David Motton

See other tow car reviews written by David Motton

The best tow cars are SUVs and 4x4s, right? Perhaps not, as our expert puts this heavyweight MPV through its paces – read our Seat Alhambra review

Overview

What kind of car makes the best tow car? Can an MPV perform better than an SUV or large 4x4? We'll find out in our Seat Alhambra review – read on!

Last year, Seat revised the Alhambra with lower running costs, more equipment and subtle cosmetic changes. It was a refresh rather than a full revision, but this was already a leading large MPV.

We’re testing the 2.0 TDI 184PS SE Lux DSG, which is near the top of the range. The engine promises to be strong enough to pull large family caravans. In addition, with this engine and spec, the Seat weighs almost as much as some large 4x4s.

The extra heft of the Alhambra’s sliding doors and their electric motors no doubt contribute to the 1845kg kerbweight.

We hope to find out what tow car strengths and weaknesses this car has. Is a big MPV inevitably second-best to large 4x4s for towing? And can any MPV be worth £35,000?

Towing

The Seat Alhambra’s chunkiness will make for favourable matching ratios. The 1845kg kerbweight gives an 85% match figure of 1568kg. That’s well within the 2200kg legal towing limit.

We’re also pleased to see a high towball limit of 100kg – a lot more than the 70kg maximum of the Citroën Grand C4 Picasso, for example.

We matched the big Seat to a Swift Elegance 570 with a Mass in Running Order of 1561kg – almost exactly an 85% match.

There’s enough pulling power to confidently pull a tourer of this weight. The engine produces 184PS (181bhp) close to the redline, and 280lb ft of torque from 1750-3000rpm.

At the test track, the Alhambra accelerated from 30-60mph in 12 seconds, and we could comfortably keep up with the ebb and flow of traffic on the motorway. The strength of the engine’s mid-range is also shown in the 5.1-second 50-60mph time.

Keeping the Direct Shift Gearbox in ‘sport’ makes for quicker, more responsive gearchanges when overtaking or tackling hills. But the ‘normal’ setting provides smoother changes in most conditions.

Once it is up to the 60mph motorway limit, the Seat Alhambra feels as if it would happily tow all day. It is poised and stable enough to make long journeys surprisingly relaxed. Unless the wind really picks up, the driver has quite an easy time of it.

It keeps its composure in extreme manoeuvres, too. We had to persuade ourselves to push hard in the lane-change test on a wet track, but we needn’t have worried.

The Alhambra completed the test without drama. It leaned noticeably when changing direction but did so in a controlled manner, with plenty of grip.

The Seat’s emergency stop was equally controlled and assured. There was no shunting from the caravan, and the 11.4m needed to stop from 30mph is impressive on a wet track. Some cars we’ve tested have posted similar distances on bone-dry Tarmac.

In most respects, the Alhambra is a very accomplished tow car. However, it exhibits some foibles.

All that power and torque are delivered through the front wheels, and it’s easy to overwhelm their grip in wet weather.

Pull away smartly from a wet junction and the wheels tend to spin briefly. Even in the dry, there’s sometimes a brief loss of traction if you accelerate in a hurry.

The same trait is noticeable when making hill starts. The electronic parking brake holds car and caravan still, even on a 1-in-6 slope. We know some drivers still dislike this style of parking brake, but we prefer it to a conventional handbrake, which may need a very firm pull before it will hold.

As long as it’s dry and you don’t apply too much throttle, the Alhambra has no trouble towing up this gradient. In the wet, more care is needed.

Traction aside, though, the latest Seat Alhambra is an extremely capable tow car, and its high kerbweight makes it a good match for a wide choice of family tourers.

Everyday driving

The Alhambra is a long and wide car, and you know all about it when driving around town or parking. In particular it would be hard to judge where the front of the car ends without the front and rear parking sensors that are standard fit on all models.

Our test car came with 18in alloy wheels, a £485 extra. They certainly look good, but contribute to quite a firm ride at low speeds. Pick up the pace a bit and the ride smooths out somewhat, although it’s still on the firm side of comfortable.

If that’s the payoff for the Seat’s stability at the legal limit then it’s one we’re happy to make. We suspect Alhambras on 16- and 17in wheels are more supple over rough surfaces.

You don’t necessarily expect much fun behind the wheel of an MPV, but the Seat Alhambra handles very well. The steering is accurate and lean is kept under control.

A Ford S-Max is a bit more agile, but the Alhambra is far from unwieldy. Without the extra weight of a caravan behind it, the 184PS engine can really get a shift on.

It more than copes with a full load of passengers and luggage. But, just as when towing, it’s easy to spin the front wheels in the wet if you don’t press the throttle with restraint when pulling away.

