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 13 seconds and it rarely feels very quick, however economy is an acceptable 36mpg and it's fine if you drive mainly in town. This is followed by a pokier 1.8 TSI with 160bhp, which is mildly more powerful than the non-turbocharged 2.0-litre FSI engine with 150bhp.

Thanks to its turbo the TSI is more responsive and enjoyable to drive than the FSI and also quicker - 0-62mph takes 9.1 seconds - while economy is better too, 36mpg in the TSI and 31mpg in the FSI. 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 a useful 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. This engine is also available with 170bhp which brings the 0-62mph down to 8.7 seconds but still averages 46mpg.

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 March 2010 the 1.9 TDI was replaced by a far superior 1.6 TDI which is smoother, quieter and more economical, despite having the same 105bhp power.

Thanks to an engine start/stop system, which cuts the engine when stationary, such as at traffic lights, and then automatically restarts it again when needed, it emits just 119g/km of CO2, so is cheap to tax, while average economy is 63mpg.

The Altea XL is one of the best people carriers of this size and shape to drive. That's in keeping with SEAT's image as a sporty brand. It corners well, has responsive steering and bodyroll is kept in check. On the motorway it cruises with ease and is fitted with one-touch indicators (give the stalk a half-tap for a burst of three flashes) for easy lane changes.

The optional DSG gearbox is a semi-automatic system that makes ultra quick changes. This system uses two clutches - one is in gear, the other has the next gear pre-selected. It takes 0.03 of a second to change gear - faster than the blink of an eye. Revised models from mid-2009 have even better ride quality thanks to suspension improvements and there's also a new Hill Hold Control system which prevents the car from rolling back on a slope.

All revised DSG models come with paddle shifts on the steering, wheel allowing you to change gear yourself.