* Year-long Altea XL test * Photographer's life with the car * Magical boot, annoying niggles elsewhere...


Where the Altea really pulled a rabbit out of the hat was in its ability to deal with everything I could throw at it in my working life, and everything my family could sling at it over the weekend.

It was easy to keep my girlfriend's son, Louis, entertained too, because the flip-up trays on the backs of the front seats meant he had a platform to play on.

The only slight issue is that these trays didn't have a lip, so anything that he wasn't holding on to tended to slide off.

Many times I put Louis in a pristine cabin, and then took him out of an area that resembled the floor of his 'shabby-chic' bedroom.

I could never hear the various toys, pens and crayons hitting the floor because, on top of the permanent cacophony of road noise, my car had developed another noise.

This quickly became loud, then escalated into deafening it sounded like I was permanently driving over a cattle grid.

At the same time the economy went south faster than a goose in winter and the rear tyres started to look like 50p pieces.

My local dealer, Pinchbeck Seat (01264 781460), was excellent. A suspension fault was diagnosed then fixed and the two tyres replaced.

However, Seat's warranty would cough up for only half of the cost of the tyres, leaving me to shell out an unexpected 113.51.

Early Altea XLs were known to have had the same problem as my car (and were fully covered by the warranty), but because my car was built after a repair was supposedly effected, the company wouldn't pay out.

One thing I didn't have to pay out for was a fault with the sat-nav unit. All of a sudden the Altea lost its way, telling me to do U-turns on the M25 and informing me that I was in the North of England just as I crossed into Surrey.

A faulty GPS sensor was diagnosed and replaced under warranty by Trafficmaster, the company who installed the unit in my car.