Once up to speed, the engine is quiet, and wind noise isn’t intrusive. There’s quite a bit of road noise when driving over coarse surfaces, but otherwise the Alhambra is refined enough for relaxing long journeys.

Space

It’s no surprise that the Alhambra is roomy, given that it’s 4.85m long. But Seat has made the most of the Alhambra’s size.

Up front, there’s plenty of room for driver and passenger. Even with the sunroof fitted to our test car, there’s no shortage of headroom, and there’s enough adjustment to the seat and wheel to keep drivers of most shapes and sizes happy.

The generous storage space includes large door bins and a cubby beneath the armrest. The middle row is also reasonably accommodating. A touch more legroom wouldn’t go amiss, but adults here can travel in comfort.

As you’d expect of an MPV, the three individual seats can be slid back and forth independently of one another. Overhead air vents make sure cool air reaches the middle row.

Just as in the front, there’s plenty of storage. There are bottle-shaped door bins, and extra storage beneath passengers’ feet – handy for stowing travel games or tablet computers to keep kids entertained on the move. Picnic trays on the back of the front seats are another practical touch.

Few MPVs have much space in the third row, but the Seat Alhambra is better than most. Adults won’t want to sit in there for long, but children should be happy.

Electrically powered sliding rear doors give access to the second and third rows of seats. These doors make for a wide opening, and are especially useful in narrow car park spaces.

With all seven seats upright the boot is on the small side – fine for the weekly shop rather than a family holiday. So, if you are taking seven on your caravan holidays, you’ll need a roofbox.

However, with the third row folded, the boot is very generous and, with the second row stowed as well, you get far more luggage space than in any estate car.

All told, this is a very practical car.

Running costs

The list price of £35,190 puts the Seat Alhambra 2.0 TDI 184PS SE Lux DSG towards the top-end of what you would pay for a seven-seat MPV.

Full whack for a Citroën Grand C4 Picasso is £28,925, although that’s a slightly smaller and less powerful car. The top-of-the-range Ford Galaxy costs £37,545, over £2000 more than the Alhambra, although this buys you a four-wheel-drive transmission that isn’t available to Alhambra buyers.

You should be able to shave a healthy amount from the asking price. What Car?’s research suggests a transaction price of £32,477 should be within reach.

Your money does buy a pretty comprehensive list of standard equipment. SE Lux models have black leather upholstery, rain-sensing wipers, front foglamps, three-zone climate control, a 6.5in colour touchscreen, Bluetooth connectivity, eight speakers, self-sealing tyres (there’s not even a repair kit) and a whole lot more.

Safety kit includes front, side, curtain and driver’s knee airbags, stability control, and a system that automatically applies the brakes after an impact to reduce the severity of further collisions.

After three years and 36,000 miles on the road, you can expect to get back 41% of the original price. That’s a reasonable return, but it is unexceptional.

Technical specs

Engine size1968 cc
Kerbweight1845 kg
85% KW1568 kg
Towball limit100 kg
Maximum towing limit2200 kg
Power181.0 bhp
Torque280.0 lb ft
Official MPG53.3 mpg
CO2139 g/km
30-60mph12 seconds
30-0mph11.4 m

Verdict

The Seat Alhambra is a very capable tow car and an excellent MPV.

Being so heavy certainly helps. It’s only a little lighter than some big 4x4s, which makes for favourable matches with large family caravans.

The 184PS/181bhp engine pushes the price up compared with the 150PS unit that powers some Alhambras, but the extra power and torque help tow heavy vans. The Seat shifts along at a decent pace, easily reaching motorway speeds and overtaking decisively.

If there’s a downside to so much power and torque, it’s that 280lb ft of torque is a lot for the front tyres in wet conditions.

That’s really the Alhambra’s most significant black mark as a tug, although the self-sealing tyres will be seen as a negative by some.

Stability-wise, there’s very little to criticise. We knew the Alhambra towed well after this year's Tow Car Awards, but we’re more impressed now having pushed the Seat through the lane-change test on a wet track.

Inside, the Alhambra is spacious and practical. The sliding rear doors make getting in and out of the second and third rows easy, and all three rows of seating have their own air vents to keep everyone comfortable. There’s lots of storage and plenty of flexibility.

It’s not cheap, but it is a huge car and very well equipped. Moreover, What Car?’s research has found that healthy discounts are available if you haggle.

All told, we’re more sure than ever that the Seat was a worthy choice as ‘Best MPV’ at the TowCar Awards 2016.

Conclusion

Pros

  • It has a high kerbweight
  • The Seat proved to be a stable tow car
  • The 181bhp engine is easily powerful enough for relaxed towing
  • It has a flexible, spacious and practical cabin

Cons

  • It has self-sealing tyres and no repair kit
  • The torque can overwhelm the available grip
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