It is true that SEAT has been largely accepted as offering a range of sporty cars, using proven Volkswagen Group technology, but with value-for-money a strong part of the package.
A large proportion of the cars sold such as the Ibiza and Leon are those offering 100bhp or more and SEAT has also been successful in attracting younger drivers.
The Altea marks the first in a new generation of SEATs and its attention-grabbing styling cues – can this car really share many of its components with the sober-looking Volkswagen Touran? – will feature on all future SEATs.
Walter de'Silva, SEAT design director, said: 'The Altea is a vehicle that combines the traits that characterise the image of all future SEAT products. It will be followed by other models that will confirm this enormous design advance.'
SEAT isn't quite going after a share of the same market as the Touran, the Renault Scenic or the Vauxhall Zafira, but the company recognises that buyers of lower-medium cars are increasingly demanding more room and functionality.
While the rear seats fold up neatly offering a flat loading luggage area, they cannot be removed, although there are other small storage compartments throughout the cabin, including trays under both front seats.
There is a two-tier luggage compartment, with extra space under the floor, which is varied according to whether a full-size spare wheel, space-saver or puncture repair kit is fitted.
The Altea will go on sale in the UK from July 1 and will be offered initially with a choice of two petrol engines and two pumpe duse turbodiesels.
A conventional 1.6-litre petrol engine developing 102bhp will be offered alongside a direct injection 2.0 FSi engine producing 150bhp.
The entry-level diesel will be a 105bhp 1.9 TDi with a 140bhp 2.0 TDi sitting at the top of the range.
The two most powerful engines in the range will be offered with six-speed manual transmissions as standard, while the 2.0 FSi is also offered with a six-speed tiptronic automatic.
The 2.0 TDi comes with a DSG (direct shift gearbox) providing near-seamless gearshifts, a fully-automatic mode and similar fuel consumption and emissions to the standard manual transmission.
The DSG system made its debut last summer in the Audi TT 3.2 V6, and is also offered on some versions of the A3 and the Volkswagen Touran, so it's a coup for SEAT to be able to offer this technology.
SEAT believes the 1.6-litre will be the volume seller in the UK, with 45% of sales. The 2.0 FSi will take 6% although in terms of business sales, the diesels should comfortably outsell the two petrol models thanks to their low BIK status with Euro IV compliancy.
Prices are to be finalised, but it would make sense that the entry level 1.6-litre Altea will start at about £13,000 - £1,000 more than the 1.6-litre Leon.
All models will have six airbags, ABS and traction control, active head restraints, air conditioning, a CD player, electric front windows and five years' SEAT Assistance on top of a three-year warranty.
SEAT thinks it will sell 2,500 in the UK this year from its July on-sale date, and 5,000 in a full year – 40% of which to business users.
Behind the wheel
THE SEAT Altea is the most eye-catching medium car in production. Faithful to the prototype seen last September, there are bold lines and sweeping curves in a compact package.
The curve that rises from below the headlamps and runs along the side of the car towards the rear wheel arch will become a trademark of future SEAT models, while the Altea's party trick is its windscreen wipers concealed in the A-pillars.
Its stylish exterior hides a roomy interior, although the rear bench is more of a two-seater with occasional seating for a third person. Headroom and legroom are both generous.
While many of the interior features mirror the design and functionality found in the latest generation of Volkswagen Group models, and the Altea feels well screwed together, there are hard plastics in the doors and – unlike many new C-sector cars – on the top of the dashboard.
The diesels will be fleet favourites and a 40km excursion in the 1.9 TDi from Barcelona airport to SEAT's Martorell factory, where the Altea is built, showed the car offers strong performance and good road manners.
Hampered only by the dead-feeling electro-mechanical steering (some manufacturers prefer electro-hydraulic), the Altea is nimble on twisty roads, with limited body roll and plenty of grip.
Performance from the 105bhp diesel is more than adequate, and while there is always the background diesel 'clatter' at idle, the car is remarkably quiet overall, save for some wind noise around the mirrors above 60mph.
The 2.0 TDi performs more or less in the same way as the 1.9 TDi with a noticeably improved mid-range response helping shave more than two seconds off the 0-62mph time. It means the 2.0 TDi feels like the fastest car in the range, even though benchmark figures for the 2.0 FSi suggest otherwise.
The DSG transmission, optional on the 2.0 TDi, behaves like an automatic, but is even faster than the standard manual. It covers the 0-62mph benchmark a tenth of a second faster, and does not hit fuel consumption in the same way as most traditional autos. Unlike some other cars featuring DSG, manual gearchanges are done only with the gearstick – there are no buttons or paddles on the steering wheel. Driving verdict THE SEAT Altea has more style than any other lower-medium car in production and while not an outright compact MPV, it is bound to threaten established five-seaters like the Citroen Xsara Picasso, Renault Scenic and Ford Focus C-MAX. It is also good to drive, particularly with one of the potent diesel engines fitted.
|Model||1.6||2.0 FSI||1.9 TDi||2.0 TDi|
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||102/5,600||150/6,000||105/4,000||140/4,000|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||109/3,800||148/3,500||184/3,500||236/2,500|
|Max speed (mph):||112||128 (auto: 126)||114||125|
|0-62mph (secs):||12.8||9.6 (10.1)||12.3||9.9 (DSG:9.8)|
|Comb fuel consumption (mpg):||36.7||36.7 (33.6)||52.3||48.7 (47.1)||CO2 emissions (g/km):||182||186 (200)||146||157 (161)|
|Service interval (miles):||10,000|