By on November 15, 2013



This review comes from reader Nicholas Naylor, who rented a Seat Altea XL for a recent trip to Spain.

My wife and I attended a wedding in southern Spain recently, along with another couple who are close friends of ours. We’re all taller than average, and being that we’re attending a wedding, the luggage load was heavy. So my idea of renting something small and Euro chic was out of the question; it had to be a wagon. Enter the Seat Altea XL.


Built off the same platform as the VW Jetta, although with a lesser wheelbase, it’s a tall wagon that manages to be pretty attractive from most angles. It was designed by Walter de’Silva, he of the Alfa 159 and Audi A5. Thus, the lines are clean and the front three-quarters view quite handsome for a wagony-vanish thing. Ours was a base model, however, so the 15″ plastic hubcaps accentuated the sheet metal over the rear of the vehicle, which along with the raked rear end and grey color gave the Altea a slight resemblance from some angles to a bloated whale, or a small Lincoln MKT. Given the vehicle’s purpose, however, I liked the styling, and nicer wheels fix the issue. This was the holy grail of the US-based Euro enthusiast: diesel, stick shift wagon.

The overall size is a few inches short of a Mazda CX-5, so the Altea is Euro-parking friendly. Speaking of parking… due to the lack of parking availability and our downtown apartment location in a major city, we parked illegally every single day, just like the locals do, and jammed the Seat into the tightest of spots. This would be maddening to have to do regularly. We never got a ticket. In fact, I never saw a parking ticket on any car. Isn’t this a country that could use some easy revenue sources?

Despite the relative smallness of the vehicle, this American group fit just fine. Honey-boo shaped Americans would have trouble with the well bolstered front seats…but they supported and coddled my hungover, slightly spasming back on a 2 hour ride to Grenada the day after the wedding. I could definitely live with them.

The configurator at notes that the Altea XL 1.6 TDI gets a combined 4.8L per 100km, which equates to about 49mpg. 90hp is what this thing puts out, and it feels like it. 0-100kph (60mph) supposedly comes in 14 seconds. I spun the tires once, entering a freeway from a dead stop, dropping the clutch, while in a puddle. Not having to fill up at any point, I didn’t have an exact fuel economy reference, however, I did go about 500 kilometers of mixed urban and freeway on half a tank of diesel, meaning a 1000km/600mile+ range. So those who look fondly overseas for their frugal commuting utopia must realize that this car will get smoked at a stoplight by a misfiring Chevette. Once finally up to speed, steering, handling, and ride are all quite good. So the car is spacious, yet easy to park in the miserable inner-city European parking spots.

The interior is simply designed, dark (all black with red lighting, like a… Pontiac), with cheap plastics that have a somewhat solid feel and nice textures to them. The main touch points, such as the steering wheel and stick shift, feel like quality pieces. So it seems a good VW recipe—good style, high economy, spacious, practical, and quality on the main touch points. However, the Pontiac similarities keep coming — at 140kph (80mph) the steering wheel started to vibrate, and this car had 46k on the odo (less than 30k miles). Cranking up the defroster to high caused some trim plastic by the vents to come loose and rattle. There were a couple small niggling rattles here and there.

The Altea was basically appointed; with no cruise control, Bluetooth, or USB/Aux input, even. Power windows only up front, roll them down in the rear (ala Ford Tempo). It’s got a diesel and AC; that’s about it. Still…there’s something refreshing about such simplicity. The configurator puts it at 20,423 Euros. That may very well be $26k, however, a Ford Focus starts at $16k in the US, and €16k in Spain, so my guess is that this car could sell for $20k here, given proper effort. Don’t hold your breath.

A few years back I had the pleasure of spending a week in the Balkans (Croatia/Bosnia/Montenegro), where my rental was the ever-popular Skoda Fabia, another VAG sub-brand product. The feel of the car, from design, equipment level, materials quality, etc., was strikingly similar to this Seat. Indeed, Seat and Skoda seem to compete for the same customer, and Skoda seems to be winning the battle, with a better footprint in the healthier markets of Europe, more unique models (such as the Yeti and Rapid), access to important export markets such as India, and a smarter reputation. Thankfully for Seat, the master VAG is strong.

