SEAT Alhambra review
The seven-seat SEAT Alhambra offers strong value, and three time winner of MPV of the year
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 has won the Auto Express MPV of the year three times. A recent facelift has brought updated styling and improved running costs, too.
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.
Named after a sprawling historic monument in Granada, Spain, it’s no surprise that SEAT’s Alhambra offers palatial accommodation.
The seven-seat full-size MPV is a sister-car of the Volkswagen Sharan, and has been built in Portugal since 1996 when the Ford Galaxy model was also part of a joint-venture between the brands.
Ford withdrew from the project and the Galaxy went its own way in 2006, well before the latest generation Sharan/Alhambra was introduced in 2010.
The two MPV sisters are now built on the VW Group’s A5 platform, which is closely related to the Passat. It’s significantly bigger all round than its predecessor, and now comes with a choice of efficient and smooth four-cylinder petrol or diesel engines.
If economy is your priority, the TDi Ecomotive model won’t disappoint. It’s the cheapest diesel option, and the addition of start-stop and a Brake Energy Regeneration System produces lower CO2 emissions and economy of 56.5mpg on the combined cycle. The other engines offer good efficiency too.
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Four trim levels are available in all, kicking off with the S entry-model, followed by the SE, the Connect, the SE Lux and the FR line.
Standard S features include 16 inch alloys, Touchscreen infotainment with Bluetooth, three-zone climate control, ESC and emergency brake assist. The SE adds 17 inch alloys, tinted windows and roof rails, cruise control, auto wipers and auto headlamps, among other luxuries.
The Connect adds MirrorLink to pair your Smartphone and various cosmetic upgrades, while the SE LUX brings power sliding doors (an unending source of entertainment for your kids), a panoramic sliding sunroof, satellite navigation, a rear-view camera, leather upholstery and a host of other luxury upgrades. The FR has more of a sporty theme, with special 18 inch alloy wheels, and Alcantara interior with sporty red stitching highlights – and a limited slip differential with the most powerful engine option.
Engines, performance and drive
While the SEAT Alhambra is not quite as good to drive as its main 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.
Before the facelift SEAT offered only one engine in the Alhambra, a 2.0-litre diesel, but now a downsized 148bhp 1.4-litre turbo has also been made available. We'd suggest you stick with the diesel - ideally the higher-powered 182bhp version over the 148bhp model as the extra power and torque is certainly helpful when transporting seven people and all of their luggage around.
SEAT also introduced adaptive dampers with the facelifted model, but as a £935 option its worth saving your cash as they don't offer any real benefit in terms of driving experience.
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The rest of the Alhambra’s driving experience is surprisingly car-like. The SEAT feels like it carries its weight low down, and the firm suspension set-up, grippy chassis, positive steering and XDS electronic diff control (standard on SE Lux models) combine to deliver agile handling. Sure, it’s no sports car, and body roll is an issue in corners, but the Alhambra is well controlled, and once you’re in a bend, it feels stable and isn’t unsettled by mid-corner bumps.
This sharp cornering ability doesn’t come at the expense of comfort, either. While the SEAT’s ride is definitely on the firm side, it’s still pretty relaxing to drive, and passengers will feel comfortable, too, with plenty of space and not much in the way of noise.
The new petrol engine in the Alhambra line-up is a four-cylinder 1.4 litre unit offering 0-62mph in 9.9 seconds and a 126mph top speed with the manual gearbox option. Opt for the DSG dual-clutch auto and you’ll lose a tenth on the acceleration time, and maximum speed drops to 124mph.
The junior 148bhp version of the 2.0-litre diesel has very similar figures – 10.2 seconds for the 0-62mpg sprint and 126mph, or 10.4 seconds and 124mph with DSG.
Conversely the more powerful 182bhp 2.0-litre TDI does 0-62mph in 9.4 seconds and 133mph with manual gears, but is faster with the DSG set-up – recording an 8.9 second sprint and 135mph.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
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.
That's also the most efficient version too, returning over 57mpg and emitting 130g/km of CO2. However, all diesel versions are capable of over 53mpg.
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Insuring an Alhambra won’t cost too much as the 148bhp petrol and diesel models are both insurance group 18, while the most powerful 182bhp diesel is group 22. Ford Galaxy insurance ranges from group 16 to 26, while the Peugeot 508s are group 18 and 19.
