The 2004 launch of Seat's mini-MPV, the Altea, was a showcase for the brand's new corporate identity, later seen on the Toledo and Leon. The car's funky styling, personality and low prices soon made it a bestseller for the Spanish company.
Initial powertrains came in the form of 1.6 and 2.0 litre petrol units and 1.9 and 2.0 litre diesel turbos. In 2006 the Altea took up sports, with the introduction of an FR trim level comprising a rear spoiler and larger alloy wheels and, more importantly, the option of a 170bhp TDi or 200bhp 2.0 litre petrol engine with turbocharger.
In an attempt to be all things to all men, Seat launched the larger Altea XL later that year. At 18.7cm longer than the original this was designed to appeal to bigger families or those with lots of luggage to carry. Also at the end of 2006, a modern DSG paddle-shift gearbox became available on the FR, while the Freetrack, a 4x4 Altea variant came along in 2007, available with the 2.0 litre engines only.
2009 updates reorganised the Seat Altea's line-up. The 2.0 TDi was replaced by a more modern version of the same and trim levels were revised. We said 'adios' to the FR in favour of S, SE and Sport designations, while interiors were improved and the front end of most models grew a bit sleeker – the Freetrack was not included in these revisions.
Bang for your buck
The Altea's design and marketing was part of a branding exercise for Seat. The striking, almost ostentatious 'S' stamped front grille, the slanted, Siamese-cats' eyes style headlights and the leading 'dynamic' waistline running along the car's side are elements of brand identity you can expect to recognise on all Seat models.
The approved used Seat Altea for sale features five generously proportioned seats, sensibly eschewing seven-cramped places in favour of 'mini-MPV' status. It's a car with the lively Spanish national character, sporty and jaunty compared to equivalent market sector rivals such as the VW Touran. The cabin is chock full of cubby holes for storage, with an enormous glovebox, drawers under the front seat and the boot floor and a stowaway compartment within the parcel shelf, showing plenty of thought has been given to what's really needed in a proper family car.
The 400 litre boot is organised with two different levels for storage, with a 60/40 split to the rear seat and a cupholder furnished armrest, while the chunky steering wheel is multi-adjustable for optimum driver comfort levels. In fact all the seats are welcoming even on long journeys and build-quality is exemplary in all areas but the best is yet to come – the Altea features 'vertical parked' windscreen wipers, which disappear into the A-pillars when unused, a clever trick that's more than a marketing gimmick, giving improved frontal visibility.
What you'll pay
Early Seat Altea models are a steal at under £3,000 even for a 1.9TDi with Reference trim and the plusher Stylance only a few hundred more. The 2.0 litre Sport models are the most desirable, starting at around £3,000 and over £3,500 for the range-topping TDi. Insurance is an eminently reasonable group 5-9.
What to check
Seat's VW connection conveys reliability and steadfastness, with only ex-hire cars carrying a warning for driver abuse. Go for a full service history and avoid examples with scruffy, damaged trim.
A replacement alternator will set you back about £185 and a starter motor £120 on an exchange basis or £370 and £226 new. A set of front brake pads costs £50 and rears £30 and a new headlight unit £111.
How it drives
Riding on a Golf chassis, the used Seat Altea for sale exhibits its big brother's superior handling characteristics. The slick steering mechanism and well-controlled cornering allied to just nippy enough engines elicit regular oohs and ahhs on test-drives. Fuel economy is good as long as you're not in a hurry and safety features are laudable, with twin front, side and head airbags, three-point belts on all five seats, ISOFIX child seat pinnings, anti lock brakes and traction control as a matter of course.
The Altea is most definitely a family car but with sports car aspirations and bags of character in an otherwise fairly bland market sector.