If VW were in the same financial position as Fiat, Opel, or Peugeot, then there is no way the survival of this brand would be justified. Even still, if it is to survive, then it will likely need more compelling and unique product. The Altea, arguably the most unique Seat, and a perfectly fine Euro-wagon, just doesn’t seem to be enough.

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43 Comments on “Reader Rental Review: Seat Altea XL...”

  • avatar

    Nice review. The Altea is a bit player in SEAT’s range, the Ibiza and Leon are the big sellers (such as they are).

    I totally agree about the Pontiac similarities. Not a surprise since VW;s stated goal for SEAT is to be a sporty, but cheap brand. They have to differentiate the Ibiza from the essentially identically Skoda Fabia or VW Polo.

  • avatar

    “but they supported and coddled my hungover, slightly spasming back on a 2 hour ride to Grenada”

    You made it all the way from Spain to a Caribbean island in 2 hours? In a diesel? Props. :D

    “Seat and Skoda seem to compete for the same customer, and Skoda seems to be winning the battle”

    Partly because SEAT distribution is much more limited in Europe (mostly Spain and Portugal). But SEAT is also pretty heavily sold in South America, or at least it used to be. Also, Skoda is officially part of the VW/Bentley brand family — staid, traditional, practical, etc — while SEAT is part of the Audi/Lambo family. It’s the crazy Latin cousin of the insane Italian playboy and his brother, the uptight German businessman who walks on all fours (and sometimes just on his hands).

    • 0 avatar

      I owned a SEAT Ibiza when I was in the UK but if I had to buy another VAG product I would go for the Skoda line since they have pretty good, conservative styling, well made and relatively cheap. Check out the Octavia RS.

    • 0 avatar

      I lived in Spain for several years back in the mid 90s and again in the early 2000s. Had several SEATs as rentals. Nothing particularly great, nothing particularly bad. Now, the Renault Megane I had in 2003….sheesh that sucker was U-G-L-Y.

      SEAT, outside of the Leon, really has nothing particularly interesting to offer.

      • 0 avatar

        In the late 90s, I really preferred the Ibiza to the contemporary Golf (rented them in Spain, owned a Golf at home). The styling was much more aggressive and edgy than VW, but today I generally agree with everyone that Skoda’s lineup is much more competitive and attractive.

  • avatar

    I have tried viewing this article on several different computers and browsers and some of the text is not displaying properly. For example:

    We’re all taller than average, and being that we’re attending a wedding

  • avatar

    I simply do not get the review. First, this is not a wagon. A wagon is a Golf Variant or Skoda Octavia Combi which are less taller and bit longer. This is a MPV in the mould of Renault Grand Scenic. Second, I do not get the fascination with straight line acceleration. So you would get smoked at the lights by a Pontiac, big deal, the SEAT handles problably a lot better. Third, comparing sticker prices is somehow strange. This is an old model and with the current economic situation in Spain, I bet you would get at least 20% discount just by walking into the showroom, maybe even more.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s got 4 regular doors, no sliders. Looks like a wagon to me. And basically aren’t SUV’s and CUV’s wagons too?

      • 0 avatar

        You do not need sliding doors to be a MPV. An MPV is horter and taller than a wagon. Just a few examples (as SEAT has no wagon in the comaprable lineup, I will use the Golf)

        Golf hatchback:

        Golf PLus (MPV) –

        Glf variant (station wagon)

        • 0 avatar

          I agree, it’s not a wagon, it’s more of an MPV like a Mazda 5.

          No cruise control? That doesn’t make any sense since these engines are drive-by-wire. Cruise control would probably cost them a dollar to install.

          Lastly, 90 hp out of a 1.6 litre turbo-diesel is not bad. Remember that the old 1.9 TDIs that VW sold from 1996-2004 did 90 hp. Sure you won’t win any races, but it’s an MPV. As long as it can safely merge on to a highway, it’s good enough.

          Nice review though, it’s always fun to read about the stuff we’ll never see over here.

  • avatar

    WTF is the XL suppose to stand for?

  • avatar

    The Altea is a five seat CUV, the XL stands for Xtra Large and is a 7 seater. Much like the Ford C-Max or Grand C-Max.

