Model tested: 1.6 TDI Ecomotive SE Price: £21,900 Power: 114 bhp Torque: 184lb ft 0-60mph: 10.5sec
Fuel economy: 50.2mpg C02 emissions: 113g/km
Can Seat’s first SUV impress, even with the heavy nurden of expectation?
It seems hardly five minutes ago that the perennial Seat-related question was not a matter of shiny new product but whether the Spanish car maker could possibly hope to survive its seemingly endless non-profit status. Last-chance survival plans and borrowing end- of-lineAudi machinery have featured in the manufacturer’s recent past, as has filling itsMartorell factory with Q3 production in an effort to finally make it a cost-effective operation.
Now,though,the future looks suddenly bright. The firm actually claimed a wafer-thin profit for last year, evidence that its latest business plan was on the right track – a track leading inexorably to this, the proclaimed light at the end of the tunnel: the Ateca. It’s possible to overstate the importance of the introduction of a crossover into some manufacturers’ 1ine-ups, but probably not in Seat’s case, where the chronic lack of anything SUV-shaped meant that the brand was virtually absent from half of the current car market.
The Ateca plugs that hole in style. Closely related to the Volkswagen Tiguan and the upcoming second- generation Skoda Yeti, this Spanish interpretation of the SUV looks mildly sensational and, with a very small petrol engine aboard, can be had for less than £18,000. That makes it cheaper to buy than the equivalent entry-level Nissan Qashqai, the car Seat is obviously hoping to blow from the water.
While harbouring that same ambition has not resulted in a host of other manufacturers overcoming Nissan’s superstar, recent group testing has already revealed the top-spec Ateca to have all the makings of a new class leader. Now, though, we descend into the fleet-biased nitty gritty: road testingthecar not with the more powerful engine and drivetrain to which Nissan doesn’t really possess an answer, but with the far more modest front-wheel drive/small diesel combination that it most certainly does. The mid-spec 1.6TDI SE model we have here starts at£21,900 – practically the same money that buys you a Qashqai 1.5dCiAcenta. Game on.
DESIGN AND ENGINEERING 4/5
It is to the Ateca’s good fortune that the current generation of Leon has always been considered something of a looker since its launch in 2013 – because, rather conspicuously, that car is the design inspiration here.
A ‘big brother’ is the description apparently favoured in Martorell, and that’s largely the way it transpires in the metal, with the crossover sporting a similar quota of sharplines and high shoulder creases.
There is a sibling relationship with the Tiguan, too, that car being the firs SUV outing for the omnipresent MQB platform underneath both it and the Ateca, but this association is kept firmly under wraps. For one, the Ateca is noticeably shorter than the larger-scale VW, and for another, it’s decidedly more sporty-looking.
This, of course, is no accident.
MULTIMEDIA SYSTEM 3.5/5
In keeping with the rest of the interior, there’s often a nagging feeling that you’ re not getting quite as slick an experience from Seat’s menu interface as you would Volkswagen’s, despite the fact that it’s mostly just a retread of the same software.
SE trim has the Media System Plus set-up, meaning it gets the 8.0in colour touchscreen with the proximity sensor that changes the display options depending on how close your hand is. Voice control, Bluetooth audio streaming and eight speakers are included (all are missing from the 5.0in Touch system that features in entry-level cars) but DAB is not. For that, you’ll either need to fork out an additional £525 for the Navigation system (as ticked on our test car), or else opt for the SE Technology trim, which has it built in to the higher sticker price.
Aside from its cut-price nature, the set-up, which is another modular piece of MQB kit, is a solid piece of tech. Don’t expect any problems connecting your phone, finding your way about or getting a DAB signal – as long as you’ve paid the premium.
Being a tinybit sportier is Seat’s long-standing raison d’etre, and the firm says the identity extends to the slightly different way its crossover has been tuned. We’ll come to that later, but in hardware terms the Ateca adopts the established MQB characteristics.
There is a choice of two petrol engines (the three-cylinder 1.0 and four-cylinder 1.4TSIs) and two diesel lumps (the 1.6 TDI tested and the 2.0 TDI, available in both 148bhp and l87bhp configurations). Most drive the front wheels exclusively, a though both the larger oil-burners come with the option of a Hadex clutch-based four-wheeldrive system, with those models also benefiting from the more sophisticated multi-link rear suspension already tested in the Tiguan.Without a driven rear axle, all other Atecas make do with a cheaper torsion beam at the back.
