SEAT Altea Freetrack 2007 Road Test

Sat, 20 Oct 2007

When I first drove the ordinary SEAT Altea I didn’t like it.  And that was not because the launch was in Watford rather then Altea. I couldn’t get on with the way the tall body handled, the 140 diesel that bogged down then catapulted the car forward, and the coalface of a dashboard. But since then it’s been allowed to grow 13” into the XL. And now SEAT is offering a version of the XL with four-wheel drive, that they call the Freetrack 4.

Renault tried this sort of thing before, not very successfully, with the facelift Scenic RX4 that had a spare wheel on the back and used a lot of fuel.

But SEAT, being part of VAG and availing itself of VAG’s parts bin, has taken a different route and fitted the Altea Freetrack 4 with the same Audi quattro-derived running gear as the Skoda Octavia Scout. And either the 170PS version of the 2.0TDI or the 200PS 2.0TSI petrol engine.

Best of all, it’s offering what is effectively a bigger and better Golf GTI for pretty much the same sort of money: £21,395, according to the crib sheet in our TDI 170.

There’s masses of room inside. Huge luggage area. Sliding and semi-reclining rear seats, split 60:40. Seatback picnic tables. Lots of roof lockers for knick-knacks. A standard fold-down screen in the roof for plugging in DVD or games consoles. Standard rear side window blinds to protect children from strong sunlight. It’s a very family orientated car.

And the four-wheel drive system doesn’t just get it out of the goo on muddy tracks, it also turns the car from not being very good to drive into a real MPV GTI. On its 225/50 x 17 Pirelli P Zero Rosso tyres it turns in, grips and handles very well, with plenty of information feeding through the steering wheel.

On the rough tracks we were sent to, which were more like a rally stage than ‘off road’, it was excellent, making quick, fuss-free and surprisingly comfortable progress. And before you ask, yes, it was fun.

However, a word of warning here. If did really need its £180 optional steel sumpguard because the standard plastic one would have been ripped off in the first half mile.

You get tyre pressure sensors so could opt for runflats. Though as standard it comes with normal tyres and a space-saver spare, but plenty of room under the boot floor for a full-size spare. (No useless glop and pump ‘tyrefit’ system.)

The speedo on our car was a bit optimistic. At 2,000rpm it was reading 70, yet it’s actually geared to do 31.8mph/1,000rpm in 6th, which is a true 63.6. (The 2.0TFSI pulls 24.5mph in 6th.)

There’s no automatic or DSG option, though if you want that you can forego four-wheel-drive and opt for a normal Altea or XL DSG.

For mums who can change gear, the Freetrack 4 works very well as a family car for the standard 2 + 2 children, with masses of space for the kit needed for whatever activities the kids get involved in.

It also has a 5 star NCAP score for occupant protection and an excellent 4 stars for child protection and 3 stars for pedestrian protection.

Where I live it will make alternative to the usual 4x4s and MPVs by managing to be both at once.

SEAT has managed to turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse.

(Splash photo, thanks to Steve Belasco.)

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