Seat Altea 2-0 FR

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Keywords: Seat Altea 2-0 FR

Description: It isn't an obvious choice but SEAT's Altea 2.0 T FSI FR is a mini-MPV that barely puts a foot wrong. Andy Enright takes a look SEAT is a tough company to second guess. Just when you think you

It isn't an obvious choice but SEAT's Altea 2.0 T FSI FR is a mini-MPV that barely puts a foot wrong. Andy Enright takes a look

SEAT is a tough company to second guess. Just when you think you understand what the Spanish firm is all about, it seems to divert off on a perplexing tangent. Just as they were building a reputation for marketing quick, dynamic hatches and saloons, SEAT's management decided to pursue a design direction that left many people scratching their heads. Some of their wares haven't really worked. Here's one that does - the Altea 2.0 T FSI FR.

That clumsy blur of letters and numbers at the end of the car's name speaks volumes if you take the time to tease out the meaning in the code. The Ibiza and the first generation Leon established the FR (Formula Racing) brand, although the Altea was the first of what SEAT dub the 'new generation' models to wear the badge. The changes to the exterior are subtle but effective. A restyled front bumper houses a full-width air intake and a honeycomb grille. The titanium-coloured door mirrors are becoming an FR trademark, as is the red badging. At the back, there's another redesigned bumper assembly, this time with black diffuser styling. A pair of chromed tailpipes and five-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels round off the visual enhancements.

The interior has been given a 'sporting' makeover too, with a three-spoke FR-branded steering wheel and more deeply bolstered seats being the main changes. Look a little closer and you'll also spot a grey and black dashboard colour combination, an FR logo on the gear knob and white instrument dials with a centrally-located rev counter. The price? £17,322, around £800 more than a non-turbocharged 2.0 FSI Altea and £500 less than the 168bhp TDI diesel FR version of this car that SEAT also offer. If you can find another £900, you can specify this car with the outstanding DSG paddle shift gearbox.

The '2.0 T FSI' designator indicates that this car is powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine that uses Volkswagen's proprietary, and fiendishly clever, FSI fuel stratified injection system. This powerplant can also be found in the Volkswagen Golf GTI and various Audi models, so it comes with a good pedigree and manages a healthy 197bhp.

"It's quite hard to establish that there's a turbocharger in operation at all from your seat behind the wheel"

Mate a turbocharger to a petrol engine and you'll traditionally experience peaky performance and a narrow power band but the 2.0 T FSI is different. It's quite hard to establish that there's a turbocharger in operation at all from your seat behind the wheel as the Altea pulls smoothly and purposefully through the rev-range. The engineers behind it have managed to give the powerplant a hefty torque output of 280Nm but, more significantly, this pulling power is available through a broad span of the rev-range from 1,750 to 5,000rpm.

The result is the kind of in-gear flexibility that is more often associated with diesel powerplants. The standard gauge of automotive pace - 0-62mph acceleration - is suitably lively with this 197bhp Altea. The car will accomplish the feat in 7.3s before running on to a 142mph maximum speed. Average fuel economy of 35.8mpg is about what you'd expect from a hatchback with this kind of performance, as is the 190g/km emissions figure.

SEAT aren't the first to market high performance MPV vehicles. Vauxhall well and truly beat them to the punch, first with the Zafira GSi and then with the potent VXR model, but SEAT have played things rather smartly. They realise that MPV drivers need to sell the benefits of their choices to their families. Anything festooned with spoilers is going to have a hard time passing muster, so an element of guile is required in the car's styling. A vehicle that looks as if it has benefited from the proceeds of a ram raid of Halfords is just that little bit too obvious. Likewise, a turbocharged petrol engine will likely get the vehicle axed from a shortlist when the fuel consumption figures and insurance quotes are received.

The Altea itself has been improved in recent times, mainly through the addition of a clever rear seat which slides forward 14 cm to increase boot space by an additional 101 litres, but still leaves plenty of rear legroom for the rear seat passengers. This model unashamedly offers five spacious seats rather than seven cramped ones but weighs in with some innovative thinking. The side profile has the same 33:66 glass to metal ratio that features on so many sports cars and gives the Altea a far higher-waisted and more dynamic look than, say, a Volkswagen Touran.

Inside, there are more than thirty places to stow and stash goodies, including a supersized glove compartment, big storage bins on all four doors, drawers under the front seat and even a storage area under the boot floor. Even the parcel shelf has a storage cubby incorporated within. The two-tiered boot has a capacity of over 400 litres. The rear bench is a 60/40 split affair with a fold down armrest incorporating cupholders. As befits SEAT's position within the sportier Audi side of Volkswagen's empire, the seats are supportive and the steering is meaty, the multi-adjustable wheel making it easy to find a decent driving position. The Altea's greatest party trick is definitely the windscreen wipers that park vertically in the A-pillars until called upon.

The Altea 2.0 T FSI FR emerges as a very capable contender. Although its diesel sibling may well be the better buy if you're covering bigger mileages, on a twisty road after you've dropped the kids off at school, it can't hold a candle to this gorgeous petrol engine. This is possibly a better buy than a Volkswagen Golf GTI - it certainly has the drop on the Golf in terms of versatility - and it won't attract as much attention either, a major advantage in the eyes of certain buyers. In short, it's well worth a look.



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