Alhambra takes the chill off wintery mornings

SEAT’S new Alhambra has a lot to offer, not least an optional timed heating system to warm the car on a winter’s morning. Motoring Journalist KEITH WARD says it takes the chill off, but burns a hole in your pocket!

The all-new SEAT Alhambra now comes with sliding rear doors.

APPEALING in the new Alhambra seven-seater MPV is a host of clever winter comfort features.  Not least of which in this shivering season is a secondary heater on a timer. It can be pre-set to switch on up to an hour before you get in the car and warm up the interior, for example on a frosty morning while you are still having breakfast.
The idea is that by the time you board, the chill is off and the windows on the way to being defrosted.
Not exactly a new idea. I can remember Saab some years ago demonstrating such a device in a snowy Sweden. And for long, as SEAT admit,  it has been seen in commercial vehicles. In the Alhambra, programmable interior heating is not a cheap extra at £980.
Such a facility is available for a range of car makes as an after-fit accessory for much less money. But you have to admit such items are timely.
Elsewhere in the Alhambra options list is a Winter Pack at £290, which gets you heated front seats, headlight washers and heated screenwasher nozzles.
This latest Alhambra, “new from the wheels up”, stands 22 centimetres longer and nine wider than the previous version, but weighs less. Height is reduced but headroom is greater, say SEAT,  because the seats are set lower.
The pair of rear doors now slide to make entry and exit easier and safer for the up to five passengers in the two rows of seats aft. All of these seats can fold down neatly and fairly easily, with a tug here and a push there,  into a flat, extended luggage deck with a massive cargo hold, only 67 centimetres above ground level for easy loading.
So they stay on board – a great advance on the old Alhambra, whose rear seats had to be lifted out to make way for large loads. On most versions the front passenger seat also folds down, allowing long loads of up to nearly three metres to be carried. The towing bracket, as an option, can be pivoted and stored away below the rear bumper when not in use.
Rear sliding doors and the tall tailgate can be specified with one-touch electrical operation (£780). The tailgate rises to more than six feet , so providing standing shelter.
The already generous standard equipment with the mid-range SE trim on our test car included three-zone climate control, eight-speaker audio, cruise control, automatic headlights and wipers , parking sensors front and rear, tyre pressure monitor and self-sealing tyres, seven airbags, electric windows and heated, folding mirrors.
The VW group’s self-parking system will be available on the Alhambra from December 2010 – the car picks a space and guides itself into it.
We tried the most frugal of the Alhambra’s choice of two diesel and one petrol engines, a 140 PS, six-speed manual turbo diesel credited with more than 50 mpg in official testing (our average was a still-impressive 48.4 mpg).
All three units sport “green” technology – stop-start when stationary and regenerative braking on the move – and are badged by SEAT as Ecomotive. This one, producing a lowly 146 g/km in carbon emissions, is further dubbed E-Ecomotive.
This begins to sound like an eco-orgy. But it’s a measure of the all-round recent spurt in engine technology that, after all, this big seven-seater still enjoys acceptable performance for the everyday motorist.
The Alhambra, in a four-strong range (from £20,370), is manufactured in Portugal alongside its VW Group sibling, the new Sharan (offered in a 17-strong range from £22,980). The SEAT looks good value, especially with the company’s New Year announcement that all new Alhambras will qualify for its half-VAT deal, that is 10 per cent instead of the government’s new general rate of 20 per cent.

Rating: ★★★★★

SEAT Alhambra 2.0 TDI E -Ecomotive SE
Engine: Diesel; 4-cyl; 1,968 cc; turbo; 6-speed manual; stop-start
Power: 140 PS @ 4,200 rpm; max torque 320 Nm @ 1,750 rpm
Performance: 120 mph; 0-62 in 10.9 secs
MPG: On test 48.4 mpg; official combined 50.4 mpg; tank 15 gallons
CO2: 146 g/km; VED band F £125; BIK 21 per cent
Insurance: Group 18E
Warranty: 36 mths/60,000 miles; 12 yrs anti-rust; 36 mths paintwork; 24 mths Europe-wide breakdown
Price: £22,810; as tested with options £25,270