SEAT Alhambra 1.9 TDI SE review
by Ross Finlay (17 October 2000)
As I began to twirl the Alhambra into a seven-point turn, I thought it was just dandy that it gave me a peep-peep-peeeeep warning as I was about to back into a tree, but felt that something to advise me about how close the out-of-sight front bumper was to the wall up ahead would be even more welcome - when, stap me, the peep-peep-peeeeep sounded again. Once you've selected reverse, the park warning sensor works automatically in a forward gear too, and lets you almost enter into a dialogue with any obstructions.
It will also, unless I was hallucinating, advise you, when you're parked with the engine running, if somebody walks behind the car.
In the SE specification, this MPV may be at no bargain-basement price, but it's very well-equipped.
I took to it anyway, because I'd just read a scathing report on a similar car, most of which was taken up with complaints about who needs a full-sized MPV when there are compact MPVs with the same attributes and less bulk?
It's not our job at CARkeys to defend manufacturers, or indeed car buyers in a particular class, but it seems obvious that people who want a big car wouldn't necessarily be as happy with a smaller one. The Alhambra, like the Galaxy and Sharan which are essentially the same vehicle, has generous passenger space and - here's part of the argument for it - far more luggage space, under a security blind, than any mini-MPV, if you take out the rearmost fold-down seats and run it as a five-seater. How many of us ever travel seven-up, anyway?
The TDi would be my preference, because the latest turbo diesel engine is a very strong performer as well as able to record something close to 45mpg on a long, real-life motorway trek.
There's more engine noise at certain speeds than you find in some of the competition, but the TDi lopes along at just 2000rpm while showing 70mph in its high sixth gear. Yet that's just about where the torque peaks, and if you have to floor the throttle you get a pretty swift response. At low revs, of course, it's as dodo-like as all turbo diesels which haven't got their second wind.
But the Alhambra has plenty of mid-range poke, and it has no trouble in short-time overtaking manoeuvres or a certain amount of pass-storming.
The high seating position and good all-round visibility are among the usual MPV plus points. Older motorists in particular undoubtedly like being able to swing out of their seat and put their feet right on the ground, without any undignified shuffling or heaving around.
There's plenty of passenger space in the front and middle rows, and the latest Alhambra continues the system of being able to fold or remove most of the seats, with aircraft-style fold-up trays or table-like fold-down backs where appropriate.
With that massive window area, it's useful that the SE specification includes dark glass from the B pillar backwards. Interior trim materials and textures are as in the corresponding Galaxy and Sharan, and you can tell from the firmly upholstered seats that there's a strong German element in the design. But, although all three models are built in the same factory in Portugal, the test car had some fascia rattles which Volkswagen, for example, might have made sure weren't there.
The TDi will storm on briskly, and there's pretty much a gear for each situation. Like many short-term users, I often forgot there was one to go beyond fifth, and my only excuse is that the revs were pretty low even with one upward move still to make. Doesn't help the fuel economy, of course.
The outward appearance and interior layout haven't altered all that much in the second-generation version, and none of these cars has made the move to fascia-mounted gearlevers which has released so much floor space in some of their rivals.
Second opinion: Lots of space, comfortable, huge gearing giving fine economy but enough torque to keep the performance up, a nice compromise between ride and handling, good looks, general feel-good factor - how could I not like this? I switched off that bloody beeper pretty sharpish, though. David Finlay.