The Seat Altea is a family-friendly five-seater people carrier, which takes on established MPV rivals by offering an extra dose of space over similarly-sized hatchback models. Key competitors that the Altea has to beat include the Ford C-Max, Renault Scenic, Citroen C4 Picasso and the VW Golf SV.
What makes this all the more challenging for the Altea is that it was launched way back in 2004. To give an idea of just how old this is in car terms, a new VW Golf was launched in 2004, before being replaced with a brand new model in 2009 which itself was replaced with an all-new Golf in 2013.
What this means is that while the Altea may have been competitive in 2004, standards for refinement, equipment and handling have moved on over the last decade. As a result, value is where the Altea has to shine to make a wiser choice than rival people carriers, which offer higher levels of refinement and more upmarket interiors.
The Altea is Seat’s ageing five-seater people carrier. While the Golf Plus, which shared some of its underpinnings with the Altea, was replaced this year with the Golf SV, there is no sign of an imminent replacement for the Seat. Seat has chosen to tackle this challenge by stuffing the Altea with a huge array of standard equipment.
The Altea range has been simplified into one trim level – I Tech – and two diesel engines, a 1.6-litre unit and a 2.0-litre. The smaller engine is also available with a ‘DSG’ automatic gearbox. Standard equipment on all Alteas includes dual-zone climate control, electric front and rear windows, automatic headlights and wipers, front and rear parking sensors, a digital radio, sat nav, Bluetooth, cruise control and 16-inch alloy wheels. As befits its family car billing, the Altea boasts dozens of storage cubbies hidden around the cabin.
Though the Altea is very much designed to cater for families, neither the seats nor the ride are particularly comfortable. The suspension has a distinct firmness to it, emphasising bumps in the road without settling on smoother stretches of Tarmac, while the seats are unyielding and not very comfortably shaped. During our test we found sitting in these seats for any length of time quite grating.
Fire up the 1.6-litre diesel engine and the immediate impression is that this is an old car. The diesel motor produces plenty of noise at idle and when worked hard and is neither as comfortable at low revs – when it sends vibrations through the cabin – or a high revs, when it is noisier than more modern rivals. Power is also underwhelming, with the Altea requiring 12.2 seconds to lumber to 62mph, though claimed economy is strong at 62.8mpg.
Surprisingly, the manual gearbox fitted to our car was very impressive, offering a slick gear change, though handling around bends wasn’t enjoyable enough to warrant the bumpy ride. Front and rear visibility is also poor, making the car harder to wind through tight streets than it should be. Windscreen wipers which sit alongside the front pillars when off also hinder the driver’s view of the road ahead.
The interior is both the Altea’s strongest suit and biggest weakness. The dashboard is dated, unattractive and hard to negotiate on the move, betraying the car’s sheer age. Comfort levels are not as high as they should be either, courtesy of uncomfortable seats front and rear and a high level of road noise.
The cabin does features plenty of practical touches, however, with the Altea offering lots of space for smaller families for its exterior dimensions, along with a full complement of storage cubbies. Unusually for this class of car, rear side airbags are standard, though newer cars are likely to offer higher levels of overall safety, due to the safety advances made over the last decade.
As with most people carriers, the Altea boasts a number of family-friendly features, like sliding rear seats, a large amount of underfloor storage in the boot and a reasonable level of interior space. Space in the front seats is reasonable, though the tallest of passengers may struggle for leg room, due to the bulbous dashboard and intrusion from the front wheelarch. As for the driving position, there is plenty of adjustment available, though we found it hard to set a comfortable driving position.
The rear seats may be firm, but there is more than enough room for most passengers, with the sliding seat base allowing owners to choose between maximising passenger space or room in the boot. Storing small items in the boot is a doddle too, thanks to the useful segmented storage areas under the boot floor.
As a new purchase the Altea is hard to recommend. Despite its low pricing, its age means that refinement levels, performance, roadholding and interior design all lag behind the best people carriers. The big issue, though, is that comfort levels are just not high enough for a family car – with the combination of a bumpy ride, firm seats and droney engine making long journeys a chore.
New Alteas pack a huge array of standard equipment, however, it makes much more sense as a used purchase, when the lower purchase prices mean that accepting some of the car’s flaws is easier. Those after a comfortable and good value new five-seater people carrier are likely to be better served by the Ford C-Max 1.6 TDCi though, as this car matches the Altea for economy but beats it in the power stakes. Crucially, however, it should prove more comfortable and is only a little pricier than the older Altea.
Don't want to buy new? You can browse for a used Seat Altea in our classifieds here.
Seat Altea 1.6 TDI 105 I Tech
List price: £19,345
Engine: 1.6-litre, four cylinder diesel
Top speed: 114mph
0-62mph: 12.2 seconds
Fuel economy: 54.3mpg (urban), 68.9mpg (extra-urban) 62.8mpg (combined)
Emissions: 119g/km CO2
Euro NCAP rating: Five stars
February 18, 2015