Has the humble people-carrier ever been cool? If our parents owned one, we kind of wished they had bought something with a little more street cred, and when we passed our test, an MPV was the last thing weíd consider for our choice of wheels. Even when your life is graced with the pitter-patter of tiny feet, thereís a kind of reluctance to admit that you really need a people-carrier. Which probably explains why theyíre falling out of favour, with buyers flocking to the perceived coolness of the SUV. Which means cars like the SEAT Alhambra are a dying breed. A veritable dinosaur of the automotive world.
So why, then, when our esteemed editor floated the idea of me running an Alhambra for a few months, was I so keen to get behind the wheel? Itís not that weíve had any more children since the last update. Well, itís partly because Iím keen to find out if they remain relevant in this age of five- and seven-seater SUVs, but also because I still have fond memories of my first Diesel Car long-termer: the CitroÎn Grand C4 Picasso. To this day, it remains one of my favourite, not to mention most practical, test cars.
Our Alhambra isnít scheduled to go back to SEAT HQ for a few months yet, but even after a couple of weeks and a few hundred miles, Iím sensing it will be hard to say goodbye. Itís powered by SEATís familiar 148bhp 2.0-litre TDI engine mated to a six-speed DSG twin-clutch automatic transmission. The 0-62mph time is a rather leisurely 10.3 seconds, although the official fuel economy figure of 53.3mpg on the NEDC cycle is more impressive, not to mention more relevant to the target audience. But look at the figures for the newly created WLTP combined cycle and that 53.3mpg drops down to between 39.2 and 41.5mpg ñ not so impressive!
The Alhambra diesel range starts at £29,800, but our test car comes in lavish Xcellence trim which, when fitted with the DSG gearbox, weighs in at £36,845. Not cheap, then, but this Alhambra wants for nothing, even without any optional extras. The specification includes 17-inch alloy wheels; electric tailgate, sliding doors, panoramic sunroof and seats; rear-view camera; keyless entry and go; sports suspension; and front assist. While Iím not convinced Iíll feel the benefit of sports suspension in an Alhambra, Iím already delighted to have heated seats again. The Alhambraís arrival was timed to perfection, coinciding with the first cold snap of 2019.
First impressions are excellent (Iím resisting the temptation to say Xcellent). Iím a big fan of cars that do exactly what they set out to do, and the Alhambra is unashamedly proud of its MPV status. There are bins and pockets dotted around the cabin, including hidden compartments below the mats in the second row, a storage compartment perched atop the dashboard and big bottle holders on the inside of the sliding doors. And, speaking of the sliding doors: they must be one of the most underrated features of the automotive world. On the Xcellence model, the electric doors are operated either via a switch on the centre console, a button on the key fob or by pulling the handle. There are beeps as the doors open and shut, presumably for safety reasons, but they also serve to lend the Alhambra some unlikely spaceship characteristics. No, theyíre nothing new, but sliding doors are in danger of being forgotten in the age of the SUV.
It promises to be an interesting few months. Two weeks in and all seven seats have been called into action and we have taken advantage of the huge 658-litre boot with the third row of seats folded down. I might need to buy a piano, just to make use of the gargantuan 2,297 litres of capacity with the second and third row neatly folded away. The Alhambra might not be the last word in cool, but Iím here to prove that thereís still life in the MPV.
Date arrived 14th January 2019
Fuel economy 39.2-41.5mpg (WLTP combined) 36.1mpg (on test)
Heated seats! The Alhambra’s arrival was timed to perfection.
The absence of Apple CarPlay will take a while to get used to.