The SEAT Alhambra is a full-size seven-seat people carrier that competes directly with the Ford Galaxy and Volkswagen Sharan – the latter of these being mechanically identical to the SEAT. Buyers in need of seven seats are spoilt for choice these days. The Citroen Grand C4 Picasso, Ford S-MAX, Vauxhall Zafira Tourer and Peugeot 5008 can also accommodate seven – although these are cars from the class below. This means they’re around 20cm shorter and 10cm or so narrower than the Alhambra, making travelling seven-up a little more cramped. None has the Alhambra and Sharan's sliding rear doors, either.
In the SEAT's favour are its equipment levels (which are reasonably generous), its driving experience (which is more involving than you might expect) and its price: despite being essentially the same car as the VW Sharan, the Alhambra is almost £2,000 cheaper. If you’re happy with a SEAT badge rather than a VW one, it's hard to justify the more expensive car.
SEAT offers the Alhambra with one petrol engine and one diesel – although the diesel is available with two power outputs. The 1.4-litre petrol kicks off the range. It produces 148bhp, returns 44.1mpg and costs £145 a year in road tax. Spend a further £2,000 or so and you get an equally powerful 2.0-litre diesel that offers an extra 10mpg in terms of economy and costs £15 a year less to tax. Note that these economy figures are for the entry-level model; higher-spec cars get larger alloy wheels and this can increase road tax a little.
The range-topping 181bhp diesel is almost as efficient as its less powerful counterpart, but you have to add around £9,000 to the Alhambra's list price if you want this, partly as it's only available with the two top trim levels. A dual-clutch automatic gearbox is optional with both diesel engines; this adds roughly £1,500 to the Alhambra's price and dents its economy and emissions, but only by 5% or so.
These economy figures may seem average – particularly when compared to a diesel-engined Grand C4 Picasso's claimed 74mpg (and its road-tax-exempt status) – but it's important to bear the Alhambra's fuller figure in mind. The equally hefty Ford Galaxy and Volkswagen Sharan offer almost identical running costs, which are pretty decent for car of the Alhambra's size.
Speaking of size, the Alhambra's dimensions and near two-tonne weight mean it's no sports car when cornering, but it's actually pretty enjoyable to drive. The steering is accurate, body lean is minimal and the suspension irons out bumps competently. There was a time when large MPVs were reminiscent of minibuses when it came to the driving experience; the Alhambra (and, to give them their due, the Galaxy and Sharan) are more car-like to drive than you might expect.
Turning to the interior, you’ll find a clearly laid-out, well-built dashboard and those all-important seven seats. The second row offers excellent head and legroom, while the third row can easily accommodate children and even fully-grown adults – on shorter trips, at least. The Alhambra also has a usable 267-litre boot when all its seats are in position.
SEAT offers five trim levels with the Alhambra. S kicks off proceedings and includes a 6.5-inch touchscreen complete with Bluetooth and voice recognition, all-round electric windows and parking sensors, plus 16-inch alloy wheels. For just over £2,000 more, SE trim adds larger alloy wheels, extra storage compartments, cruise control, upgraded interior details and a 230-volt power supply in the second row of seats.
Connect, SE Lux and FR-Line Alhambras are very well equipped indeed. Connect gets you a free smartphone and part-leather sports seats, SE Lux includes power-sliding rear doors, sports suspension, a panoramic sunroof, sat nav and full leather, while FR-Line prioritises a sporty look, adding 18-inch alloy wheels and some extra interior and exterior trim details (including Alcantara suede fabric seats).
Be aware these models cost around £30,000 and up, and also note that your trim choice affects which engines are available (we go into this in more detail in the next section of this review). Safety is taken care of by a five-star rating from Euro NCAP, with excellent individual ratings for adult and child occupant protection.