SEAT Altea Freetrack 4 | CARkeys

2 Sep 2014 | Author: | Comments Off on SEAT Altea Freetrack 4 | CARkeys

SEAT Altea Freetrack

4 review

Anti-SUV lobbying has not done much to prevent manufacturers building large cars with a modicum of off-road potential . and in fact several of them have come into the market for the first time within the past twelve months. The latest is SEAT, which has joined the party with the Altea Freetrack 4.

The Freetrack is unusual in its class in that it’s based on an existing model which had no SUV connotations of its own. That model is of course the standard Altea, or rather the long-wheelbase Altea XL.

The reason for choosing the XL as the starting point is that it has more interior room – 490 litres of luggage space with the rear seat in its furthest-back position (providing very substantial room for passengers), 593 litres if you move the seat forward by the maximum possible 14cm, and 1562 litres with the seat fully folded and providing an almost perfectly level floor.

Such off-roading prowess as the Freetrack possesses comes from a ride height increased by 40mm over standard, the use of tyres which can cope with various kinds of terrain and the introduction of a four-wheel drive system (hence the 4 in the car’s name). SEAT is not claiming any outstanding 4×4 capability, though; for most of the time, power goes through the front wheels only, with up to 50% being transferred to the rear axle only when traction starts to be a problem.

Still, this corner of the SUV market is not for people who enjoy inching down dizzying slopes with a reasonable ambition of getting to the bottom in one piece. The Freetrack is about as good off-road as it needs to be (the limiting factor in my experience being its tendency to struggle in deep mud, though it copes with this far better than any normal road car would), and the interior space makes it competitive with anything else in the class.

Where the Freetrack moves a step ahead of the opposition is in its sportiness. SEAT may do a good job of slow, basic cars (the entry-level Ibiza being an outstanding example), but in the UK at least the company prefers to market itself as a sporty, high-performance brand, and it is certainly concentrating on that aspect with the Freetrack.

There are just two engine options, and they’re shared with the León FR hot hatch which, despite considerable criticism in these pages, is SEAT’s most popular product in this country. Those engines are the 168bhp two-litre TDI turbo diesel and the similarly-sized 198bhp TSI turbocharged petrol unit.

Power outputs of this size are almost unheard-of in the category. SEAT identifies the Citroen C-Crosser, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, Mitsubishi Outlander, Nissan Qashqai, Peugeot 4007 and Toyota RAV4 as the Freetrack’s main rivals, and among all the variants in that list there is not one that produces anywhere close to 198bhp. In that respect, the Freetrack TSI stands alone, and even the TDI is beaten by just three top-of-the-range cars, only one of which (the RAV4 T180) is also a diesel.

The Freetracks are therefore pretty quick by SUV standards. Both have a maximum speed of around 130mph, and the TSI manages 0-62mph in 7.5 seconds – that’s even quicker than the yet more powerful Mazda CX-7, which turns the tables slightly by beating the TSI’s 30.1mpg combined fuel economy figure. The Freetrack TDI does 0-62mph in 8.7 seconds – still not exactly slow – and has a more impressive fuel economy rating of 41.5mpg.

As is normally the way of things, the diesel is the more expensive model at £21,395 compared to the TSI’s £20,495, but it will also be cheaper to insure since it’s in Group 11 and the TSI is in Group 13. Whatever the financial situation turns out to be, though, I’d be happy to follow the practice of León FR owners and nominate the TDI as the better model of the two.

My reasoning is that the diesel is the more enjoyable car to drive. Departing dramatically from normal practice with its more sporty cars, SEAT has given both of its SUVs excellent ride quality; bumps which would bring tears to the eyes of anyone sitting in a León FR pass almost unnoticed beneath the wheels of the Freetrack. The TSI, however, has a bouncier front end, whereas the more carefully-damped nose of the TDI feels much more in control over a series of crests and dips.

In TDI form, then, the Freetrack is, if not outstandingly better than its rivals, at least operating on level terms with the best of them. Similarly, it’s not ultimate in its class in terms of either interior space or price, but it’s good enough on both counts to be worth considering. And if you want performance along with everything else, there’s very little that can touch it.

Apart from the engines, both versions are pretty much identical. There’s no DSG gearbox option (at least not yet), so six-speed manual transmission is the norm. Freetracks are distinguished from regular Alteas by their grey, scratch-resistant plastic bumpers and wheelarches, which to me work best visually when the car’s paintwork contrasts with them as little as possible – so silver good, yellow perhaps not so good.

Other standard equipment includes tinted windows, chrome exhaust pipes, cruise control, 17 alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control air-conditioning, dust and pollen filters, heated and folding door mirrors, rear parking sensors and a vast array of storage compartments including four in the roof, the rearmost of which contains a 7 screen with links for a DVD player or similar electronic devices.

If you want to go beyond the standard specification, SEAT also offers rear side airbags, a Bluetooth communications pack, heated front seats, metallic paint, satellite navigation and bi-xenon headlights with an adaptive system which ensures they’re pointing in the same direction that the car is.

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