This month I have been coasting through life. That’s not to say that I’ve been taking it easy, but instead, I’ve been enjoying the benefits of the coasting function in the SEAT Alhambra. In simple terms, when you lift off the throttle, the engine is de-clutched, helping to deliver better fuel economy. It’s an easily missed feature of the DSG-equipped diesel engine, but it’s becoming a key part of my journeys in the Alhambra. Reach the top of the hill, take your foot off the gas, and the Alhambra should disengage drive in order to coast down the other side. I say ‘should’ because I often find myself blipping the throttle to force it into action – or should that be inaction? Dare I say I’m becoming a little obsessed with the functionality? It’s surprisingly satisfying to see how long you can maintain the coasting effect, like a skateboarding kid on the pavement.
In truth, the Alhambra needs all the help it can get to deliver respectable fuel economy. I’m averaging 36.4mpg, which is a slight improvement over last month’s figure, but still a long way short of the old NEDC official economy, but closer to the WLTP figures. But does it stand a chance, when its primary duties are ferrying the children to the local sports centres, local jaunts to the grandparents, and shopping expeditions? It’s quite telling that I achieved 40.2mpg from a tank when the Alhambra was taken on a 500-mile round trip. Perhaps that’s a more realistic impression of the big SEAT’s fuel economy.
I might be a fan of the coasting function, but I’m less enamoured by the DSG transmission. For the most part, it’s perfectly acceptable; I maintain that an automatic transmission is a little like a football referee – it’s at its most effective when you don’t notice it. But ask the Alhambra to climb or descend a hill, and the transmission will often select the wrong gear – usually a ratio too low – resulting in a whine that’s as irritating as a grass strimmer on a Sunday morning. Having the steering wheel-mounted pedals provides an element of control, as I can step in to select a more appropriate gear, but the gearbox can also feel out of sorts in traffic and when exiting junctions, occasionally being slow to react. It’s not that I yearn for a manual gearbox in an MPV, but the DSG is one irritant in an otherwise impressive package.
I’ll conclude with a special mention for the auto-hold function, which allows you to release the brake pedal when stopped in traffic, giving your right foot a bit of downtime and relieving the driver behind of temporary blindness caused by your retina-burning brake lights. When you’re ready to pull away, you simply press the accelerator pedal. It’s an effective and highly underrated function, and more cars should have it.
Date arrived 14th January 2019
Fuel economy 39.2-41.5mpg (WLTP combined) 36.4mpg (on test)
The auto-hold function is an underrated feature – it should be featured in more cars.
The DSG transmission struggles to cope with hills and can feel unwieldy in traffic.