SEAT Altea XL 1.6 TDi SE Ecomotive: Road test

The SEAT Altea at five years old is no longer in its first flush of youth, especially when compared to other mini-MPV rivals on the market today.

So to see if this oldie is still a goodie, I spent a week with the XL 1.6 TDi SE Ecomotive to find out.

The original Altea dates back to 2004, with the slightly larger XL model arriving in 2007. Less well proportioned than the standard Altea, it still has plenty of the Spanish company's design flair, even if it does look perhaps too similar to the Leon hatch.

The SEAT looks best from the front, with the distinctive headlight units and the small family grille. Move to the side of the Altea and there are the sculpted flanks and the high window-line.

For me, the rear is the least successful part of the Altea XL's styling. The large rear light clusters which stretch across the boot certainly aren't as sharp as the rest of the design.

Our test car was fitted with one of three engines available for the Altea XL, the 106bhp 1.6-litre TDi diesel. Ecomotive green tweaks, including a gearshift indicator that tells you exactly when to change gears and a Start & Stop system means emissions of just 119g/km and 58.9mpg fuel consumption figures. This equals a road tax figure of just £35; which means that despite its size and practicality the Altea XL should be cheap to run.

With its thick roof pillars, all-round visibility in the Altea isn't great. I was thankful for the standard fit rear parking sensors. The Altea has light, sharp steering that feels far sportier than you might think a mini-MPVs to be. The responsive steering is good on the motorway too.

In spite of the tall body and its age, the Altea is still one of the best cars to drive in this class. There is some body roll in corners, but it's kept well under control and there's plenty of grip from the 16-inch wheels.

The Altea's ride is refined too, but the low-rolling resistance rubber means some road rumble can be heard in the SEAT's cabin.

Inside, the Altea's curvy dash is starting to show its age and the quality of the dashboard trim is disappointing. Thankfully the switchgear is lifted from a Golf and feels sturdy.

The 1.6-litre diesel engine is smooth, with more than enough torque. It might have all the Econetic green technology, but I never wanted for more power and even on a long motorway trip I saw over 30mpg.

The six-speed manual transmission is slick enough and considering the Econetic tweaks, performance is willing; 60mph comes up in 12.2 seconds and the top speed is 114mph.

The Altea's doors open wide and the raised driving position is commanding. The high roof means there's an impressive amount of space in the back, although I sometimes wished for an extra set of rear seats that would fold Zafira-style out of the boot floor. The 532 litre boot is a good size and a practical shape.

In SE trim, the Altea XL has most of the kit that a family will ever need. Dual Zone Climate Control, a Combined USB port and Aux-in, a radio CD MP3 with eight-speakers, remote central locking, electric front windows, alloy wheels and parking sensors, all come as standard for £19,670.

The single-disc CD system sounds great and our test car was fitted with the optional (£850) media system that includes Bluetooth and a Sat-nav. Sadly, it's not hard disc based as on the latest Volkswagen Groups systems, so you'll have to choose between music or maps. Or download all of the maps to an SD memory card.

To sum up, newer rivals might be more attractive and practical but the Altea XL is still worth a look for its keen drive and low running costs.

SEAT Altea Ecomotive

SEAT Altea Ecomotive