It’s taken Volkswagen and Seat a while to trickle down their respective environment-focused Bluemotion and Ecomotive badges to their large MPVs, the Sharan and Alhambra. That tells you all you need to know about the pecking order at VAG. The truth is that in their current guise these are two cars approaching the automotive equivalent of the old folks’ home.
But the headlines here are in fuel economy, with both the Sharan and Alhambra claiming CO2 emissions of 159g/km and a combined fuel economy of 47.1mpg. Impressive figures for two big, lumpy MPVs, but is that attractive enough?
The VW Sharan and Seat Alhambra look similar, don’t they?
Whereas you could never mistake a Golf for a Leon, or a Polo for an Ibiza, inside the differences betwixt Sharan and the Alhambra are so infinitesimal that you’d be hard-pushed to tell the difference, aside from the trademark VW blue instrument panel glow.
On the exterior, the differences are more marked, with the Sharan having a more contemporary-looking rounded rear light cluster, a slimmer front profile and Volkswagen’s elegant family nose; the Alhambra looks like a Sharan circa 1996.
Am I likely to turn heads in it?
Not unless it’s the sort of head who asks 'I thought they stopped making them years ago.' The Sharan was first introduced in 1995, the Alhambra a year later, both the result of a joint venture with Ford (and the Galaxy).
The difference is that Ford’s third update of their car in 2006 means the new Galaxy no longer shares any DNA with the Sharan and Alhambra, now being based on the Mondeo/S-Max platform.
Click 'Next' below to read more of our VW Sharan/Seat Alhambra first drive
Forget looks. It’s all about that 2.0TDI engine, isn’t it?
Yes and no. The engine management system has been tweaked, low friction 16in tyres (with aerodynamic wheel covers – woah there!) have been fitted and a filter has been installed to cut emissions. Other weight-saving measures add up to the lightest versions of each vehicle yet. VAG are making the biggest play about the installation of a lowered sports suspension to the Sharambra – if we can be excused for calling it that – thereby reducing drag.
What else is to like?
If you’re after a no-frills seven-seater that’s frugal-ish, has green credentials and reasonably entertaining to drive, then these two deserve some attention. The torquey, 2.0-litre diesel feels quicker than the claimed 138bhp and several trips up and down the A1 proved that both cars were happy ticking along at a 70mph cruise at 2200rpm. And, despite their relative height, there’s less of the wobble and sway you expect from vehicles of this kind.
Minus points? On a 75-mile trip mixing up urban and motorway driving, we didn’t reach manufacturers’ claimed figures, with fuel consumption hovering around the 40mpg mark. Maybe my foot’s too heavy.
The Alhambra also took too long to heat up passengers on a winter’s morning. A bit ironic, considering that the car is named after the famous palace in Granada, one of Europe’s warmer cities. You also won’t buy either car for its aesthetics – the driver’s view is a slab of dark grey plastic and unremarkable switchgear. It’s quality dark grey plastic, mind you.
If you’ve set your heart on a Sharan Bluemotion or Alhambra Ecomotive (you’re not a taxi driver are you?), you will pay a little over £2000 more for the privilege of owning a VW badge rather than a Seat, the differences are that small. As such, we’d plump for the Seat.
There are better-looking, better-equipped ways of carrying seven people around for £20,000 – like the cheaper versions of the new Galaxy or even the Hyundai Sante Fe. But with the Santa Fe’s CO2 emissions of 214g/km and claimed fuel consumption of 34 mpg, the Sharan and Alhambra beats it and the Galaxy hands down for green brownie points.
Look at it this way: if you have a full Sharan/Alhambra, your CO2 emissions will be 23 g/km per person. In other words, more than twice as efficient as two people travelling in a Prius. Now who’s smug?
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