Whatever road you throw at it, the Seat Altea can cope
It's easy to get comfy and dashboard easy to use. Looks bland, though
It has everything you could possibly want to keep you and yours safe
It won't let you down, but won't thrill you, either
Bags of space - and plenty of space for bags
Even basic cars get reasonably generous equipment
The entry-level 1.4 petrol will struggle with a fully-laden car, but the turbocharged 1.4 TSI offers a fine balance between performance and economy, as do the 1.6 and 2.0 diesels. The Altea handles impressively, thanks to firm suspension that keeps the car's body flat in corners. However, this makes the ride a little hard, so it's not the most comfortable hatchback you'll ever drive. The Altea XL, which is 18.7cm longer than the standard car, feels virtually the same on the road.
The engines are generally smooth and quiet, while road noise is well muffled. Only some wind noise from the front doors disappointments.
Seat has tried to make the cabin look interesting, but the dull colour scheme and small windows make it feel dark and drab. What's more, the small windows between the windscreen and the front doors are of little use, while the upsweep of the rearmost side windows creates a blind spot when reversing. Still, the cabin materials feel hardwearing and the controls are logically placed. The driver's seat is height-adjustable and the reach and angle of the steering wheel can be changed to get most drivers comfortable.
Bear in mind that this is really just a tall hatchback with some clever touches, rather than a proper MPV. For example, although the rear seats split and slide, they don't tumble and you can't remove them. However, the split-level boot is deep and large (and even bigger in the XL), and the rear seats fold flat to boost the car's loadbay. XL models have roof rails.
All models have air-conditioning, front electric windows, CD player with aux-in socket, side airbags and traction control. SE cars have climate control and rear electric windows, and Sport versions get firm suspension, different alloys and sports seats.
The Altea's VW-sourced mechanicals are proven and should present few problems. The cabin is solidly built from hard-wearing materials, even if they're not very classy. All Alteas come with anti-lock brakes and stability control, plus twin front, side and curtain airbags. All this helped the Altea achieve a maximum five stars in Euro NCAP crash tests. ISOFIX child seat mounts are fitted, as is an alarm and deadlocks.
The Altea's list prices undercut those of key rivals like the VW Golf Plus. Buyers should be able to haggle for a discount, too. You'll get back about a third of the car's value after three years, and generally a bit more for a diesel than a petrol. Running costs are reasonable and there's a three-year, 60,000-mile warranty.