The Seat Alhambra refined and extremely competent seven seat MPV, but it is short on flair

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The Seat Alhambra has been a successful model for Seat. The outgoing version sold well over its 14-year lifespan and much of its appeal lay in being a cheaper version of the Volkswagen Sharan.

This latest model is likely to maintain that draw, given that once again it is based on the Sharan (like the first model, the new car is produced at the same factory Palmela, Portugal) but offers a better specification and is substantially cheaper. It also has a range of frugal engines and stop-start as standard.

Sliding doors are fast becoming 'must-haves' in this segment

At the top of the range is a 181bhp 2.0 TDI FR Line model, complete with six-speed DSG gearbox. Two other engines are available – a 148bhp version of the same common-rail 2.0-litre turbodieseltuned for economy over performance (likely to be the volume seller) and a 148bhp 1.4 TSI petrol motor. All come as standard with a six-speed manual ’box but can be mated to the DSG gearbox. 

In this class, Ford moved the parameters with the Ford Galaxy and Ford S-Max when it proved that a car can be utilitarian without sacrificing desirability and fun. These cars are the benchmark, so now Seat must prove that it can compete.




Seat Alhambra rear

Given the ungainly appearance of some previous large Seats, the clean, understated looks of the Alhambra should be well received in the class, even if it differs little from the new Volkswagen Sharan.

The balanced, if bland, looks are a particular achievement given that the Alhambra incorporates large sliding doors into its body. In practice, they 
are more practical than traditional doors. Access is easier in tight spaces and there is a very wide aperture to allow parents to seat small children unhindered, or for passengers to seat themselves in the third row. 

The retractable tow hook is really excellent

The Alhambra has expanded in almost every direction compared with its aging but likeable predecessor. At 4.85m long and 1.9m wide, it has grown by 22cm and 9cm respectively, although the lower roof (by 1cm) and successful exterior design mean that the perceived mass isn’t as significant as the measurements suggest. 

The trapezoidal grille on the Alhambra’s nose is in keeping with the current Seat design language and it works well here. This and the defined creases above the large foglight housing almost live up to Seat’s claims of ‘sporty’ looks. Almost. 

The A-pillars have been designed to improve airflow, while the gutter profile diverts air to the side windows, reducing wind flutter and helping to keep the door mirrors clear.

Given the car’s shape and size, the Alhambra has an impressive drag coefficient of just 0.29. This has been achieved with the help of small touches such as lower sills that are designed to reduce the air drag created by the rear wheels. All models in the line-up get a large roof spoiler - another addition intended to improve aerodynamics.

The Alhambra’s rear-end styling looks slightly awkward because of the deep tailgate, but it’s a worthwhile compromise for the convenient, low load height the design brings with it.


Seat Alhambra interior

If fitness for purpose were the only aim here, then the Seat Alhambra is a complete success.

The three seats in the middle row can individually slide and fold, and there’s ample space for three adults, even if elbow room might be slightly tight across the fairly narrow seats. The two outer seats in the middle row tilt up and forward – flattening against the front seats rather than folding – with a pull of the lever on the side of the squab. This reveals a decent-sized gap to access the rearmost seats with less hassle and effort than in most other seven-seaters.  

From the driver’s seat, the Alhambra is pleasantly unfussy

Each seat in the second and third rows can be tumbled into the flat boot floor with one movement, although the rear seats are quite heavy and take some heaving to pull back up, even if only one action is required to do so.

In the five-seat layout, there is 1167 litres of space available up to the roof. Fold all the seats flat and the Alhambra can offer up to 2297 litres if filled to the roofline. 

Even if outright volume is short of that offered by the Ford Galaxy and other supersized MPVs, the low load height and 2.0m-long, square load bay should prove useful enough for all but the most paraphernalia-laden families. 

From the driver’s seat, the Alhambra is pleasantly unfussy. The switchgear is laid out clearly and there is a sense of solidity to the whole cabin. Visibility is excellent, with the high side windows, broad windscreens and standard sunroof giving a generally bright, open feel to the cabin. 

Having such flat seats is less than comfortable over very long distances, but even if more bolster support would be welcome, this Seat offers the driver and passengers a decent way to travel. We’d always opt for a car with electric side doors, though – they’re heavy without assistance.

On the equipment front, there are five trim levels to choose from - S, SE, Connect, SE Lux and FR Line. The entry-level Alhambra's come with 16in alloy wheels, heated door mirrors, sliding rear doors, parking sensors, and soften suspension as standard on the outside, while inside there is three-zone climate control, electric windows all round, and a 6.5in touchscreen infotainment system complete with Bluetooth streaming included.

Upgrading to SE gets you a few more luxuries including 17in alloy wheels, tinted rear windows, front foglights, cruise control, and automatic wipers and lights, while the Connect models gain numerous trim only features such as sill plates, blue cloth upholstery, run flat tyres and smartphone integration. 

