SEAT Alhambra (1996 - 2000) review

BY JONATHAN CROUCH

Introduction

The Alhambra takes its name from the ancient palace in Granada which dates back to the 12th century and plays a central part in Spain's early history. This place was apparently vast - an indication, SEAT believes, of the capacity of its people carrier. The SEAT Alhambra was launched in June 1996 in both 2.0-litre petrol and 90bhp 1.9-litre turbo diesel guise, both units identical to those offered in VW's Sharan. The major selling points over both Sharan and Galaxy were a three- year warranty and air conditioning as standard equipment on all models. Incidentally, the latest models all now have anti-lock brakes and cruise control as well. In early 1998 a 110bhp version of the turbodiesel arrived in seven-seater form only. A few months later a 1.8-litre petrol turbo model was added to the line-up. It was followed, late in 1999, by the luxuriously equipped Gran Via which had the petrol turbo engine, and six leather-trimmed 'captain's seats'. The second generation Alhambra range arrived in Britain in Summer 2000. The Turbo diesel was now a 115bhp TDI PD unit and there was a V6 petrol option for the first time (which didn't arrive until the following year). The car featured six-speed transmission on manual models and had been facelifted inside and out for a more upmarket feel.

Models

Models Covered: ALHAMBRA - FIRST GENERATION (JUNE 1996 TO JUNE 2000): (Alhambra 2.0 5dr MPV [SE] / Alhambra 1.8T 20v [SE, Gran Via] / Alhambra 1.9TD 90 bhp 5dr MPV [SE] / Alhambra 1.9TD 110bhp 5dr MPV [SE])

History

The Alhambra takes its name from the ancient palace in Granada which dates back to the 12th century and plays a central part in Spain's early history. This place was apparently vast - an indication, SEAT believes, of the capacity of its people carrier. The SEAT Alhambra was launched in June 1996 in both 2.0-litre petrol and 90bhp 1.9-litre turbo diesel guise, both units identical to those offered in VW's Sharan. The major selling points over both Sharan and Galaxy were a three- year warranty and air conditioning as standard equipment on all models. Incidentally, the latest models all now have anti-lock brakes and cruise control as well. In early 1998 a 110bhp version of the turbodiesel arrived in seven-seater form only. A few months later a 1.8-litre petrol turbo model was added to the line-up. It was followed, late in 1999, by the luxuriously equipped Gran Via which had the petrol turbo engine, and six leather-trimmed 'captain's seats'. The second generation Alhambra range arrived in Britain in Summer 2000. The Turbo diesel was now a 115bhp TDI PD unit and there was a V6 petrol option for the first time (which didn't arrive until the following year). The car featured six-speed transmission on manual models and had been facelifted inside and out for a more upmarket feel.

What You Get

Though at first glance every inch an MPV, the Alhambra, says SEAT, is something quite different. Sure enough, though it seats between five and seven people depending on the model you choose, it's easy to drive, simple to park and no more expensive to run than the car you have at the moment. This, say SEAT, is the future; car-like qualities in what, until pre-Alhambra/Sharan and Galaxy times, was a van-like sector of the market. In the showroom, the car costs about the same as a mid-range family estate, measures in at about the same length and takes up no more space on the road. Behind the wheel, it's exactly like a medium range estate - only better, thanks to that high-seated driving position and the glassy cabin. Whichever version you choose, you'll be looking for flexibility - and you shouldn't be disappointed. Whatever configuration of seats you choose, you'll find that all of them can be folded down or unclipped and removed completed.

What You Pay

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What to Look For

Check for faulty trim and excessive transmission noise caused by the specially lengthened gear linkages. On the popular 2.0-litre, listen for clattery camshafts and make sure the drive-belt has been replaced on schedule. Bear in mind too that most Alhambras will have been used by people not used to cars of this size. It's worth checking therefore for body scrapes and scuffed mirrors. Finally, check the condition of the rear seats; their frames may have been damaged by ill-judged removal attempts.

Replacement Parts

Alhambras come with transferable three-year parts warranties, so it may be that many used examples will still be covered. (Estimated prices, based on a 2.0 (inc VAT) A clutch assembly is around £315, a full exhaust system is just under £245 and an exchange alternator around £220. Front brake pads are around £75 and a headlamp unit will set you back just over £90.

On the Road

This car (along with its Galaxy and Sharan stablemates) is the best handling people carrier you can buy. The Alhambra doesn't roll, pitch or wallow like many of its MPV counterparts. Nor do you need a period of acclimatisation before you can drive it quickly, as you would, for example, with a fashionable four-wheel drive.

Overall

The Alhambra, along of course with its Sharan and Galaxy contemporaries, leads the MPV class on merit. That warranty and the provision of air conditioning makes it the best buy of the three, new or used - if you can find one.