Sliding doors give excuses to use up your spare time

VERY often it’s hard to pick out a good car from a bad one.

In fact, car manufacturers can’t really afford to make “bad” cars anymore, so it’s more a matter of picking out the car which offers the best value for money. The Alhambra has always been a smart choice, even in its previous incarnation, as a joint venture between Ford and Volkswagen, when it was also known as the Galaxy and the Sharan.

Some may have seen it as a poor man’s choice. A thinking person’s choice is more appropriate. And that was never more true than now, with the launch of the new Alhambra.

Now safely under the wing of the Volkswagen Group, along with Skoda, SEAT’s made steady progress as a manufacturer, offering a mix of sporty, spirited cars with a livelier image than equivalent models in VW’s range - even if there’s not a great deal, mechanically speaking, to separate them.

Let’s take the Alhambra and measure it against its VW brother, the Sharan. (OK, with a name like that, maybe that ought to be sister). Sharan comes in a sombre range of colours ranging from light grey to very dark grey. There is a dark blue if you’re a total maverick and that’s it. The Alhambra, on the other hand, being a “Spanish car” and, as the marketing people would like us to believe, imbued somehow with that Mediterranean zest, can also be bought in red.

Further comparisons are equally as trivial. Most importantly, the cheapest Alhambra will cost you £22,800 on the road, whereas the cheapest Sharan will cost you £23,470 – £670 difference. There are a few swings and roundabouts differences – with the Alhambra you get Bluetooth phone prep as standard. With the Sharan you get a DAB radio instead. Both models have the 1.4TSI engine, producing 150PS, and, 167g/km CO2 - the second highest CO2 generator of the range. Bottom of the range also means top of the polluters these days.

The model on test, a more eco-friendly 2.0TDI, 170PS diesel unit produces 154g/km with the automatic gearbox. It pulls smoothly and with enough zest, when you need it, to maintain a feeling of progress.

The Alhambra is mostly going to score on its interior. Whereas older SEAT was once perceived as a relatively low-rent, value-for-money marque, newer models will abruptly dismiss the notion. The interior of the new Alhambra is as well-bolted together as its German counterpart. Materials are either good quality or well-finished, with hard plastics kept well out of the way and equipment level at least as good as the VW.

Being 22cm longer and 9 cm wider than the previous Alhambra/Sharan/Galaxy there is no shortage of space. As children get older and more obnoxious they can be moved further and further back until they retire to the rear row where their furtive whispering can’t be heard up in adult country.

I was fortunate to have the SEAT when I did, as it mysteriously coincided with a three-seat sofa that needed to be moved from one side of Peterborough to the other.

Folding down the middle and rear seats took seconds and gave a truly flat loadspace (2,297 litres). The sofa slid in without a hitch. No need to move the front seats. Little overhang at the rear meant that the handling wasn’t affected and the sofa was delivered. And that’s the disadvantage – own one of these and you’ll be the family’s own Pickfords man. Add the optional remotely controlled, electric sliding side doors and tailgate and relatives will find all sorts of excuses to use up your Saturday mornings.