SEAT Altea

There have been some famous badges in hot hatch history - GTi, SRi and RS to name but three! SEAT doesn't have such a familiar sporty brand....

With the excellent Golf platform as a starting point, it's no surprise that SEAT has done a fine job of injecting some excitement into the Altea. A punchy diesel gives plenty of pace, while the chassis is nimble. It's a shame there's no Altea Cupra to take on Vauxhall's Zafira VXR, but the FR offers a good compromise between practicality, performance and value.

There have been some famous badges in hot hatch history - GTi, SRi and RS to name but three! SEAT doesn't have such a familiar sporty brand, instead planning to steal sales from its rivals with value, performance and fun.

We have already seen FR - Formula Racing - versions of the Ibiza and old-shape Leon, and now the Spanish firm has given the first of its new generation of models the treatment. Auto Express took the wheel of the Altea FR to see if there is room for one more entry in the hot hatch hall of fame.

As diesel power accounts for most FR-badged machines sold in the UK, the oil-burning hot Altea will arrive first, in April. A petrol version, sharing the Golf GTI engine, follows later in the year. SEAT's most powerful diesel model ever, the 2.0-litre TDI-engined FR delivers 168bhp - that's 30bhp more than the standard oil-burning Altea. Torque is increased by 30Nm to 350Nm.

Use full throttle in all but the tall sixth gear, and a good surge of acceleration and wider powerband give greater flexibility than other VW Group TDI models. In first and sec-ond, traction is a problem on slippery surfaces, but the standard-fit ESP controls any wheelspin.

SEAT has also stiffened the Altea's chassis and altered the steering. Driven on a twisty road, the compact MPV has a similar feel to the Golf GTI, although can't quite match the class-leading hot hatch's agility or accuracy. The FR still raises a smile, though, with excellent stability and well weighted steering.

One downfall of sporty SEATs of the past was a brutally hard ride, but the Altea is far more supple. Along with its smart 17-inch alloys, the FR is set apart from its stablemates by reprofiled bumpers, a chrome twin exhaust and a ride height lower by seven millimetres. Unfortunately, the modifications can't hide the Altea's oddball feline shape at the front, while from the back it looks too similar to standard variants.

Inside, only new dials, FR badges on the steering wheel and an oversized gearknob mark the sporty variant apart. But it's hard to be critical when you consider the price and low running costs, thanks to fuel-sipping economy and tax-friendly CO2 emissions. It looks like the FR badge is here to stay.

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