SEAT Alhambra II 2010 Road Test

This is really two tests in one. Because just about anything I write about the new SEAT Alhambra will almost equally apply to the new VW Sharan.

There is, of course, a price difference. A slight weight difference. A possible difference in noise levels. But they are really the same vehicle with some minor styling differences and different badges.

SEAT represents the best value for money. VW stands for more status, and maybe a slightly higher residual from the higher base price when you come to sell.

The outstanding feature of both is the accommodation. They both have five separate seats in the back. The centre three seats slide as well as fold and all three have ISOFIX tethers, as do the two rearmost seats. You can order integrated child seats for the outer two in the centre row, which may well see around 1,000 Alhambras on the Addison Lee London fleet. All five seats fold flat very easily. But what’s particularly good is the way the outer centre seats singlehandedly cantilever forward very easily to afford access to the rearmost seats. And, having sat for about 60 miles in those rearmost seats without a twinge, I can testify to their comfort. They beat those in the Galaxy, which was obviously the benchmark they had to beat.

SEAT also made a big thing about CO2 emissions. The 5 seater Alhambra ECOmotive 2.0TDI 140 comes in at 143g/km, which is lower than any other full size MPV. But by the time SEAT adds another couple of seats, which it will be doing for all Alhambras imported to the UK, that rises to 146g/km. Yet even adding the 6-speed DSG twin shaft, twin oil clutch automatic transmission to 2.0TDI 140, it’s still 149g/km, comfortably under the 150g/km band limit. While the 2.0TDI 170 DSG is 154g/km. Less than the Galaxy 2.0TDCI 163 Powershift at 159g/km, but still in the same tax bracket.

They do this by virtue of regenerative alternators and a traffic engine stop/start system. And to keep nitrous oxide emissions cleaner than clean, the diesels have a  ‘AdBlue’ SCR system to the catalytic converters. There is also a 1.4 chain cam supercharged and turbocharged petrol engine that develops 150PS and 240Nm torque.

Every new Alhambra bound for the UK comes with alloy wheels, three-zone climate control, Bluetooth phone connectivity and an 8-speaker radio, CD and MP3 player, and electric parking brake with ‘autohold’ for hills.

Slightly annoyingly, if you use the electric parking brake to hold the car in traffic, the stop start system does not cut the engine. It only does that if you hold the car on the footbrake, possibly to the annoyance of the driver behind.

They are all 4,850mm long, 1,900mm wide and with a long 2,919mm wheelbase that explains the excellent rearmost seat ride comfort. Load space is 267 litres all seats up, 809 litres under the load cover using five seats, and 2,297 litres with all rear seats folded flat.

Because there is no room for a spare wheel, SEAT has adopted a Tyre Pressure Monitoring System, but, instead of runflat tyres, has gone for a tyre sealant inside the tyre carcasses to seal small punctures. The first time a car manufacturer has tried this.

Extras include satnav that doubles up as the screen for a rear parking camera, a ‘park assist’ system that steers the car for you into a parking space, oncoming headlight sensing Xenon headlights, and an integrated electrically released towhook that appears under the rear valence at the touch of a button and then only has to be locked into place. Towing limits are 1,800kg for the 1.4 Twincharger manual and an impressive 2,200kg for the diesels, whether manual or DSG.

Top spec SE Lux versions have a huge panoramic glass sunroof, with an electric blind and also a front section that opens.

Out on the road, the new Alhambra is almost spectacularly easy to drive with decent handling and good front-end grip. With the 6-speed DSG you can leave it in Drive, sharpen it up with the ‘Sport’ setting, of flip the lever over to allow full driver control by means of the steering wheel paddleshifts. I’m very pleased to report back that this DSG was in no way obstructive as DSGs have been to me in the past. Even quick three point turns were accomplished without any hesitation. And there wasn’t a trace of the dreaded interference when nosing out of a junction. This one felt as good as Ford/Getrag’s Powershift.

The (so far) manual only 1.4 Twincharger chain cam petrol doesn’t have the grunt of the diesels, but doesn’t have the coarseness either. It’s more than adequate about town, though loses out to the diesels on the motorway.

Prices won’t be revealed until closer to the November 2011 UK sale date, but are estimated to start at around £21,000 and end at just under £30,000.

So, finally, some four years after Ford came up with its new Galaxy and S-Max, VAG has delivered a new Alhambra and Sharan.

Don’t buy any of the three until you’ve tried them all.

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