SEAT launches new spaceship

SEAT'S Alhambra has been a fixture on the school run for quite some time.

Originally the product of a three-way partnership with Ford and Volkswagen, the former decided to go its own way with an all-new Galaxy, leaving the Spanish and German makers to concentrate on a different approach to a new full-size multi-purpose vehicle.

Hailed by many as a rounded product offering plenty of space and an engaging driving experience, the first-generation Alhambra was an affordable, practical and fun-to-drive 'big-box' people-carrier.

Essentially an oversize five-door hatchback, it could seat five or seven and eschewed sliding doors for more conventional alternatives. Sliding doors were often seen as a step too far towards the van-with-seats end of the market.

How times change. Now you can have your Alhambra with sliding rear doors – electrically-powered if you wish. With so many lifestyle people-carriers now boasting this feature, the negative commercial vehicle connotations are no longer an issue. In fact, it's a huge plus if you have children and need quick, safe access to the rear seats.

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This second-generation Alhambra is a little wider and longer than its predecessor. With its best-in-class wheelbase of nearly three metres and a considerable 2,430 litres of space with all but the front seats folded forward (809 litres for the five-seat model with the seats in place), it's easy to see why it is popular with large families. And it isn't at the expense of a boxy exterior. The unmistakably SEAT-themed tailored lines and streamlined profile do much to flatter its size.

You can go from being seven-up in relative comfort to transporting furniture in a few moments. And with those sliding rear doors, access is further boosted if you need to load or unload awkward or heavy objects. The car boasts one-handed operation for the various sliding and folding functions, too.

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The ability to easily slide a second row seat forward to gain access to the third row is another pleasant surprise, as is the ability to individually slide the second row chairs fore and aft to boost legroom or boot capacity. Factor in Isofix-friendly rear seats, capacious door bins plus minor oddment storage areas around the cabin and it's clear that the Alhambra's designers have thought of pretty much everything.

Dynamically, the car is pitched as a comfortable, refined yet agile people-carrier. With its lofty driving position, low wind noise, slick controls and compliant ride, the Alhambra delivers an experience akin to that of a mid-range executive saloon. Build quality is first rate, reinforcing the premium ambience.

Thanks in part should go to the engine range, which comprises a 2.0-litre diesel in 140 and 170PS plus a 150PS 1.4-litre petrol complete with forced induction to boost performance. The result is a quiet, refined and capable motor.

Predictably the diesels dominate with the 140PS unit offering 51.3mpg and brisk, responsive performance. The 170PS, predictably, delivers a bit more of everything – performance, responsiveness and flexibility.

With one eye on economical motoring, Seat's been clever and included engine stop-start and regenerative braking to squeeze the last drop out of all three engines. There's also the option of a six-speed DSG automatic gearbox.

Equally generous is the equipment list. Although the range comprises three trim levels (S, SE, SE Lux), even SE gains alloy wheels, three-zone climate control, front and rear parking sensors, Bluetooth, an eight-speaker audio unit plus Aux-in, with the prospect of leather seats, a panoramic glass roof and myriad other tempting items as cost options.

With function often taking priority over form in the full-size MPV class, SEAT has successfully made the new Alhambra a sharp-looking and stylish proposition. Factor in low running costs, generous equipment levels, a versatile cabin boasting a premium car ambience plus a rounded driving experience, and if you need the space it's easy to see the big Seat's appeal.

Price: Range from about �21,000. On sale next month

Engine: 2.0-litre turbo diesel unit developing 140bhp

Transmission: Six-speed manual transmission as standard, driving the front wheels

Performance: 0-62mph 10.9 seconds; top speed 121mph

Economy: 51.3mpg

CO2 Rating: 143g/km

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