June Neary tries out the Alhambra, SEAT's usefully revised contender in the large People Carrier sector
Will It Suit Me?
It would be like buying a sledgehammer to crack a walnut for my family to invest in a six or seven-seater people carrier. However, when you have to ferry three couples home from a charity ball as I did recently, there's nothing better. It's not just the number of seats, it's the comfort that the MPV provides when all of your passengers are adults (and especially when half are wreathed in flounces and frills). The SEAT Alhambra is one of the lesser-known contenders in the sector, but it lacks nothing that its rivals offer - and pound for pound you get more for your money. More about that later. The latest model has a 150bhp 2.0 TDI diesel borrowed from the Volkswagen Golf.
I tend to see the new breed of MPVs as 'executive' people movers. They come into their own when you have a group of adults to transport from A to B - tennis players at Wimbledon, business executives to a conference, your teenage kids plus friends to a disco. Smaller kids love it too, of course. They're sitting high up in their own seat, so there's no squabbling about who's to sit in the middle or moaning about being squashed. There's certainly a lot of glass, which means that even passengers in the third row get a good view out. Getting passengers in is also 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. 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 little touches please as well - there are for example, enough cup holders for a gallon of cola. Then there are the picnic tables built into the rear seat backs - just fold them down and enjoy your lunch even if it's raining. The downside is that, fully laden, there's little room left over for luggage and in this respect the Alhambra is no better or worse than most affordable MPVs. In terms of driver comfort, I had no complaints and visibility is excellent all round. But when you've deposited your children at school and hit the supermarket car park, the Alhambra and its ilk can be a little more awkward than the average family car. With a bit of practice, of course, the size becomes less of a problem and, to be fair, it's only about the same length as a standard estate. Stowing shopping between the seats is manageable (but I do prefer a roomy boot).
Behind the Wheel
Like the Ford Galaxy and the Volkswagen Sharan, which the Alhambra closely resembles, it is a surprisingly good driver's car. We borrowed the 2.0 TDI with the 150bhp engine and a DSG auto gearbox and enjoyed a smooth, comfortable drive. Other engine options include a pokier 184PS version of the diesel unit. Plus there's also a 1.4-litre TSI petrol alternative. The Alhambra is remarkably car-like and when my other half took the wheel, he was really quite impressed. He has in the past spurned the 'van with windows' approach to ferrying people around, but if we had a larger family than our complement of one, he wouldn't discount the MPV route. Around town, this SEAT 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.
Value For Money
All models get air conditioning, ABS, twin front, side and curtain airbags, remote control central locking and electric front windows. Plusher versions get combination leather/alcantara upholstery and electronic climate control that you can operate front and rear. As for the recent changes, well this revised model comes with a new generation of SEAT Easy Connect infotainment systems. These include high-resolution touchscreen displays and the very latest processors for much faster booting and rapid route calculation, offering a completely new level of connectivity too. As for safety, well the VW Group's award-winning multi-collision brake system is now standard equipment in this Alhambra. In the event that the driver can no longer intervene following an accident, it initiates automatic braking to avoid a secondary collision. This car can also now be specified with a Blind-Spot Sensor, which warns of unseen vehicles when changing lane. Another fresh feature Alhambra buyers can specify is DCC (Dynamic Chassis Control). The system regulates the damper valves in a matter of milliseconds to adapt the vehicle characteristics to the exact driving situation - whether it's supreme comfort or a sportier drive. Optional massage seats also deliver an exceptionally high level of long-distance comfort.
Could I Live With One?
It would take me a bit of time to adjust to running an MPV as my daily runaround, but should we have a son who ends up getting chosen for the school football team, I'd soon be in great demand ferrying him and his team-mates around. And they wouldn't be too cramped and stiff to play when they got there! If the Alhambra suits your lifestyle, you would certainly enjoy excellent value for money.