Seat Altea Freetrack
WHAT do you get if you cross a hot hatch with a 4x4? Well, after a week spent driving one of Seat's newest cars, Neil Greenfield can tell you – it's called an Altea Freetrack 4. And it really is some family car!
WHAT do you get if you cross a hot hatch with a 4x4? Well, after a week spent driving one of Seat's newest cars, I can tell you - it's called an Altea Freetrack 4. And it really is some family car!
Based on the extended Altea XL bodyshell, which means a cavernous 490 litre boot - capable of being extended by a further 100 litres thanks to sliding rear seats - the Freetrack boasts a beefed-up chassis four centimetres higher than the standard car to improve ground clearance, silver roof rails and rugged grey plastic front and rear bumpers and wheelarch extensions.
Under normal conditions the four-wheel drive system directs power to the front wheels only but when the electronics detect any loss of traction up to 50 per cent can be directed to the rear wheels as well - meaning the Freetrack can genuinely tackle off road tracks with confidence.
With this adventurous nature ingrained in the Freetrack's DNA, Seat has also fitted the car with a host of safety gadgets - and apart from the reassuring presence of stability control, perhaps the most interesting for the "weekend away" driver is something called a trailer stability programme (TSP). As its name implies the system comes into use when the Freetrack is being used as a tow vehicle. Through a wired connection at the tow hook, TSP ingeniously stabilises the trailer if, due to poor road conditions or sudden braking, it threatens to put the car at risk.
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Clever stuff and a clear indication that Seat sees the Freetrack as a genuine rival to more traditional 4x4s like the Nissan X-Trail and Toyota Rav4. But the Freetrack has a further major selling point in its favour - because under its bonnet is the same engine that powers the highly acclaimed Volkswagen Golf GTi.
This 198bhp award-winning 2.0 litre engine - an equally grunty 168bhp diesel is also available - is an absolute triumph of engineering, using a turbocharger to deliver that bhp figure as well as 279Nm of torque. That means an even spread of power and a growly engine note is available through each of the Freetrack's snappy six gears.
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However, it's the thrilling and smooth delivery of this power and the ability of the chassis to channel it onto the road which makes the Freetrack such an accomplished machine.
A Golf GTi with four-wheel drive is probably the easiest way to describe the Freetrack. Amazingly its raised suspension clearance doesn't hinder the car's on-road performance at all. In fact with Seat's performance-orientated cars like the Leon FR and Cupra blighted by bone-shaking suspension set-ups, it's the Freetrack's suppleness and adjustability which enhances its performance credentials when all the family load lugging stuff is done and you want a bit of fun.
The big Seat sprints to 62mph in 7.5 seconds - just 0.3s behind the iconic GTi and comfortably on par with many out and out performance cars. It's a very flexible car and performs just as admirably fully loaded - delivering a refined and composed ride which soaks up bumps with ease.
The Freetrack is loaded with standard equipment including dual zone climate control, cruise control, six airbags, rear parking sensors, rain-sensing wipers, part leather seats and, for the kids, a roof-mounted rear-seat multimedia system - which strangely doesn't include its own DVD player but instead comes with inputs allowing a portable player or games machine to be hooked up. Some might also wince when they see the Freetrack's £20,495 list price (TDi £21,395) and it's a shame Seat hasn't improved upon the standard Altea's rather hard dashboard plastics - but in use the Freetrack is all the car you'll ever need. A practical, spacious, safe 4x4 one moment and sizzling hot hatch the next.
The Freetrack has just redefined the phrase jack of all trades.
SEAT FREETRACK 2.0 TSi - from £20,495 otr
Engine: 2.0 litre turbocharged
Max power: 198bhp at 5,100rpm and 279Nm torque at 1,800-5,000rpm
0-62mph - 7.5 seconds
Max speed - 133mph
ECONOMY: 30.1mpg combined
CO2 emissions/TAX %: 223/31%
INSURANCE GROUP: 13
STANDARD EQUIPMENT: Front and side airbags; vehicle stability control; electric windows; automatic climate control; CD player; 17-inch alloy wheels; multimedia system