SEAT Altea 2.0 TDI Freetrack 4

The 4WD people carrier carves a unique niche in the market

If getting through the rough stuff is more important to you than simply looking like you could, the Freetrack could be your ideal transport. It’s based on the Altea XL, but is longer, wider, taller and has tough black plastic body enhancements. Unique suspension increases the ride height by 40mm, and the track is wider, too.

Inside, the dashboard layout is largely unaltered from the standard car. However, the Freetrack does get a unique dark brown finish to the dash, doors, steering wheel and seats. Designed to represent what SEAT calls ‘an earthy or tree-bark feel’, in reality it looks a bit dark and dingy.

However, all of the controls are mounted high up and close to the driver, so there’s room for plenty of storage areas. Excellent wheel and seat movement mean it’s easy to get comfortable, and the raised suspension helps provide a great view of the road ahead, although the rakish A-pillars cause large blind spots.

However, this car remains a family MPV at heart, and practicality is a strength. The rear seats slide back and forth to vary legroom, and there is more space than in the Tucson. Rear passengers also get roof-mounted, pop-down cubbies and an excellent flip-down DVD system.

All these plus rear blinds, electric back windows and a central armrest are standard. Combined with a bigger boot and a more comfortable driving position, they give the SEAT the upper hand over the Hyundai for comfort and help justify its price premium. That four-wheel-drive system allows the Freetrack to tackle mild off-roading, but in normal driving conditions all the power goes to the front wheels. As a result, it doesn’t feel substantially different to a conventional Altea XL. The taut suspension ensures it corners precisely, with none of the body roll of the Tucson and much more grip, giving you a confidence that’s lacking in the Hyundai. The SEAT also has better weighted controls, sharper, more communicative steering and far stronger brakes, which performed much better in our emergency stops. Unlike the Tucson, the SEAT has stability control, too.

What’s more, the 2.0-litre TDI diesel has a more responsive throttle and provides punchier acceleration. The six-speed manual also has a tighter shift action. With superior performance, tidier handling and far better body control, the SEAT is some way ahead of its rival in several key areas. But that’s only of benefit to buyers who have £3,300 extra to pay for it...

Details

Price: £19.995Model tested: Altea 2.0 TDI Freetrack 4Chart position: 1WHY: The SEAT has all the benefits of 4WD traction in a practical people carrier body.

Economy

Specification changes and a rethink of the Freetrack’s marketing have slashed several hundred pounds off the list price. However, at £19,995 it’s still much more expensive than the entry-level Tucson. Elsewhere, there’s better news. Not only are economy, emissions and company car tax the more affordable of this pair, but servicing is much less costly, too. With three years’ worth of check-ups totalling £559, the Freetrack is cheaper to keep on the road than most fully fledged SUVs. Add a superior on-road performance to these lower running costs, and the SEAT makes a very strong case for itself.

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