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SEAT Alhambra SE 2.0 TDI CR Ecomotive 140 PS: month 2
On fleet since: January 2012
Total mileage: 1,745
Official combined mpg/CO2: 50.4mpg - 146 g/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 @ 1,750 rpm
Insurance group: 18E
List price: £26,605
Options fitted: SEAT Media System (includes sat-nav, with dynamic route guidance, 5-inch colour touch-screen, DAB radio tuner and SD card slot)(£625), park assist (£295), power tailgate and rear-doors (£995), Winter pack (£295), 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 & dashboard decorative inserts)(£795), folding towbar with electric release (£645).
Price as tested: £ 30,255
Pros: Practicality, space, solidity
Where we've been this month?
Half-term took us all down to Dorset. Two families were going, comprising seven people in total: three adults and four children. We were planning to go en masse in the Alhambra, which would have been a great test; sadly practicalities and logistics necessitated two cars going down - our 'Ally' and our friends' Suzuki Vitara V6 jeep.
However once we were in situ at our rented cottage we were able to travel maxed-out, as it were.
What do I like?
The children love the sliding doors, and they love the third row of seats. Indeed, they rush to get into them, even when not strictly necessary. In my childhood, when our largeish family had a seven-seater Peugeot 504, the final row was a form of purgatory, with limited ventilation and guaranteed nausea.
Not anymore; for economical purposes, air conditioning is limited towards the front of the car but this restriction is removed at a flick of a switch, and the rear seats are surprisingly comfortable; they even have cupholders.
While I have already highlighted the size of this car as a potential negative, it is a positive boon when travelling with lots of stuff and people. As my photo below shows, we managed to cram all of this aboard, and we still had space to spare. To add to this, I keep discovering new and intriguing nooks, crannies and cupboards around the place.
Apart from the increasingly common 'secret' underfloor compartment in the boot - very useful for stashing laptops and the like - this car also has two potentially handy boxes located under the carpet (pictured above) which are each wide and deep enough for a smallish laptop or iPad - or an assortment of toys.
Certainly the car proved a great 'yard' in our time in Dorset - a place from which to base operations on a day-out. And thus it attracts a lot of mess - so much indeed that we had to visit our friendly local Kosovan car-wash team to straighten the car out after its week away (pictured below - with mildy alarmed four-year-old in the middle).
So the car is proving a hit with the children and their stuff - but what about the adults? Well, I have to say I am impressed with the way the car drives. Sure it is big, but the 140hp engine is torquey and more than capable of shifting the car along, even when fully laden. Even the body control on harsh cornering on country lanes was perfectly adequate, while motorway-speed stability was very solid, even with cross-winds that should theoretically cause this bus some grief.
I have had a good few opportunities to test the automatic parking now; it really works very well, even in small spaces. I am not so bad at parking that I would willingly use it a lot, but if you are - or know someone in your family who is - it strikes me that at £295, this is a veritable high-tech bargain.
What don't I like?
The car's documentation claims that is equipped with the Winter Pack of heated seats, washer nozzles, and headlight washers. Living in London, the last two I couldn't care less about, but the warmed seats would have come in handy with all the freezing snowey days we had in February. But this car categorically doesn't have those tell-tale three-level switches that are usually located among the heater controls, nor the headlamp stuff. Odd.
The rear of the centre console features a 230-volt socket. But - and it is a very big but - it is a shaver/continental style socket - not a UK three-pin. This is enormously annoying. Yes we can use adapters, but these are just another thing to forget in the heat of battle, AKA packing to go away. I am a great fan of including proper voltage supplies in cars in a world of rechargeable adult (iPad) and children's (Nintendo DS) toys, but this is an own-goal. Other car makers can provide UK sockets - why not SEAT?
Finally, I have said it before and I say it again. In a car world of klaxons and buzzers, why is it still possible to walk away from this car with the engine off without engaging the handbrake, without a single squeak from the car warning you? This car has a button-switch handbrake - so there isn't even the residual reminder of a handle to pull to remind you. This should be fixable in software, and is a major problem on manual gearbox cars and will lead to unfortunate accidents.
What next for the SEAT Alhambra?
The Easter holidays approach with frightening rapidity. I intend to use them to investigate a key question: can this 'square' MPV beat that cool-cat MPV, the S-Max, at its own game? Or are they just simply different?
Tom Evans is the managing editor of MSN Cars. Follow him on Twitter @MSNTom
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