The former range-topping SE Lux trim adorns the seven-seater with electrically opening rear doors and tailgate, a panoramic sunroof, leather upholstery, heated front sports seats, sports suspension and the inclusion of sat nav, DAB radio and a reversing camera. The FR-Line equipment level gains numerous sporty details including bigger alloys, an aggressive bodykit, FR decals and an Alcantara upholstery.


Seat Alhambra front quarter

More than the pace of the Seat Alhambra, it is the refinement that impresses most. The most intrusive noise in the cabin at motorway speeds is some minor wind flutter over the A-pillars. Tyre noise is well suppressed and even wind flutter is better than others in the class because of the impressive drag coefficient of 0.29. 

We’ve seen the more powerful 2.0-litre diesel engine in various Volkswagen Group cars, and in this application (and when mated to the six-speed DSG) it works with a sense of effortlessness that the 148bhp version lacks. 

In DSG models, Auto-Hold means you don’t have to keep your foot on the brake when stopped in traffic

The lower-power 2.0-litre diesel is okay for everyday use, but the economy gains are marginal so we’d recommend opting for the larger motor id you can stretch to the additional price premium and running costs.

The lower powered diesel is frugal and may appeal to buyer swith an absolute eye on running costs, but it feels breathless in such a big car, and we wouldn't recommend it as a sound purchase for anyone planning to either drive fully laden or looking for entertainment.

The 1.4 TSI and manual ’box proves to be a sweet powertrain, too. It won’t sell in big numbers, but given its lower list price, more pliant ride quality and excellent engine refinement it could make the better option over the diesel if the primary task is a short daily school run. Thanks to the supercharger and turbocharger there’s a pleasingly linear power delivery, though a touch more torque would help given the car’s weight.

The DSG gearbox also does an effective job. It works well in conjunction with the stop-start system, with the motor firing up quickly as you lift off the brake and progressive step-off ensuring a smooth getaway. 

However, ask for full acceleration when in standard ‘D’ mode and the gearbox suffers from a moment’s hesitation before it responds. Sport mode holds on to gears for longer but, even so, the Alhambra never gives any pretence of being a spirited drive; rather, it’s a calm, relaxed one. Standard wheel-mounted paddles are included on all DSG models. 



Seat Alhambra cornering

The Seat Alhambra has little of the deftness or enthusiasm that some might now want from an MPV. But it is no worse off for focusing on being a soothing drive rather than a stimulating one.

As enthusiasts, we’re sorry to note the absence of any real sparkle, and we know it can be done without compromise to ride comfort, but those buyers wanting something ultimately safe, stable and predictable will find nothing more suitable than this. 

The brakes resist fade well and offer good feel through the pedal

The electrically assisted steering has a satisfying weight to it that provides quick responses off the dead-ahead position at speed and just the right level of assistance for parking manoeuvres. Inevitably, the body will roll on turn-in, but there is none of the disconcerting wobble present in some high-roofed cars, and even under very hard driving it never feels anything less than composed – even if it also never feels encouraging. 

Our test car rode on 17in alloy wheels (standard on the SE Lux) and there was an impressive blend of bump absorption and body control. Part of the success comes from the effective suppression of suspension noise, but the real benefit is in the pliancy of the dampers.

They absorb high-frequency disturbances without much fidgeting, even if there are cornering forces involved as well, and big-bump absorption is very good, with damper rebound impressively controlled. 

It can suffer from some jarring over bigger intrusions but certainly nothing that approaches the uncomfortable. As a whole, the ride quality is difficult to criticise beyond the most minor of faults.


Seat Alhambra

The Seat Alhambra is not the cheapest car in its class, but it is priced very competitively, especially when you take into account its comprehensive specification. So although the equivalent range-topping Ford S-Max slightly undercuts the Alhambra, the Seat is better value, given its equipment levels.

Even the entry-level S model gets alloys, Bluetooth and the all-essential parking sensors – things the base-spec Sharan doesn’t get. As a result, we'd suggest this base trim represents the best value for money.

We managed 35.4mpg against a claimed 47.9mpg average

Powered sliding rear doors are an option on S and SE trim cars – non-powered doors are not heavy for adults, but young children may struggle to open them if the car’s parked on a downward slope.

Residuals look set to be strong on the more modestly equipped cars, too. With emissions undercutting most rivals, tax and running costs for private and company car buyers will be persuasive. Many Alhambras have Ecomotive badging because they get some fuel-saving tech — primarily automatic stop-start.

Our average test economy of 35.4mpg on the 181bhp 2.0-litre diesel was disappointing in relation to the claimed figure of 47.9mpg, but it’s common for engines of similar type and apparent frugality to return figures in the mid-30s over our test route.

Braking is perfectly adequate, even in the very wet conditions in which our figures were recorded.



Seat Alhambra rear quarter

There’s little to

For the facelift Seat should give the driver’s seat more lateral support and make it feel more fun to drive

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

Seat Alhambra 2010-2020 First drives