SEAT Alhambra 1.4 TSI SE review
by David Finlay (2 December 2010)
It has taken a decade and a half for SEAT to replace its Alhambra, and Volkswagen its Sharan, with a new model of the same type and name, but as with the 1990s models it remains true that they are more or less identical (though this time round the Ford Galaxy, which was originally yet another version of the same thing, is now an entirely separate thing).
At least now it's possible to tell them apart without getting close enough to read the badges; SEAT's styling team - led by Luc Donckerwolke, who famously worked for Lamborghini before moving to the Spanish company - has been allowed to do its own thing with the new Alhambra, which as a result looks less closely related to the Sharan than it really is.
The modern Alhambra is larger than its venerable predecessor, being more than eight inches longer and about three and a half inches wider (though it's also marginally lower). You might expect it to carry more luggage as a result, but in fact the maximum capacity with the second- and third-row seats folded down is over 300 litres less than it used to be at 2297 litres. That's also a little less than the current Galaxy offers, though in absolute terms it's still rather a lot of space.
If your priority is to carry people rather than goods, it's useful to know that there is plenty of headroom for the three passengers in the middle of the car, and adequate legroom if they're not much over six feet in height. Few people ever need much space in the back row of a seven-seater, but nevertheless the Alhambra scores quite well here, and it's not a problem to get past the middle-row seats as long as you take enough time (which I must admit I didn't at first) to find out how to fold them forward properly. Access from the outside world is via sliding doors, operated electrically on the muy posh SE Lux versions but manually on the SE reviewed here.
Behind the third-row seats there's a moderate amount of Alhambra still to go, which is good for two reasons. First, it means there's some room left over for luggage, and second, anyone sitting in the back is a fair distance away from a rear impact, something that could not be said of smaller seven-seaters.
Although this Alhambra is larger (at least on the outside) than the previous one, it doesn't feel like it from the driving seat. The old car could very easily be taken to its limit, and required as much caution as a modern pickup, but this one seems much safer.
And, according to Euro NCAP, that's exactly what it is - or rather, it's exactly what the Volkswagen Sharan is, and the two cars are close enough for the safety organisation to give the same rating to the SEAT without actually testing it. It's quite some rating, too. Five stars overall, of course, and in particular a stonking 96% score for adult occupant protection.
It would in any case be difficult to get yourself into much trouble in an Alhambra fitted, as this one is, with the Volkswagen Group's 1.4-litre TSI turbo petrol engine. It's a very good unit, and its maximum power ouput of 148bhp is impressive in itself, but it's not enough to make the Alhambra feel at all quick. A top speed of 122mph and 0-62mph in 10.7 seconds are respectable enough, though.
Combined fuel economy is 39.2mpg and the official CO2 rating is 167g/km, which puts the car into VED Band H and requires you to pay £250 a year in tax. The other engines in the range are 138bhp and 168bhp versions of the celebrated Volkswagen 2.0 TDI turbo diesel, and it's difficult to justify the 1.4 in their presence since both of them are more economical, cheaper to tax and, if required, either about as fast (the less powerful one) or somewhat faster (the more powerful one). The diesels cost more to buy in the first place but you'll probably get at least that much money back when resale time comes around.
Speaking of money, the model reviewed here costs £24,045 at the time of writing, which is comparable with the equivalent Sharan. Standard equipment not available on the more basic S model includes 17" alloy wheels, cruise control, automatic headlights and wipers, an auto-dimming interior mirror, privacy glass, USB and auxiliary ports, some interior and exterior chrome and several extra storage spaces.
For the powered sliding doors mentioned earlier, along with leather upholstery, heated front seats, a panoramic glass sunroof and the SEAT Media System v2.1 (satellite navigation, rear view camera and digital radio) you would normally upgrade to SE Lux, but there are a couple of problems there. First, as I write this SEAT hasn't confirmed the pricing for that trim level (though it's likely to be around £2900 higher than for the SE), and second, it's not going to be available for cars with the 1.4 TSI engine. You could get much the same effect by adding all the extra stuff as options, but since that would cost over £4000 it's not something we'd recommend strongly.