Alhambra SE Lux 2.0 TDI 177PS is priced from £32,420

Alhambra SE Lux 2.0 TDI 177PS is priced from £32,420

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Alhambra sales were up 19% worldwide in the first half of 2014, making it SEAT’s second most improved model after the León. This has also given the Palmela plant which builds it some overdue good news.

The success of the Qashqai has been one of the major reasons for the decline of the European segment in which MPVs, minivans, people carriers - call them what you will - compete. The Volkswagen Group has been able to weather the storm better than some competitors due to having twinned the Alhambra with its own Sharan model, and kept production in low-cost Portugal.

What started life as Autoeuropa, a manufacturing plant JV between VW and Ford of Europe, opened in 1991. After Ford decided to go its own way for the second generation Galaxy, the facility came fully into the orbit of the Volkswagen Group in 1999.

Autoeuropa remains the largest foreign industrial investment in Portugal. The plant has a total area of 2,000,000 square metres, of which 1,100,000 are dedicated to vehicle manufacturing, with a further 900,000 square metres taken up by an adjacent industrial park. The Volkswagen Group receives deliveries from 672 suppliers, of which 27 deliver just in time. The company says an average of 48 trucks loaded with production components arrive at the plant every day.

In addition to the Alhambra and Sharan, Palmela also makes the Volkswagens Eos and Scirocco. This year should see production rise above 100,000 units, total build having dropped to just 91,200 vehicles in 2013. The Sharan is the most popular vehicle to come off the line at Autoeuropa but the Alhambra is, as noted above, now doing a lot better than it had been. A lot of that is down to the improvement in SEAT’s home market, but also to sales in the UK market. For the first half of this year, 11,400 units of the model were delivered compared to 9,500 for the equivalent period in 2013.

The Alhambra has had a relatively quiet life since its launch across Europe during the summer of 2010. SEAT added the availability of all-wheel drive in 2011, these variants having debuted at the Geneva motor show in March 2011. The range consists of one petrol engine and one diesel, though the second of these comes in two states of power and torque. The TSI has a capacity of 1,390cc, direct injection and is turbocharged. Power is 150PS (110kW) with torque of 240Nm. The 1,968cc diesel comes with either 140PS (103kW) or 177PS (130kW). Respective torque outputs are 320Nm and 380Nm.

As the 177PS diesel is the one which has been most recently revised, this is the unit chosen for the test vehicle. With the six-speed manual gearbox, it gets the Alhambra to 62mph in 9.3 seconds, or 9.6 for the optional six-speed automatic. The dual clutch auto is also available for the other two engines.

It’s deceptively large, this vehicle, at 4,854mm long and also fairly wide (1,904mm). With the middle row of seats all in the upright position, the boot capacity is just 267 litres but expands to 658 with the third row folded as to as much as 2,297 litres with second and third rows dropped flat.

In SE Lux trim, the most powerful Alhambra costs more than GBP32,000 which might seem steep but there’s a lot of standard equipment. This includes electrically sliding side doors, an opening panoramic glass roof, leather upholstery, heated and 12-way electrically adjustable front sports seats, headlamp washers, reversing camera and a good SatNav system.

It weighs in at 1,851kg but this top-spec model still manages to have both a competitive top speed (129mph) and excellent economy. The average fuel consumption is officially 47.1mpg and I saw 42mpg, though there was a lot of uncharacteristically traffic-free motorway cruising during those few hundred miles. August is such a great month in the UK as half the country seems to be away elsewhere. 

As a load or people hauler, the Alhambra is equally good. Deep windows mean everyone gets a good view out and the boot floor is low for loading. Each of the outermost second row seats tilts forward allowing entry and egress for seats six and seven, and you can also slide each of the middle ones back and forth.

For what you have to pay - prices start at just over GBP25,000 - the Alhambra represents very good value, especially compared to its Volkswagen Sharan brother, which doesn’t have the same high levels of standard equipment. It also does look genuinely sporty from some angles, especially with the optional (GBP480) ‘Akira’ alloy wheels.

SEAT isn’t saying when a facelifted model will be announced but it might well come as soon as the fourth quarter with its potential debut being at the Paris show in October. That can only help the brand’s ongoing sales boom, especially in Britain, where sales are showing a YoY rise of 23% versus just 10% for the entire market. With the July number being up by 42% to 4,149 vehicles, SEAT is even set to overtake Honda within a couple of months: year to date sales now total 31,491 versus 32,949 for the embattled Japanese brand, according to SMMT data.