Seat Altea Freetrack unveiled

Published: 08 June 2007

Seat Altea Freetrack: the lowdown

Bandwagon alert! Seat is the latest manufacturer to join the soft-roader club, with the Freetrack version of the Altea XL, unveiled at this week’s Barcelona Motor Show. It joins a growing list of Skoda Scouts, Volkswagen Dunes and Renault Conquests as mass-market makers toughen up their regular models with the 4×4 look. Seat took centre stage at the Spanish show, on the doorstep of its Martorell factory. And the Freetrack, unveiled by president Eric Schmidt (above), is one of a growing number of new models planned by Seat as it hopes to double sales by 2018.

So what’s the Altea Freetrack all about then?

Take one regular Altea XL, the longer-booted version of the regular Altea, and send it to training camp. The makeover comprises: beefed-up new bumpers front and rear, blending into broad-hipped plastic wheelarches, metallic-effect chin spoiler, new 17-inch alloys and a ride height lifted by 40mm for a tip-toe stance and higher ground clearance. It even has four-wheel drive, unlike many of the new breed of faux-by-fours, and Seat claims it’s ‘the first Seat designed to be driven off-road’, although officials admit they’re talking about muddy fields rather than proper mountain hopping.

So the Freetrack won’t be troubling the Freelander then?

In a nutshell, no. The four-wheel drive system is the established VW group Haldex system, which means the Freetrack is predominantly a front-driver, until slippage is detected and up to half the torque sent to the rear axle. The UK market will import only the two most powerful engines – the 197bhp 2.0 turbo (familiar from Seat’s FR models and the VW Golf GTI) and a 168bhp 2.0 TDI. The latter should take the lion’s share of sales – thank the 41.5mpg average economy for that. CAR Online has learned that Seat will launch Bluemotion models in the next couple of years, as it aims to trim its CO2 emissions further. Although the company sells a high proportion of efficient diesels, it has little clean-fuels tech of its own. The Bluemotion strategy, pioneered by VW, aims for small efficiencies across the board through lighter weight, low-rolling resistance tyres, better aerodynamics and other small improvements.

It’s pretty big, the Altea XL

The longer overhang creates a vast boot, with up to 593 litres available for family clobber, while the rear row of seats is roomy and split-slides back and forth by 16cm to juggle space for limbs and luggage. To cement its family credentials, Seat has loaded the Freetrack with goodies, such as standard drop-down multi-media screen for DVDs or computer games, window blinds, dual-zone climate control and more. Small surprise that the Freetrack will be priced from around £20,000 when sales start in August.

I always thought Seat was a bit part player in the VW empire?

Seat has not performed as well as the bean counters would have liked, if you believe critics of VW’s multi-brand strategy, but the Spanish outpost built a credible 440,000 cars last year. That’s around 100,000 fewer units than Czech relative Skoda. Now the brand is rolling out a strategy to double sales by 2018 to approaching a million a year, spearheaded by new models such as the Freetrack and the company’s new Mondeo rival due in 2009. Don’t expect anything bigger than that – exec sales will be left to Audi and VW. Executive vice-president of sales and marketing, Berthold Krueger, told CAR Online that this growth would be achieved by new models in mainstream segments, rather than a focus on sporty models that would be a natural fit with the brand’s sporty, Mediterranean ethos. ‘I would love to have a small affordable sports car like our Tango concept to sell, but it’s a niche business,’ he said. ‘Fifty per cent of the sports car market is in the US, and we don’t sell cars there.’ Instead, expect to see more hatchbacks, saloons, estates and, possibly, a proper 4×4 to sit above the Freetrack. And the brand is serious about expanding sales into Asia, where it is currently under-represented.

Will Seats continue to look identical?

It seems that small change is afoot. The Freetrack has one or two details, penned by design boss Luc Donkewolke (he of Lamborghini fame) that we can expect to spread onto future models. The triangular motifs seen on the air scoops pictured, and distantly echoing some of the pointy shapes on the current crop of Lambos, are likely to become more prominent, in a bid to develop Seat’s swoopy but slightly amorphous design language.

Seat’s heritage on show at Barcelona

Seat reminded visitors to the Barcelona Motor Show that it is a brand with some pedigree. Circling its standalone exhibition hall was a collection of old models, with plenty of the tiny Seats that motorised Spain in the 1950s and 60s – the 500 and 600 (pictured), produced in collaboration with Fiat. Fiat withdrew in 1981 and VW became the major stakeholder in the company in 1986, buying the company outright a few years later.

Seat’s heritage on show at Barcelona

Seat reminded visitors to the Barcelona Motor Show that it is a brand with some pedigree. Circling its standalone exhibition hall was a collection of old models, with plenty of the tiny Seats that motorised Spain in the 1950s and 60s – the 500 and 600 (pictured), produced in collaboration with Fiat. Fiat withdrew in 1981 and VW became the major stakeholder in the company in 1986, buying the company outright a few years later.

By Tim Pollard

Group digital editorial director, motoring news magnet

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