  • avatar

    The only thing I can think of is that Derek had a deadline for an article due and chose to write a review of a vehicle that is not, and never will be offered in North America. Neither to purchase, nor to “rent” for that matter. Why bother reviewing it, and why bother reading this review? Please, in the future, review products that actually are/might be available here, otherwise it’s just a big waste of everybody’s time.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      Derek had no deadline, because I set the deadlines around here.

      We have an international audience. Of our 15 T-shirt winners, three have requested very expensive shipping across oceans. You’d be surprised to know, for example, that a nontrivial percentage of our readers come from southeast Asia.

    • 0 avatar
      Compaq Deskpro

      You’re assuming 2 things:

      1. Everyone lives in the USA. Jack’s comment disproves this.

      2. Readers on this site don’t care about vehicles exclusive to other countries. Considering the hard on the B and B gets a hard on over a rusted Master Ace in a junkyard, this is certainly not true either.

    • 0 avatar

      I whole-heartedly…disagree. I live in Saudi Arabia. I’ve seen comments from folks in Germany, the UK, Brazil…you name it. While I prefer American-made cars (as I am an American citizen and generally and dismayed at the extreme deficit we face when it comes to trade and our country’s own well-being), having grown up in Germany, I do have an appreciation for cars from all over, especially having a weakness for older BMWs. It’s great to see reviews for cars we can’t get in the US. Put in reverse terms, if all we reviewed was cars that were available in the US, why should any of our international readers give three figs about reading and contributing to TTAC?

      • 0 avatar

        Sorry for the duplicate post. Internet connectivity here in Riyadh is sometimes abysmal! I didn’t think my first response posted, so I rewrote. And the “request deletion” function isn’t working for me…

    • 0 avatar

      I whole-heartedly…disagree. I live in Saudi Arabia. While I generally prefer American-made cars (due in large part to the fact that I am an American citizen and am dismayed at the rather large trade imbalance our nation faces and the strength/independence of our nation), having grown up in Germany, I do have an appreciation for cars from all over the world. I especially have a weakness for older BMWs…for what it’s worth. We have reader’s comments that I’ve read from Germany, the UK, Brazil…you name it. Put in different terms, if all we reviewed here were cars available in America, what incentive would our (rather large) international audience have to read any of the articles and actively participate in our TTAC family?

    • 0 avatar

      I can tell you that nowadays there are a handful of people outside the usa that have access to the internet.

      Youre wasting everybodys time with your post.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      This information might shock you. The world has approximately 7 billion people, the USA 325 MILLION. That less than 1/3 of 1/7 or only 1 in 21 people on the planet is from the States.

      As great a nation the USA is, do you think the world revolves around it?

      I like reading about US vehicle products or any what any country has to offer.

      Open your mind to the world………’s an amazing place.

    • 0 avatar

      I love the reviews of mundane, everyday cars that aren’t available in the US (no, I’m not being sarcastic). I’d like to see this sort of thing being a regular feature here.

    • 0 avatar
      A is A

      I am a Spaniard.

      We car guys love reading reviews about car we will never drive/own/rent or even see.

      I love reading reviews about Japanese Kei Cars, about AMC cars, about Ramblers, about Studebakers, about East German Trabants, about Soviet ZIMz, about Buicks, about Plymouths… cars I shall NEVER see on an Spanish road.

      Gosh, I am looking even for a review about the shit-cars assembled in Venezuela (Venirauto Turpial and Centauro, if you are curious).

      Excuse me, Sir, but I must say you that you are not a car guy.

  • avatar

    Love the color of the one in the pic at the top. Would prefer an ivory interior rather than the black one described in the article. Probably wouldn’t like the driving experience.