Trimming niceties from the bottom line does at least tend to help with a car’s kerb weight. The lightest Tiguan clocks in at 1490kg; Seatclaims 1280kg for the three-pot model. Our test car, fully fuelled, recorded 1408kg on our scales – almost exactly the same a s the Qashqai 1.5dCi.
All versions currently come with a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, save the 2.0-litre diesel, which gets a seven-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic, either as an option or standard if you opt for the higher-out put version. And except for the entry-level model, all Atecas receive Seat’s Drive Profile dial, which (as the suspension is passive) is generally limited to tweaking the throttle and electric steering feel – although in the all-wheel-drive versions it adds Snow and Off-road modes.
The necessary positioning of Seat as a brand has left some of its products feeling short-changed inside. The Ateca’s slightly starchy, unadorned cabin is much like those of its stablemates – notably the Leon – and explicitly less affluent in appearance than the equivalent Volkswagen.
Nevertheless, while there is precious little to get excited about while looking at the predominantly matt black dashboard, there is nothing significant to grumble about, either. The Ateca is built in the same Czech factory that turns out the Skoda Superb and Yeti and inherits a similarly durable build quality. In keeping with most MQB products, everything is where you’d expect to find it and functions impeccably.
Marginal infractions are observable – Seat’s new Drive Profile wheel could do with being a bit less flimsy, for example – but you need to go looking for them. Generally speaking, with its legibility, ease ofuse and ergonomics beyond reproach, the Ateca is exceptionally good at making you feel right at home.
It is also acutely well sized. Being slightly shorter inthe wheelbase than the Tiguan does not prevent the Ateca from providing ample, family hatchback levels of rear leg room. The sense of space is amplified further by the amount of rear head room available, with the car’s bearskin-swallowing roofline being what really distinguishes the Ateca’s cabin from the otherwise similar-sized Leon.It is significant enough to be the feature most likely to sway any parents torn between the two.
That and the well-proportioned boot, which, with a 510-litre capacity, is not only 130 litres larger than the Leon’s but also 80 litres more generous than a Qashqai’s. Seat doesn’t quote a total load capacity, but the near-flat space appears suit ably commodious once the 60/40 split seatbacks are flopped forward by the two pull handles in the boot.
Storage options elsewhere inside are less impressive (the glovebox is pitifully small) but the larger cubby in the centre console and roomy door bins are decent enough.
Any suspicion that Volkswagen’s downsized 1.6-litrediesel engine might not be quite up to the job of satisfactorily lugging around a shapely new crossover prove largely unfounded. The Ateca’s venerable 1.6 TDI may not qualify as spring chicken, nor particularly accelerate like one, but a life cycle pockmarked by tweaks and updates means that the unit’s performance is never less than dutiful – an impression corroborated by a recorded 10.5sec 0-60mph time that is a full second quicker than advertised.
As is the case in this engine’s other applications, wide throttle openings are required to keep up a modest head of steam; sagging much below 2000rpm is generally fata1 due to the engine’s tendency to wilt when not being subsidised by its turbocharger. Given that this tends to occur at 40mph in the predictably long final ratio, it can make economical driving seem a bit more tiresome than in the more giving 2.0-litre variant. But as it revs keenly enough and comes furnished with the snappy gearchanges of the Volkswagen Group’s six-speed manual’box, it’s rare that you feel yourself getting grouchy with the quality of progress.
Such a reaction is best reserved instead for the amount of noise the engine generates. The core strength of the current Qashqai is its striking refinement, the cabin being very well isolated from the combined racket of road and engine. In the Ateca, it’s less easy to disassociate yourself from the background drone, and while it never becomes so unruly as to disrupt quiet conversation, its presence is audible at idle and downright insistent at higher revs. Our noise meter recoided a 3dB penalty at 70mph versus the 1.5dCi Qashqai we drove in 2014 and a 6dB difference at big crank speeds in third. Although not ruinous, the highish noise level is a chink in what is otherwise convincing armour.
