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The Spanish alternative
THERE'S a Volkswagen seven-seat multi-purpose vehicle (MPV) that's not actually a Volkswagen.
It's called the Seat Alhambra and it's one of the four models being introduced by new Seat distributor Vertex.
Seat is a Spanish brand which was last seen here 13 years ago. Owned by Germany's Volkswagen Group, its cars share the same technology as VW models, except they are made in Spain. Mostly.
The Seat Alhambra 2.0 TDI MPV is manufactured in Portugal but has the same seven individual seats and rear sliding doors as the VW Sharan, which is currently not found on Volkswagen Group Singapore's price list.
The Alhambra has a two-litre turbodiesel mated to Volkswagen's well-known dual clutch automatic transmission.
This six-speed wet clutch gearbox is especially brilliant because it has been updated with a fuel-saving coasting function.
When cruising, it disengages itself from the engine as soon as the right foot is off the gas pedal, allowing the tachometer needle to drop to just above idling speed.
But when the accelerator is depressed, the transmission is engaged instantly and so seamlessly that you are unlikely to feel it.
As expected, the turbodiesel has good low-end torque, in this case, 380 Newton-metres of it. It does a good job of moving the big Alhambra briskly enough so that its roughly 1,850 kg kerb weight isn't felt.
The drive is also typically VW, with reassuring steering feel and a well-damped but confident ride.
In fact, trom behind the wheel, the Alhambra could pass for a VW if not for its Seat badge. There are the same steering wheel-mounted paddle shifts and instrument cluster.
It feels as solid, with well-made materials that are quietly premium.
Behind, there are two rows of seats. The individual second row seats have forward/backward adjustment to benefit third row legroom.
At 1,904 mm tall with a very generous 2,919 mm wheelbase, the 4,854 mm Alhambra is a large MPV with a decent last row.
It is able to accommodate a pair of six-footers with more than adequate head and legroom.
The rear aircon is a standard feature and extremely helpful for ensuring the cabin air does not suffer in Singapore's heat.
The Alhambra also has other useful standard equipment. One is the driver's massage seat; another is the integrated child booster seat in the second row.
The latter pops up out of the corner seat squab when needed, and is flush with the seat when not.
All very clever, all very VW - but just without the VW badge.
Seat Alhambra 2.0 TDI
Engine 1,968cc turbodiesel
Transmission 6-speed dual clutch
Max power 184 hp @ 3,500-4,000 rpm
Max torque 380 Nm @ 1,750-3,000 rpm
0-100 kmh 8.9 secs
Top speed 213 kmh
CO2 emissions 137 g/km
Average OMV S$35,000
Price from S$165,500 (with COE)
Distributor Vertex Euro Motors