  • avatar

    A couple of insights from one of your readers from overseas.
    1) The Altea XL tries to set itself appart from the original Altea that was smaller (you can see it in this link: Amazing as it may seem, us, spaniards, don’t tend to take the Altea XL (or its former brother the plain Altea) for a wagon but mostly for a Small minivan, just like the C-Max, the Scenic or the VW Touran) If you want wagons, both the Leon and the Ibiza have Wagon versions under the ST surname.
    2) Amazing as it may seem, European drivers have a different perception of power than Americans do. I used to drive a Toyota Avensis Turbo Diesel with 110 HP and I had no trouble whatshoever cruising at three digits all over Spain. I understand that might look weird from the country of the 300HP “soft sedans” but for us it’s equally surprising :)
    3) The Altea is not a Premium vehicle at all and it shows some rattles over time but rentals in Southern Spain tend to be worse taken care of than those in Northern or Center Spain. I did myself a pile of miles in a rental Altea XL (with the 105 HP version of this engine) with over 50.000 Km in the odometer and it had no steering vibration cruising at 95 Mph. If you want to avoid this kind of “wasted” vehicles my advice is to stick to the main rental companies (Avis, Hertz, National) and stay away of the Wholesale ones (Goldcar, Cheapcarrentals, etc)
    The road from Malaga to Granada is an example on how bad our Freeways can be. It also has some heavy traffic depending upon the dates.
    Greetings from Spain.

  • avatar

    “This car will get smoked at a stoplight by a misfiring Chevette.”
    Yeah? About 99% of potential buyers dont care.

  • avatar

    I see these cars every day and I have to say that the Altea XL has the most miserable looking rear lights of any car on the streets. Even a gay couple who just got allowed to adopt would become moody at the sight of that rump.

    I honestly can’t see the appeal for Badge-engineered Seat given that Skoda does the same for less. Only in exterior styling does this brand hold a candle to the sister brand and only in countries where the people are lead to believe that the cars are “local” (See: Spain/Portugal) does it have a significant market share.

  • avatar

    This vehicle is comparable to the 2012 Mazda5 that we have. Obviously our 2.5 gas engine would blow this thing away with two plug wires pulled, but let’s think about this….

    First, I had some pretty underwhelming performers in my history; 1980 Datsun, 1983 Subaru, and 1984 Toyota Van. All manual transmissions and all got MPG that was relatively impressive though they were horribly slow. I remember when I traded the Datsun for the Subaru and went from 60HP to somewhere north of 75 (all the emissions gear was removed so it had considerably more than stock). I thought I had a muscle car! The Toyota Van was slow, but then, it also had a trailer towing package. You could hook 2000Lbs on the back of it and it never really got any slower.

    Now the Mazda5 gets with the program, buzzing up to 100MPH with little drama, but it has a horrible time even breaking 30MPG, usually falling short. Overseas the same car can be had with a 1.6 diesel or 2L gas engine and getting the MPG benefits that come with it.

    My question is would we be willing to wait a few more seconds to get up to speed if it meant at least a 10MPG more? Honestly, I think I would. I mean, in real world driving our Mazda5, with its 2.5L 157HP engine and 5 speed auto, has more power than it really needs. It makes me wonder why 10 seconds 0-60 was acceptable 10 years ago but now if a car can’t do 8 seconds it’s considered slow. Most of my driving is done at 70MPH with one or two people in the car. Yeah, with the way we use our Mazda5, we could get by easily with a 2L gas or even smaller, or a dinky diesel. I never really minded slow cars for my daily driver as long as they would get up to highway speed.

    • 0 avatar

      author here…and I generally agree with your sentiment. This would be perfectly fine for me as a commuter, and there’s something to be said for being able to drive like it’s a go cart (pedal to the metal all the time). The only issue really is from a safety standpoint when merging onto a freeway. However, American’s for the most part haven’t driven anything this slow from a stoplight since the 80’s, so it would be a noticeable change to what most people have come to expect. That’s the tradeoff for the excellent economy.

      Also, on a side note, the roadways/infrastructure that I drove through in Spain is fantastic compared to east coast USA. The tarmacs were as smooth as can be. So I didn’t really get a chance to see how well the car would adapt to harsher road surfaces.

      • 0 avatar

        I routinely merge onto the Autobahn in a slightly asthmatic 75hp petrol Golf 2. I really can’t see a safety issue when merging onto a 65mph (or 70) limited freeway. That’s what lower gears are for.

  • avatar
    The Heisenberg Cartel

    Kinda looks like those old Hyundai Elantra Tourings that were on sale here for a few years

  • avatar

    “…theres something refreshing about such simplicity.”

    The word ‘endearing’ comes to mind.

  • avatar

    “The Altea, arguably the most unique Seat….”

    Please, “unique” doesn’t use a modifier.

    It’s either ‘unique”, or it’s not.

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