The SEAT Alhambra is unexceptional when it comes to retained values. Predictions suggest you’ll be lucky to keep much more than a third of the new price if you resell at three years/60,000 miles, but the more powerful and better-equipped diesels seem to be most highly valued in the used market.
Interior, design and technology
If there’s any car that fits the MPV design template perfectly, it’s the Alhambra. The one-box layout is as van-like as they come, and the car’s overall shape is identical to that of the Volkswagen Sharan, with which it shares much.
However, the devil is in the detail, and while the SEAT won’t win any beauty contests, the crisp lines and sharp details add interest to the Alhambra’s shape. Up front, the straight-edged grille and headlights are a familiar SEAT design, and they’re joined by a large lower grille in the bumper that’s flanked by a pair of foglamp housings.
The slab sides are pretty plain, and unfortunately there’s no hiding the runners for the sliding doors towards the back of the bodywork, but the large glass area is nicely proportioned with the body, while silver roof rails add style, too. At the rear, the huge tail-lights are split across the upright tailgate, while the vast rear glass area gives a good view out the back.
Climb aboard, and the large dashboard features the same logical layout and simple controls as you’ll find across the SEAT range. In fact, it’s identical to the VW Sharan, and build quality is on a par with its main rivals. There’s a bit too much black plastic in the cabin, the optional 6.5-inch touchscreen can be to navigate and it looks pretty ordinary when compared to the distinctive Citroen Grand C4 Picasso, but everything works well and feels solid.
Leather trim is fitted as standard on SE Lux models, and you can also specify two-tone finish seats which add a bit of colour to proceedings. It also means the cabin is hard-wearing, plus extensive use of black plastic trim should withstand the rigours of family life.
Sat-Nav, stereo and infotainment
All Alhambra grades come with a 6.5 inch colour touchscreen, controlling an audio system that features an FM/AM radio, MP3 compatible CD player with USB, Bluetooth, voice recognition and 8 loudspeakers. You also get steering wheel controls for audio.
Optional equipment includes a nav system with rear view camera, which comes with an upgrade to DAB digital radio – all are standard on the SE Lux model.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
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.
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As well as being relatively long at 4,854mm the Alhambra measures 2,081mm wide, which helps make the cabin feel light and airy. That compares to 4,656mm x 1,884mm for the Vauxhall Zafira Tourer, or 4,820mm x 2,154mm for the Ford Galaxy.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
As in most of its 7-seat MPV rivals, the third row is only really suitable for carrying children, but the second row offers acres of space for three adults with lots of leg- and headroom. There are three individual seats in the row that slide back and forward and recline independently.
More good news comes with the rear sliding doors that can be electrically powered as an option (along with the tailgate), which makes access incredibly easy – even to the third row.
The sliding doors are also incredibly helpful in confined carparks if you’re trying to load children into the middle seats and you can specify two built-in booster cushions that lift out of the seat bases, too. ISOFIX child seat mounts are standard on all three middle seats.
Reliability and Safety
Since its launch in 2010, the Alhambra has sold in low numbers, so it hasn’t appeared in our Driver Power surveys. But it has contributed to SEAT’s 15th place finish in our manufacturer ranking this year, which puts the brand five spots ahead of Citroen, and 10 positions ahead of Ford.
Unfortunately, SEAT’s dealers don’t have a great reputation, although its franchises saw an improvement from dead last up to 27th in the 2015 survey. The Alhambra earned a five-star Euro NCAP rating, but this was back in 2010 before a more stringent test regime was introduced.
However, that doesn’t mean the SEAT can be considered unsafe by any means, as back in 2010 the car recorded an excellent 96 per cent rating for Adult Occupant safety, and 80 per cent for Child Occupants. It features the usual raft of kit too, including seven airbags, driver-operated electric child locks on the sliding doors and three Isofix child seat mounts on the middle row. Safety options include a pair of integrated child seats (£425), while specifying the multifunction camera (£525) adds lane assist and traffic sign recognition.
The standard SEAT warranty applies to the Alhambra, which means three years cover with a 60,000 mileage cap in year three, but unlimited mileage in years one and two. You can spend an extra £400 to get four years/75,000 miles, or £700 for five years/90,000 miles.
SEAT servicing costs are competitive across the board, but you can take out a fixed-price plan for three-years/30,000 miles of routine maintenance for around £20 per month. It doesn’t cover consumable items like brake pads or tyres though.