RIDE AND HANDLING 4.5/5
Sequestered as they are between proper SUVs and peppy hatchbacks, compact crossovers’ default dynamic characteristic is usually to be neither one thing nor the other, resulting in something that is neither desperately tall and pillowy nor precisely nimble or engaging.That has clearly suited the target buyer, but we’ve tended toward faint praise for the segment as a whole and long bemoaned the absence of anything resembling a driver’s car. The Ateca doesn’t entirely resolve that, but it comes closer than any before in plugging the gap between soft-roader aesthetic and handling aptitude.
Fundamentally, it makes this leap by taking a familiarly short, logical step and seeking to do nothing more than drive like a hoisted-up Leon.
The trick here is that Seat has made the frequently proclaimed intention work. Rather than adopt the slightly bigger-skin feel that VW has grafted onto the Tiguan’s platform, the smaller Ateca takes full advantage of carrying less weight on its simpler, mildly stiffer chassis. Its positive feel is complemented by the credible heft and direct ness of the electric steering, in turn delivering much the same assured driving style we’ve credited to practically every MQB derivative since its introduction.
Certainly the Ateca remains a crossover – a fact obvious enough in its body movements – but there is easily enough Leon in its adroit turn-in and abundant grip to keep you interested in pushing on. The relationship between the two is redolent of the blood tie between the Jaguar XF and F-Pace – and that’s meant as praise from the top drawer. Only the sneaking suspicion that the torsion beam rear axle is striking obstacles at speed with slightly less sympathy than the multi-link set-up would gently inhibits the front-drive version’s appeal. That’s forgivable, though, given the all-wheel-drive car’s premium, and in all honesty it barely dents the lasting impression of the first-rate compromise struck here in the cooking model.
BUYING AND OWNING 4/5
Two factors keep the Ateca reasonably priced. One is the state of the market: Seat is rather late to the game, so there are many household names already jockeying for attention and coaxing buyers from their Renault Kadjars,Ford Kugas, Kia Spoilages and,yes, Qashqais, and a compelling reason to buy an Ateca is required beyond its sharp looks and shrewd drive.The other consideration is the positioning of the Tiguan. With it occupying VWs traditional upmarket place in the mainstream, Seat’s offering – as ever – can be quietly acknowledged as the more affordable understudy.
Thus the Ateca’s fourtrim levels – S, SE, SE Technology and Xcellence – start at £17,990 and inch beyond £30k by the time you’ve added paint to the range-topping 2.0 TDI.
The entry-level model misses out on the 8.0in touchscreen and Bluetooth so is likely to be ignored, but the as-tested SE trim includes them and adds 17in wheels, cruise control, rear parking sensors and dual-zone climate control into the bargain. The Technology version incorporates bigger wheels and sat-nav, while Xcellence brings more styling bling.
The 1.6 TDI will underpin t he Ateca’s fleet quota, where its failure to replicate the 1.5dCi Qashqai’s 99g/km (or even 103g/km) will have been noted. Nevertheless, a 113g/km output still puts it near the head of the field and is easily efficient enough to assuage most buyers as they weigh up its other advantages. Not least of those is the 50.2mpg that was returned during TrueMPG testing – a surefire sign that the Ateca’s respectable kerb weight has helped to offset the less friendly aerodynamics of a crossover’s taller profile.
The new class leader for all the right reasons – desirability included
ollowing the VW Tiguan’s successful debut, we expected much of the Ateca. Frankly, much is needed of it if the brand’s aspirations of steady profitability are to come true. Happily, Seat’s first crossover is an assured accomplishment, instantly establishing its place in a popular, margin-rich segment while also surpassing second and third-generation rivals to boot.
Its success ultimately brings to mind the introduction of the VW Up. The likeable city car – also offered as the Seat Mii – didn’t reinvent the class or prove particularly innovative; instead, it shrewdly met buyer expectations in the key areas of practicality, usability, appearance and fuel economy, then neatly exceeded them when it came to the chronically undervalued business of actually driving it. By adopting the same approach, Seat has produced an SUV we both like for the sake of useful comparison and admire full stop. With a family in tow, we’d not only choose it over a Nissan Qashqai but would also be inclined to buy it ahead of a Leon. Which really says it all.