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SEAT Alhambra review (2010 onwards)
Summary - hot on the heels of the related VW Sharan, SEAT throws the covers off its new Alhambra seven-seat MPV
We like - VW quality for SEAT price, vast and adaptable interior, clever seat folding system, punchy and refined engines
We don't like - size could be an issue, second row headroom, dull styling, big blind spots
There are those in the industry who question SEAT's long-term viability in the VW group. If that's the case the German parent company has given its Spanish offshoot a big leg-up by gifting it the new Sharan MPV, known here as the Alhambra.
It was certainly an easy day in the office for SEAT design boss Luc 'to think I used to style Lamborghinis' Donckerwolke, the transition from Sharan to Alhambra requiring little more than a restyled front end and some new rear lights.
The result is a big - very big - and somewhat unadventurous-looking seven-seat MPV somewhat lacking in the design flair seen elsewhere in the SEAT range. Still, at least, unlike the Exeo, it's based on a brand new model and not an old cast-off.
Pricing is currently TBC but you'd have to hope the Alhambra will undercut its VW sibling, the SEAT MPV adopting the brand's simplified S, SE and SE Lux spec levels and expected to cost from around £21,000 when it launches in November.
The Alhambra range in the UK will comprise a 1.4-litre 'twincharger' TSI petrol and the 140hp and 170hp Euro 5 versions of the now ubiquitous (and no worse for it) VW group common-rail 2.0-litre diesel.
All drive through a six-speed manual and all are also available with the DSG automated transmission, also with six gears. The 200hp 2.0-litre petrol available on the Sharan won't be offered on the Alhambra.
On the launch for the Sharan we criticised the 1.4 for feeling overwhelmed by the car's size but, second time round, impressions are more generous and it's actually a viable option if you really don't fancy the diesel.
Most will though, both versions punchy and refined. The 140hp is well up to the job, the 170hp's extra torque working better with the DSG gearbox and less inclined to go chasing the ratios for optimum progress.
Ride and handling
Tidy and unpretentious, the Alhambra handles with the kind of safety and security you'd expect of a family-oriented MPV. The controls are light and easy to use but the near two-metre width and big blindspots mean it feels cumbersome on narrow roads.
You don't miss the adjustable dampers offered on the Sharan though. Indeed, the Alhambra corners with commendable balance and stability, only a degree of harshness over severe bumps and speed humps spoiling the picture.
A huge 22cm longer and 9.4cm wider than the outgoing car, the new Alhambra is simply massive inside and flexible with it. The second row seats slide, fold and tip for, respectively, adjustable load space and access to the rearmost seats.
When these aren't required a clever folding system sees them collapse into the floor in seconds, leaving a usefully huge boot compromised only slightly by the raised floor under which the seats are stowed.
Sliding doors - power operated if you choose - will be popular with parents but the mechanism does eat into headroom for adults riding in the outboard second-row seats. That said if you want to play mini-cab driver all seven seats are viable for full-size passengers as well as kids.
One benefit of the VW breeding is cabin quality a cut above the SEAT average. The Alhambra feels really solid and well put together, the design not especially flashy or creative compared with French rivals but at the head of the field for premium feel.
Economy and safety
All Alhambras benefit from the latest efficiency boosting measures, including stop-start and energy recovery under braking to reduce the load on the alternator and, subsequently, the engine itself. That said the stop-start system was a bit fussy about when it would actually operate.
The 1.4 TSI petrol engine is commendably frugal given how hard it's working, managing mid-30s mpg in our hands. Final CO2 and mpg figures are yet to be confirmed but the 140hp diesel should manage close to the preliminary 143g/km and 51.3mpg.
Family buyers are rightly interested in safety levels and, again, the Alhambra benefits from VW's groundwork on the Sharan. Neat integrated booster cushions are a good option and all seven seats get pukka belts with pre-tensioners and warnings if they're not being used.
The optional Park Steer Assistant - the spooky, self-steering parking system - will help avoid car park bumps and scrapes while in more serious crashes full-length curtain bags are included in the standard complement of seven airbags.
The MSN Cars verdict
MPV buyers are rightly more concerned with function, safety and practicality than most and while the Alhambra and its Sharan relative might lack a bit of flair they both score very highly on all these measures.
The fact the Alhambra offers all of this at - one would hope - a useful discount over its near-identical VW relative means it's something of a no-brainer. For which SEAT owes its parent company a hearty debt of gratitude.
|Need to know|
|Engines, petrol||1.4-litre 4-cyl turbocharged|
|Engines, diesel||2.0 4-cyl turbocharged (two versions)|
|Torque, lb ft||177-258|
|0-62 mph, secs||10.9-9.8|
|Top speed, mph||119-127|
|Mpg combined||39.2-47.9 (provisional)|
|CO2, g/km / Tax||167g/km-154g/km (provisional)|
|Ride & handling||***|
|MSN Cars verdict||****|
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