The Seat Altea may be getting on a bit now, unveiled in 2003 and able to trace its roots right back to the Salsa concept car from the 2000 Geneva show, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less relevant
What is it?
The Freetrack is a jacked-up 4x4 version of the Altea XL MPV. Pumped-up 4x4 estates are selling like peerages at a Labour fundraiser these days, with second-generation versions of the Volvo XC70 and Audi Allroad leading the way. Even Skoda’s joined in, with the Octavia Scout.
Seat doesn’t have an estate to pump up and smother in tough-looking plastic, so it turned to the Altea XL.
There’s a choice of two engines – a 2.0-litre 197bhp turbocharged petrol or 168bhp turbodiesel. Both come with six-speed manual gearboxes. It’s the diesel we’ve tested here.
Only one trim level will be available; it’s an all-inclusive deal that includes 17-inch alloys, a rear multimedia screen (with sockets for MP3 players, DVDs and the like), auto lights and wipers and parking sensors. And brown interior plastics.
What’s it like?
The Freetrack comes with obligatory black plastic cladding, 40mm of extra ground clearance and, to prove it’s not all show, a Haldex four-wheel drive system.
In fact to our eyes it’s not much show, because the plastic cladding merely uglifies the Altea. At least it protects the car from off-road scrapes; as do the front and rear skid plates.
The familiar diesel engine is gruff and uninspiring to listen too, other than a whistle from the turbo, but effectively torquey.
On the road the Freetrack behaves pretty much as the standard Altea, which is very good. It’s surprisingly agile - enough to let the driver enjoy themselves but with sufficient suppleness to ensure that the passengers aren’t distracted from watching that rear TV screen. The ride is excellent at speed, and only troubled by the worst kind of ruckled tarmac.
It’s also perfectly competent off-road. We tried it on rough-ish forest tracks, with a mixture of loose stones and wet mud; it coped admirably with both, transferring up to 50 per cent of the power to the rear wheels as necessary.
Should I buy one?
We can’t deny that the Freetrack is a convincing alternative to a standard SUV, if you don’t mind the way it looks.
But it’s also pricey. Most people who buy small SUVs such as the CR-V, RAV4 and even Outlander and C-Crosser do so because they want the image of an SUV, not the ability. The Freetrack has the ability, but not the image.