SEAT Alhambra SE 2.0 TDI CR Ecomotive 140 PS: month 3
On fleet since: January 2012
Total mileage: 2,745
Official combined mpg/CO2: 50.4mpg - 146g/km
Actual mpg: 40mpg
Costs: £0 so far
Engine: 2.0 TDI CR Ecomotive 140hp turbodiesel, six-speed manual
Performance: 0-62 in 10.9 seconds/ 120mph top speed
Power/torque: 140hp/236lb ft @ 1,750rpm
Insurance group: 18E
List price: £26,605
Options fitted: SEAT Media System (includes sat-nav, with dynamic route guidance, five-inch colour touchscreen DAB radio tuner and SD card slot) (£625), park assist (£295), power tailgate and rear doors (£995), panorama pack (includes panoramic glass roof, with electrically opening front pain (slide/tilt), electrically operated sun-shade, 17" 'Kosta' alloy wheels, 'sport-style' comfort seats, black cloth and 'brushed black' door and dashboard decorative inserts)(£795), folding towbar with electric release (£645).
Price as tested: £ 30,255
Pros: Practicality, space, solidity
Cons: Size, image
Where have we been this month?
Busy old time for the Alhambra. Firstly a suicidal pheasant decided to fly into the side of the car on the A41 en-route to my in-laws in Aylesbury. Then the car played air support on a video shoot with its very distant cousin, the Lamborghini Aventador. More recently the car has been doing what it was perhaps put on Earth to do: transport long sofas around.
What do I like?
I had a great chance to test the Alhambra's luggability with a need to chuck out our old sofa and import a friend's one across north London. Unlike the last Alhambra, it is not possible to remove the seats on the car. However, with a pull of some handles it is a cinch to lie the seat backs flat (see photo below) to create a long, low level flat surface, which proved perfect for the task at hand.
This creates a space of 2,297 litres, which is truly vast and one that is only really bettered in this class by the Ford Galaxy. The tasks completed, I was able to return the car to its standard setup in around three minutes. The car is very cleverly put together from this angle; the controls, handles and levers required are quality to the touch and solid. An engineer has clearly put a lot of thought as to how easily the car's owner can do, and then undo, the operation, and it's impressive to behold.
I have an apology to make about the hand-brake situation. Last month I said that it was too easy to leave the car unattended with the hand-brake off. It is, but only if you don't have the auto-hold button pressed. This prevents roll-back and so on after the car has come to a halt and obviates the need to apply the hand-brake; when you move off the brake releases automatically. It is very useful, and once it is on, it stays on forever, even after switching off and starting the car again. The only real reason to have it switched off is during parking manoeuvres.
And talking of parking, I've had a good chance to test the auto-park feature. I'm always somewhat sceptical of such systems, either because they don't work properly or because they require such a vast space to park in that only someone profoundly incompetent at driving would find it tricky.
The Alhambra and its 4.85 metres don't require a vast space to negotiate and in 80% of cases makes a fine job of it. And my children never fail to be impressed with it.
The mystery of the missing Winter Pack mentioned last month has been resolved; an admin mix up it seems. No harm done; as I said before, I can live without heated seats and (especially) heated headlamp washer nozzles.
The car proved to be a very good camera car when Ian and Steve took it out on our Lamborghini Aventador video shoot; filming out of the side doors - with seatbelts on, mind - proved a winning combination, though admittedly not a need many owners will have. I want to know what parts these two Volkswagen-group cars share - not many, but surely at least a few...?
Red bus, meet another red bus
What don't I like?
My primary dislike this month is that someone has driven into the back of the car. It happened at a notoriously difficult spot near where I live and a lady went into the back thinking my wife and the car weren't there any more. The damage done is not major and is being repaired right now, and there were no injuries.
I have, however, been spending some time considering the nature of the car generally. While I have been making use of the car's amazing practicality this week, I wouldn't always require it, and nor would most users. For most of the time, the car is a very competent, large people-carrier. But, and it's a big but, these cars come with baggage: a humdrum, middle-aged image.
This element is a problem, and explains why exceptions to that rule seems to do well. The Vauxhall Zafira GSi Turbo of 2002 was famous for its popular Daddy-Cool TV commercial and certainly that car bequeathed a certain stardust on the Zafira, which exists to this day. The current generation, even now at the end of its life, remains the market leader with 20,589 examples being shifted in the UK in 2011.
That model is of course a size below the Alhambra, but it is notable that even in the full-sized MPV class, the leader is the Ford S-Max - another car that manages to confound the image of its class. Its laudable combination of seven seats, agile handling and at least vaguely sporty looks dialed up 8,470 sales last year; not at all bad for a car in its sixth year of life. Sales of the Alhambra and its Volkswagen Sharan brethren trail in its wake.
Certainly the S-Max appears to get the lion's share of sales of people whose circumstances force them out of premium models into MPV-land, and save for the rare and pricey £44,000 Mercedes R-Class, there are no premium MPVs. Many people have asked me why Audi and BMW don't make them, and Ford were surprised that the sales mix of S-Max veers very much to the high-end of the range.
The Alhambra is a brilliantly competent car, and it certainly looks a lot sharper in this current generation. However, it does lack the verve and energy of the Ford and that is a shame.
What next for the SEAT Alhambra?
We're planning a seven-up journey to Chessington World of Adventures, and it will be half-term soon too, which should provide for more adventures.
Tom Evans is the managing editor of MSN Cars. Follow him on Twitter @MSNTom