SEAT Alhambra review
The seven-seat SEAT Alhambra offers strong value, and won the Best MPV of 2013 at the Auto Express awards
The SEAT Alhambra is mechanically identical to the Volkswagen Sharan but it is better value for money and just as practical. It's a well equipped, well built people carrier that we named the best MPV of 2013 at the Auto Express awards. It’s the third consecutive year that the SEAT Alhambra has scooped this category win. The SEAT Alhambra boasts low running costs and can return up to 50mpg. As well as being impressively efficient, this MPV shines when it comes to practicality; the large dimensions mean there’s plenty of legroom, flexible seating and a decent boot that all work together to keep the family happy. But the SEAT Alhambra isn’t just about practicality – it also drives remarkably well without any of the compromise you’d expect from a seven-seater. The extras take driving the SEAT Alhambra to the next level, too, such as the Park Assist system that will reverse park into parallel spaces or bays for you. The range-topping SE Lux trim comes with powered side doors and tailgate, which the family will never tire of watching. And then there’s the full-length, opening, panoramic sunroof and leather seats – also part of the SE Lux upgrade – that make travelling in the rear seats a pleasure. If economy is your priority, the Ecomotive model won’t disappoint. The addition of start-stop and a Brake Energy Regeneration System work together to lower CO2 emissions and return an impressive 50.4mpg. Just two trim levels are offered, S and SE, and both offer plenty of kit.
Our choice: Alhambra 2.0 TDI 140 SE
Even though SEAT's Alhambra is mechanically identical to the Volkswagen Sharan, it's a very different car to look at, inside and out. We think the SEAT's unique styling is superior to that offered by the VW, its bodywork is less fussy, and much easier on the eye, while on the inside there's plenty of kit on offer. SE versions get sat-nav as standard but even the base S spec is well equipped. There's also no doubt the tougher looking fabrics and plainer dash design are better suited to family life. Ultimately the Alhambra's star quality is that it offers all the practicality and quality of the more expensive Volkswagen, but for less money. Its rear sliding doors are worth special mention too, as they make loading the car with passengers and luggage far easier.
While the SEAT Alhambra is not quite as good to drive as its rival, the Ford S-MAX, it's still an appealing prospect. The suspension can feel a little firm on very rough roads, but it's a capable cruiser, while accurate steering helps make the car feel a bit smaller than it actually is. Six-speed manual and DSG automatic gearboxes are available, and the latter improves both performance and fuel economy. The engine range features just one engine: the tried and tested 2.0-litre TDI diesel with either 138bhp or 175bhp. Both are smooth and gutsy performers, so we'd save a bit of cash and opt for the lower powered unit.
The SEAT Alhambra is the safest MPV too, being awarded five stars in its Euro NCAP safety test. It scored the highest points for the safety of adult passengers and performed well for child safety too, just 2% short of being the class leader. Although the Fiat Freemont wins for child safety, the SEAT Alhambra has an advantage because the front passenger airbag can be disabled, allowing a rearward facing child restraint to be used, which isn’t possible in the Freemont.
As you would expect of a full sized MPV, the Alhambra's greatest strength is its practicality. The car measures 2081mm wide, which helps make the cabin feel light and airy. There are seven seats, and you can fold the second and third rows completely flat. As an option, you can choose a front passenger seat that can can be folded flat too, allowing the SEAT to carry loads up to 2.95m long. With all the seats in place, the boot is a little on the small side, at just 267 litres, although that makes it still deep enough to hold five full supermarket carrier bags. With the rearmost seats folded there's 1,167 litres of space on offer, increasing to 2,297 with the second row folded as well. However, like many MPV rivals, the third row is only really suitable for carrying children. The good news is the boot and rear sliding doors can be electrified as an option, which makes access incredibly easy.
It may be the cheaper than the VW Sharan, but that doesn’t mean it's the cheapest MPV out there. Rivals like the Vauxhall Zafira may cost less, but none can quite match the Alhambra's practicality or economy. The entry-level SEAT Alhambra price starts at £25,340 on the road – that’s the price tag for the S trim with the 2.0-litre TDI Ecomotive engine, capable of returning the highest mpg figure of 50.4mpg and the lowest CO2 emissions of 146g/km.