It was with a heavy heart that this month we said goodbye to our big white bus.
In the life of a motoring hack cars come and cars go. Some leave impressions – good or bad – but not so many become an integral part of your life.
The Alhambra, however, was one of the cars that so perfectly fitted in with my family’s needs that since it went back I’ve been scouring the classifieds to see if there are any examples that I could realistically afford.
Seat Alhambra SE Lux 2.0 TDI Ecomotive
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder diesel
Top speed: 126mph
0-62mph: 10.2 seconds
Fuel economy: 55.4mpg combined
CO2 emissions: 132g/km
I’ve already sung the praises of this high-spec car’s wealth of technology and it really is great. But as wonderful as the top-of-the-range media/nav system was and as easy as the powered doors and tailgate made life, what really made the Alhambra so good was its unbeatable practicality.
My major challenge at the moment is trying to fit two adults and three kids still in child seats into any car. With the big SEAT this was never an issue. With three full-size seats in the middle row we could fit in in any combination we liked. The only impediment to the “adults-up-front-kids-in-the-back” setup being the usual sibling rivalry/violence that erupts after more than five minutes in a moving vehicle. Never mind, even a lardy daddy could fit in the centre seat and have more than enough space.
Even better, the rearmost seats were adult-friendly. Headroom is great, there are cupholders and proper ventilation and big windows mean passengers don’t feel like they’re squeezed into the boot. They did great service whenever visiting grandparents needed ferried about alongside the kids.
One of the big stumbling blocks of seven-seat people carriers has often been that you sacrifice almost all boot space when the rearmost seats are in use. The Alhambra certainly loses a chunk of room when they’re folded up. Yet even with seven people aboard there’s space for two large suitcases, two carry-on bags and some odds and ends thanks to a sunken boot section revealed when the rear pews are folded up.
In five-seat configuration there’s more than enough space for a family of five to go away for a fortnight thanks to its 658-litre capacity. Deep door pockets, plenty of oddment storage and seat-back tables in the middle row all just add to the family-friendliness of the Alhambra.
Of course, all this space and comfortable is possible because the Alhambra is a whacking big motor. This is instantly apparent on narrow roads and in tight car parks but on the open road it doesn’t feel unwieldy.
The size and weight also clearly has an effect on economy. While some cars fitted with the same diesel unit claim up to 70mpg, the Seat’s official figure is 55.4mpg. Over three months and several thousand miles we saw an average of 42.5mpg. On my 30-mile commute high-40s were a realistic prospect but you’re definitely paying a price for all that space.
Still, the engine coped fine with the Alhambra’s size. Only when it was fully laden did it start to feel a tad sluggish. I’d put up with this for the economy savings it offers in day-to-day life but there is a more powerful 180bhp version for those who regularly carry full loads or tow a caravan.
Our test car came laden with almost every toy on the options list, including leather upholstery, memory seats, three-zone climate control, sat nav and enough sensors and cameras to police a small nation. Specced as such it cost more than £30,000, which isn’t cheap. But it is cheaper than an equivalent VW Sharan or Ford Galaxy and there are plenty of average family estates that cost the same or more without the Seat’s endless practicality.
What’s more you can have an Alhambra for less than £26,000 and it’ll still come with all that space, a five-star Euro NCAP rating and the sliding doors that remove anxiety over fitting into tight parking spaces.
It might be a relatively niche part of the market but for families who need seven seats, or even just five proper full-size ones and decent luggage space, the Alhambra is perfectly practical and practically perfect.