering: Ford Galaxy, Volkswagen Sharan

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

    Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

    £40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

    £35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

    Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

    Day In a Page

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent