SEAT Altea

Promising your newest model reinvents the car market is a brave move indeed - and that's exactly what SEAT has done by calling its Altea the world's first Multi Sports Vehicle, or MSV for short. But does this concept ring true across the range? We drove the new base model, the 1.6-litre petrol, to find out.

Balancing the demands of families and driving enthusiasts is a difficult skill, and none more so in a 1.6-litre entry-level model. SEAT has made a decent attempt, but ultimately the Altea leans more towards sports car than MPV. Time will tell if that will satisfy in such a competitive arena.

Promising your newest model reinvents the car market is a brave move indeed - and that's exactly what SEAT has done by calling its Altea the world's first Multi Sports Vehicle, or MSV for short. But does this concept ring true across the range? We drove the new base model, the 1.6-litre petrol, to find out.

The Spanish maker claims its newcomer combines the practicality of a people carrier with the driving excitement of a hot hatch. And even in entry-level guise, the Altea's striking looks go some way towards fulfilling the brief. Although the SEAT boasts the height of a mini-MPV, it has the silhouette of much sportier machines, with a ratio of two-thirds bodywork to one-third glass.

Inside, the high-set driving position provides excellent visibility. But the interior can't match MPV rivals such as Renault's Scenic for flexibility - although there are more than 30 cubbies. Boot capacity is 409 litres, but fold the rear seats and it rises to only 1,320 litres - not the biggest in class. There may be a clever underfloor storage area, but this emphasises that practicality has been compromised in the bid for sportiness.

Still, on the open road, keen drivers will be grateful for this. Unlike a lot of tall cars, the Altea doesn't lean too much in corners, and it's aided by SEAT's Agile Chassis Concept, developed for the Leon Cupra R. More commonly known as dynamic steering response, this adapts to the road and driving conditions, and is further evidence that SEAT is aiming the Altea at those seeking a sporty ride.

The entry-level engine offers 98bhp, and is mated to a five-speed manual box. Its smooth gearshifts make town driving painless, while the SEAT excels on the motorway, too. At 70mph, there is still plenty of acceleration available.

But while the 1.6 Altea is smooth, comfortable, well equipped and competitively priced, it doesn't quite fulfil the task of being a cross between a driver's car and an MPV. It has more to offer those attracted by its sportiness than its practicality - although that should be enough to appeal to the 5,000 buyers SEAT is looking for.

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