Parkers overall rating: 4 out of 5 4.0

The entry-level 1.6-litre is just about adequate for the Altea but with a modest 102bhp it can struggle with four adults and luggage, especially up hills or when joining faster moving traffic. 0-62mph takes 12.8 seconds and it rarely feels very quick, however economy is an acceptable 39mpg and it’s fine if you drive mainly in town. There’s a more powerful 2.0 FSI engine which is a good all-rounder and smooth too. It has 150bhp and plenty of pulling power which helps it accelerate from 0-62mph in 9.6 seconds, however this was dropped from the range in 2007. The diesel range starts with the tried and tested 1.9 TDI which is used across the Volkswagen, Skoda, SEAT and Audi ranges. This has 105bhp and although it’s pretty noisy and not very refined, it does average an impressive 52mpg overall. But the best engine in the range – for a blend of performance and economy – is the 2.0 TDI with 140bhp. It has masses of pulling power and accelerates well from low revs, managing 0-62mph in 9.9 seconds. However, it’s the in-gear performance which really impresses and makes it ideal for motorway driving as it requires few gear changes. The sporty FR versions come with their own engines. There’s a TDI version – a 2.0-litre with 170bhp that manages 0-62mph in 8.6 seconds, yet can return 46mpg. Alternatively there’s the superb turbocharged 2.0 TFSI engine that’s borrowed from the 2005 Volkswagen Golf GTI. With 200bhp on tap it’s a great performer and accelerates from 0-62mph in just 7.7 seconds. The standard gearbox is a slick five or six speed manual and there’s a Tiptronic automatic available on the 2.0 FSI. An optional DSG automatic – that uses two clutches to provide super fast changes – is available on certain engines. In early 2010 the dated 1.9 TDI was replaced by a 1.6 TDI which is far quieter and smoother. This is used in the Ecomotive model and thanks to an engine start/stop system, emits just 119g/km of CO2 (making it cheap to tax) while averaging an impressive 63mpg. At the same time a 1.2 TSI engine was introduced as (rather confusingly) an Ecomotive Technology model.

For 2013, the engine range was simplified to comprise three options, the 1.2 TSI petrol with 104bhp, the 1.6 TDI diesel with 104bhp and the 2.0 TDI diesel with 138bhp. A DSG automatic transmission is available for both diesel engines.

Like other SEATs, the Altea provides an engaging and rewarding drive. With a slick gearchange, responsive steering, sharp brakes and composed cornering, it lives up to its sporty styling. The FR gives more controlled handling with less bodyroll and excellent cornering as a result of its stiffer suspension, electronic stability control and traction control.

It also benefits from larger, more effective brakes. However, all this does have a somewhat detrimental affect on the ride which is especially noticeably on rough roads. On standard models however, the ride quality is very good and the Altea makes a comfortable motorway cruiser, especially the diesel models. Facelifted models from 2009 have a revised suspension set-up, making them more comfortable, but still good in corners.