Seat Alhambra MPV (2015 - ) review
The Seat Alhambra is all the MPV that any family will ever need. With huge space, ingenious seating and plenty of quality and luxury equipment, not to mention affordable prices, this is a car that should be on any MPV buyer’s shopping list.
- Unrivalled space and versatility
- Enjoyable and comfortable to drive
- Decent kit and affordable prices
- Reliability record of some concern
- Boxy looks not to all tastes
- Smaller seven-seaters are easier to manoeuvre
At a glance
Many MPVs have a boxy appearance, and it’s no coincidence; boxy is always best when you’re looking to maximise space. The Alhambra follows this recipe unashamedly, but although its lines aren’t exactly what you’d call ‘flowing’, the looks aren’t too bland. All versions come with alloy wheels and colour-coded bumpers and door handles, along with a chrome surround for the radiator grille. Go for the SE car, which most buyers will, and you also get chrome window surrounds, darkened rear windows and chrome roof rails. SE Lux and FR-Line cars, meanwhile, have a panoramic roof.
Life’s pretty sweet at the wheel of the Alhambra. You get a cracking view out in all directions – which helps you manage the car’s cumbersome size during low-speed manoeuvres – and all versions have the added security of front- and rear-parking sensors. Everything on the dashboard is logically located and really easy to use, and there’s a feeling of substance and solidity because most of the materials look and feel very nice indeed. Some of the plastics are a little hard and unappealing in places, but it all looks like it’ll last a lifetime.
It’s here where the Alhambra really, really impresses. The whole cabin is absolutely enormous, and with three separate chairs in the middle row – that incidentally slide, recline and fold individually – three adults can sit in total comfort. Getting in and out is a piece of cake, too, especially in tight parking spaces, thanks to sliding rear doors. To get to the two seats in the back, you tumble the outer ones out of the way, and importantly, the space you’ve got to scramble through is bigger than it is in most MPVs. The same goes for the space that surrounds the third-row seats. There’s way more than most MPVs give you, easily enough for adults.
Even with all seven seats in place, there’s a decent boot, and the loadbay is enormous in five-seat mode. And when you need all the available space for bags rather than buddies, you simply fold all the rear seats flat into the floor, and you get a gargantuan, van-like load area.
Ride and handling
The most surprising thing about the Alhambra is how enjoyable it is to drive. This isn’t a car that lollops its way through bends clumsily like you might expect. There’s loads of grip, the steering is nice and weighty and the body control is actually pretty good. True enough, you never forget that this is one big, heavy car, but for something like this, it actually feels really crisp and responsive. Most importantly for an MPV, this sharpness doesn’t come at the expense of a supple ride. Whatever the state of the surface beneath you, the Alhambra manages to stay comfortable and civilised at all times.
However, it’s not perfect. The clutch pedal has a very abrupt action and the brakes are a wee bit grabby, and that can make the Alhambra a little bit tricky to drive smoothly, especially when you’re sitting in traffic.
There isn’t much choice when it comes to engines in the Alhambra. Most buyers will go for the 148bhp 2.0-litre diesel, and for good reason. It’s no rocket ship, but importantly, it has enough low-down muscle to easily cope with the weight of a fully loaded Alhambra.
Go for the one petrol engine on offer, a turbocharged 1.4 with the same power output, and it initially feels almost as perky. Load the car up with people and stuff, and it starts to struggle more with hauling the mass around.
One more engine is available, a 2.0-litre diesel with 181bhp, but we haven’t yet tried it. All but the entry-level diesel are available with a six-speed twin-clutch transmission, which is smooth but occasionally slightly hesitant in the way it operates. All the engines we’ve tried are fairly quiet and smooth, and wind- and road-noise are fairly well suppressed as well.
The Alhambra is significantly bigger and heavier than a lot of seven-seat MPVs, so it’s never going to be the cleanest option, but even so, it doesn’t do too bad a job. The cleanest version, the 2.0 TDI 150 Ecomotive S, returns 56.5mpg, along with CO2 emissions of 130g/km, and all versions bar the petrol will better 50mpg. Purchase prices are very competitive, especially considering the amount of space and kit you’re getting for your money, and resale values aren’t half bad, either.
The Warranty Direct Reliability Index tells a bit of a mixed story where the Alhambra is concerned. As a manufacturer, Seat doesn’t do too badly, hovering around the mid-table mark in the brand rankings. Look at the results for the older version of the Alhambra, though, and the reliability score is about as low as it’s possible to get, with engine troubles being the biggest cause of mechanical issues. The owner reviews on our own website also report some rather nerve-wracking stories about the car’s dependability. A rather average three-year/60,000-mile warranty package is included.
We always like it when the safety kit you get in a car is the same no matter whether you have the most basic version or the range-topping version, and the Alhambra is one of those. Stability control, tyre pressure monitoring, tiredness recognition and multi-collision braking (which locks on the anchors after a shunt to prevent further collisions) are all provided, along with no less than seven airbags including a driver’s knee ‘bag and curtain ‘bags that cover all three rows of seats.
The only thing that’s really missing is autonomous city braking, and it’s not even available as an optional extra. Nevertheless, the car has achieved the full five-star rating in Euro NCAP crash tests, even though that was back in 2010 and the tests have become considerably harder since then.
The S trim forms the entry point into Alhambra ownership, and it comes with four powered windows, climate control and a touch-screen infotainment system with Bluetooth. It’s worth the upgrade to SE trim because it brings you automatic lights and wipers, cruise control and cornering foglamps.
SE Lux is properly plush with power operation for the rear doors and tailgate, leather seats that are heated and electrically adjustable and an upgraded infotainment system that includes sat-nav and a DAB radio. FR-Line trim swaps the leather seat for part-leather-part-Alcantara ones, and provides sportier design touches inside and out.
Most MPV drivers want practicality above all else, and on that score, the Alhambra is pretty much untouchable. That’s because it delivers huge space, versatile seating and a robust cabin. It delivers plenty more beside as well, being comfortable yet enjoyable to drive and affordable to buy and run. If you’re looking for a big MPV, this thing should definitely be on your shopping list.