The bearpit of intense competition that is the current SUV-crossover scene is new territory for SEAT. Not for its Volkswagen Group cousins, though. VW has the closely related Tiguan, Skoda does very well with the highly-regarded Yeti, and Audi weighs in with the Q3. Even VW-owned Bentley is in on the SUV scene with its vast Bentayga. Until now, though, SEAT has been absent from this fast-growing sector, but no longer, and although a relatively late arrival, it has now come in with a highly credible contestant in the Ateca. First we need to know how to pronounce it: as A-tech-a, not as A-tikka. “It’s not a curry”, was the stern message at the car’s UK launch. What it is, happily for SEAT, is a well-proportioned, stylish and good-to-drive crossover model that is reasonably priced against some tough competition. Although elevated seating and general practicality are what has wooed many buyers into crossovers, driving calibre hasn’t always seemed a strong priority. So what instantly pleases about the Ateca, from the first few minutes behind the wheel, is how taut and relatively sporty it feels. SEAT’S crossover handles with aplomb, has good body control and pert steering.
The re’s not much lean on the bends, and it tucks in very nicely when you push it hard along a country lane.The set-up prioritises handling precision ahead of ride comfort, because it thumps rather firmly across some of the potholed back roads, but that’s a tolerable drawback in a car that is clearly engineered to be a driver-pleaser.
Because of the calm handling and very modest body movement on the bends, the Ateca impresses as a car in which the driver can have a bit of fun behind the wheel without making the kids sick in the back.The 114bhp 1.6-litre diesel engine does a very sturdy job of powering a car that is slightly lighter than some rivals.The Ateca feels much more zestful with the bigger 2.0-litre diesel unit, but you also pay a penalty in an increase of engine noise. The cabin design is smart, with big air vents and a navigation-infotainment screen nicely positioned high in the dash, above a downward-curving centre console.The upper fascia is squidgy to the touch and nicely tactile, but elsewhere the plastic surfaces are unyielding and look a bit cheaper. It’s a roomy-feeling cabin, though, with plenty of headroom and pretty fair leg space all round. At 510 litres the boot is bigger than those of many key rivals. A Qashqai’s is quite a bit smaller at 430 litres, aTiguan’s is 470 litres, while the Renault Kadjar has 472 litres. The Ateca looks well priced, although it climbs steeply as you move up the range, and inevitably the 4×4 versions are costlier.
All models from the base level S upwards come with alloy wheels, air conditioning, a five-inch touchscreen. Bluetooth mobile phone connectivity, autonomous emergency braking, driver drowsiness detection and split-fold back seats. Move up to mid-specification SE and there’s a larger eight-inch touchscreen, power folding door mirrors, cruise control, rear parking sensors and dual-zone climate control, while on SE Technology versions there’s also full-LED headlights, DAB radio, a navigation system and 18-inch bi-coloured alloy wheels. The top-of-the-range Xcellence model also features rear privacy glass, leather upholstery, wireless mobile phone charging, keyless entry and start and a reversing camera, as well as automatic headlights and wipers and an auto-dimming rear view mirror.
The model we test here was created as a result of crowdsourcing and the most popular items of equipment, according to public opinion, were used to create this short-run First Edition version. Similar in equipment to the SE Technology model, it also features an electric rear tailgate, reversing camera and rear privacy glass, and is paired exclusively to the 1.6-litre TDI Ecomotive engine. As a latecomer to the crossover arena the Ateca needs something a bit special to elbow its way in, and it has it in a driving calibre that deserves to get it noticed. Just don’t pronounce it like a curry if you decide to book a test drive.