MPV! SsshhMPV!! The lest-we-forget Seat Alhambra

In a world governed by SUVs, Iain Robertson had believed that the MPV was an automotive dodo but reacquaintance with a latest model has renewed his confidence in a motor industry that appears to be led too frequently by the ring in its retail nose.

In nattering with Seat UK’s lovely Juliet Carrington, the company’s Head of PR, expressing my wish to drive an alternative to hunkered-down, petrol-turbo, sporty hatchbacks, she reminded me of a car that I was convinced had ceased production. As you can see here, my perception was incorrect. Thank the stars! Alhambra lives; better than ever and in refreshing seven-seater automated guise.

The ’secret’ with the MPV lies in its car-like footprint, allied to markedly improved cabin space. For Seat, the badge-engineered opportunity arose off the back of Ford’s first liaison with VW Group (both manufacturers are signed up currently to a deeper relationship). A joint-effort production facility, based at Palmela, Portugal, resulted in the stellar first-generation Galaxy, Sharan and Alhambra models that provided a benchmark for the MPV scene.

The Alhambra was a stand-out model. Plusher, air-conditioned and seven-seated as standard, it helped to improve Seat’s much-needed reputation and succeeded with a healthy share of overall sales. Although Ford pulled out of the deal to develop its own Mondeo-based versions of Galaxy and S-Max, VW and Seat persevered with their new version of the people-mover.

Even in inescapably ‘UN White’, it presents a handsome image. As the penultimate version of a four-engine/transmission line-up (1.4TSi 147bhp petrol-manual; 2.0TDi 147/174bhp diesel manual/DSG in S, SE, SEL and Xcellence trim levels), it makes good use of its 147bhp turbo-diesel motor and effortless automated-manual DSG gearbox. The SEL trim factors-in leather upholstery in a traditionally well-equipped package list-priced at £36,250 (prior to discounting).

Slide the rearmost pair of proper chairs into the floor and the boot capacity increases from 267 to 658-litres but fold the middle row and the resultant space is a cavernous 2,297-litres, another benefit of MPV packaging. The multi-adjustable driving position (front seats are electrically operated) is also exceptionally supportive and the driver is welcomed by a traditionally laid-out analogue dashboard, complete with central touch-screen and a felt-lined storage top-box. It is a very comforting place to be and despite the high equipment level, the layout is logical and familiar. Remote control opening/closing for the side-sliding and hatchback doors is a practical touch, supported by an abundance of storage slots and deep pockets.

The EU6 diesel engine delivers enough punch for a 123mph top speed, the 6-speed automated-manual gearbox allowing the 0-60mph dash to be completed in a whisker below 10.0s, while emitting 140g/km CO2 and an excellent 53.3mpg on the Official Combined cycle. Its mid-range pull is excellent. A 2.9m wheelbase gifts the Alhambra a leggy, loping ride quality, accompanied by well-chosen damping for comfort that also controls body roll competently, while enabling very pleasant and stable driving dynamics.

Personally, I have been delighted by the Seat Alhambra’s driving experience, the car’s outstanding flexibility and its comforting and unforced demeanour.

FCD Summary

Seat still produces a confident people-mover in its Alhambra and there is also the costlier VW Sharan to consider, even though the Seat’s value-for-money makes it the default MPV choice.

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