SEAT’s all-new Alhambra goes flat out in search of the ‘big’ title

By Philip Hedderman

Necessity is the mother of invention – fact.

I know this because being the runt of the litter has its advantages.

You see, yours truly is the youngest of nine and with that comes a lot of compromise.

Now, when I was a nipper there was no such thing as MPVs, people carriers or SUVs.

No sir.

Our family mode of transport was a green LWB Land Rover with a canvas roof and two wooden bench seats in the back.

The best pews on Sunday jaunts to Howth were, you guessed it, the window seats which were almost always ‘reserved’ for the bigger siblings.

That resulted in the first 10 years of my life spent sandwiched between my two older sisters who, at the time, were sworn enemies.

Like the Cold War, the bitter rivalry between them was palpable and could explode into pinching, scrabbing and hair pulling at the mere mention of the other’s name.

I acted as a buffer and still have the scars to prove it.

Thankfully the Cold War is over, bench seats without belts are illegal and a car designer should be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Making the shortlist is the genius behind the SEAT Alhambra.

Because of it’s sheer size – not only is she the widest of all MPVs at almost 2 metres, it is also one of the longest and boasts the biggest boot – spaciousness and how it is utilised is its secret weapon.

The fold into the floor rear seats add to the Grand Canyon feel and because each one has individual settings, the variations are endless.

The cleverness of how the system operates is what proves a real winner here.

Manoeuvring and folding the seats can be achieved with one single pull of a lever.

I couldn’t tell you how many times this reviewer almost lost a finger in a bid to get into the rear of a vehicle with fiddly starps and levers.

But the flat fold technique gives acres more space with a gargantuan 2,430 litres with everything down.

Even with five on board there is still a humongous 1,200 litre luggage hold – more than enough for the entire contents of a three-bed semi …. including the customary kitchen sink.

Just to bamboozle you even further, the front seat also magically disappears – just in case you want to transport a 40ft ladder or a cofffin for a giant Anaconda.

To make life even easier for stressed out parents, the twin sliding doors make trips to the supermarket a little less traumatic.

Style-wise things are very Germanic indeed – so much so that this new wagon is almost modular.

“Muscular” and “sturdy” is how Gunther and his team of ultra conservative designers would like us to describe it but we think “square” and “boxy” is more on the money.

To be fair, it isn’t the worst we’ve seen and more importantly, it is not going to judged on its looks – so enough said.

Sturdy though it is.

You first realise this when it takes two or three attempts to slam shut the rear side doors –  such is the weight of them.

You need arms like Popeye and his daily dose of spinach to get it closed in one.

Drive and handling though is pretty remarkable considering its height and the fact the chassis is carrying a fairly hefty 1.7 tonnes.

The anticipated body roll in corners never materialised and she handled herself in a dignified manner.

That’s thanks to the massive torque coming from the 2.0 litre, 140bhp diesel powerplant which was lively when overtaking and quiet and refined when cruising.

Now in this age of ‘austerity’ (bankers need not apply) we’re all forced to be budget conscious, so the Ecomotive model is really the only option for cash-strapped families.

As its green badge on the tailgate would suggest, it keeps emissions down to 149 g/km (road tax at €302 per year) while returning a massive 50mpg – an astounding achievement.

Remember, earlier people carriers were struggling to get 35mpg while the emissions and running costs were sky high making them a luxury rather than a necessity.

Reliability is also a given here as this big bus is basically a VW Sharan  – bar the badges.

There are a few disguising tweaks here and there but the biggest difference is one you won’t immediately see.

This half Spanish cousin of the Sharan is a whopping €4,000 cheaper at €38,130,  making it a no brainer.

The only drawback with the SEAT we tested is the same old gripes of no Cruise Control and no Bluetooth.

A pity, because it’s top class otherwise.