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Toyota Prius+ vs SEAT Alhambra

Now petrol-electric newcomer comes face-to-face with full-size seven-seater that we crowned MPV of the Year

The best MPVs need to cope with everything that life can throw at them. Whether it’s the school run, weekends away or trips to the DIY superstore, they have to complement your lifestyle with functional seat layouts and roomy interiors.

If you can add low emissions and frugal economy to the mix, even better. But while the new Prius+ scores well when it comes to efficiency, can it really challenge our MPV of the Year, the similarly priced SEAT Alhambra, in terms of day-to-day practicality?

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Well, you only have to park the two side-by-side to realise the Toyota has a tough job on its hands. The Alhambra is massive in comparison, and while it’s not exactly the last word in style, few people are likely to be upset by the clean lines. And that large body hides an enormous cabin.

The handy sliding doors open to reveal a functional and top-quality interior, while the large windows and generous headroom boost the SEAT’s sense of space. The three full-size seats in the middle row slide back and forth independently, while the outer two tilt and slide forward easily, opening a wide gap that makes it simple to climb into the third row.

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And even in these rearmost seats, there’s enough headroom for adults, while your feet can slot comfortably under the bases of the row in front. Legroom is a little tight with the middle row chairs pushed all the way back, but slot them forward a couple of clicks and there’s enough space to carry seven adults in comfort – something the Toyota can only do if your passengers are happy to squeeze together.

Unsurprisingly, the SEAT also has a bigger boot in every seat configuration, plus you get a fully flat load area with all the chairs laid down.

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The Alhambra also feels as though it’s ready to face all the trials and tribulations of family life. All the latches and levers used to move the chairs feel robust, yet they’re not stiff or awkward to use. Throughout the cabin, trim materials are first-rate and the SEAT feels more upmarket than the Prius+.

Up front, the dash is more conventional, but the layout is simple yet smart. There are chunky controls and large dials, plus with plenty of adjustment of the driving position, it’s really easy to make yourself feel at home.

The good news continues on the move. It’s hard to find fault with the driving experience as the SEAT has a well judged balance between comfort and handling. Standard run-flat tyres make the ride a touch firm at low speeds, but it’s no worse than the Prius+, while at higher speeds the car is pretty composed.

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In corners, you can feel the Alhambra’s high centre of gravity, but body control is good, there’s plenty of grip and the well weighted steering responds positively to your inputs.

The punchy 2.0-litre TDI diesel engine is tuned to 168bhp, and gives the SEAT a big performance advantage over the Toyota. It’s mated to a dual-clutch DSG gearbox, and provides better pick-up and acceleration in kickdown, so overtaking is easier. Steering wheel paddles allow you to change gear at your chosen revs, too. In contrast, you get precious little control with the Prius’ CVT.

While the diesel-engined Alhambra clearly doesn’t provide the Toyota’s silent EV running around town, a smooth stop-start system helps fuel consumption. We averaged 38.2mpg – and you’re not likely to get much better than this with the cheaper 138bhp version SEAT sells. So while the Prius+ promises far stronger efficiency than our 168bhp Alhambra on paper, in the real world it’s not much more economical. The Toyota is cheaper, too, but go for an SE Lux-spec SEAT with a six-speed manual gearbox, and the price drops to £31,320, while CO2 emissions are reduced to 152g/km.

Add this to the user-friendly cabin layout, composed driving experience and impressive comfort, and the Alhambra is sure to tempt buyers considering the cleaner Prius+.

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