Published: 10:30, 04 September 2017
The Ateca is Seat’s first SUV. It’s arguably the Spanish firm’s most important model to date and, though late to the party it may be, it’s good-looking enough to get itself noticed on even the most crowded of dance floors.
It rides on VW’s unilateral MQB platform, which also underpins the Tiguan. Despite their shared origins, however, the two cars are very different with the Seat noticeably shorter in length and sportier in intent.
That inherent sportiness is obvious the first time you clap eyes on the Ateca, as is its inspiration. It borrows more than a few styling cues from the excellent Leon, a car that isn’t lacking in style or substance itself.
The lines are sharp and clean, with pronounced creases and bold angles. It’s perfectly proportioned with a lean, athletic stance. It wouldn’t, of course, be welcome at the compact-crossover party without the correct attire so it is necessarily adorned with the usual collection of plastic body panels that, coupled with the additional ground clearance, give the Ateca the rugged, go-anywhere looks that have proven so appealing to buyers who are unlikely to go anywhere that isn’t covered in tarmac.
Climb behind the wheel and the Leon’s presence makes itself felt again. The cabin doesn’t tread far from the design path laid down by its hatchback brother.
A real effort has been made to give the cabin a premium feel, with soft-touch, high-quality materials in abundance. Unless you lower your gaze a little and take a closer look at the centre console and the doors, where harder, less tactile plastics are in evidence.
It’s a necessary evil in a bid to keep the costs down – the Tiguan offers a much higher degree of perceived quality but there’s a premium to pay for that – and it certainly isn’t something that’s going to adversely impact on the pleasure of day-to-day ownership.
Equipment is a bit sparse on entry-level models with just 16in alloys, air-con, a five-inch touchscreen and seven airbags. Autonomous emergency braking is, however, included. Something of a bonus in this price bracket.
Step up to the top-of-the-range Xcellence driven here and you get full leather interior, 18in alloys, LED headlights and a reversing camera in addition to the SE’s dual-zone climate control, cruise control and rear parking sensors. The SE rides on 17in rims.
Sat nav isn’t offered as an option on the base model and, though it would be easy to excuse that because of the implied inadequacy of its five-inch screen, the fact is that for years we’ve been using screens of about that size to navigate our way around without complaint and, in that context, it’s hard to see exactly why it isn’t available.
You can add sat nav to the SE and Xcellence models for a not unreasonable £550. The standard 8in screen in both of these models is equipped with Seat’s Media System Plus which includes Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink which means that if you’d rather forgo the dedicated sat nav, you can use a mapping app on your smartphone shared on the car’s screen.
If you’d rather take a step in the opposite direction and go all-in on the built-in sat nav the Navigation System Plus, which adds advanced 3D mapping and a 10-speaker sound system, is a £930 option.
Passenger space is about on a par with the Leon, which is to say more than adequate, but less than spectacular. If you’re sitting up front you’ll find that there is more than enough head and leg room and there’s ample adjustment in the driver’s seat and steering wheel to find a decent driving position whatever your proportions.
People in the back will find leg room a bit more difficult to come by but it is possible to accommodate a couple of six-footers in tandem thanks, in no small part, to the upright seating positions made possible by the taller SUV styling.
Cabin storage is pretty good, with decent-sized door bins and a large cubby hole in the centre console, but the glove box is slightly smaller than you would expect in a vehicle of this size. While space in the rest of the car might be best described as average, the boot goes above and beyond that, with an impressive 510 litres of space in the front-wheel drive model that I tested.
The rear seats split 60:40 and, although the boot floor is nice and flat, you are left with a sizeable lip to lift your luggage over, which might make loading heavier items a little tricky.
There’s a choice of two diesel engines – a 2.0-litre with 148bhp or a 1.6 with 114 – and three petrol engines. My test car was fitted with a 1.4-litre EcoTSI producing a healthy 148bhp but there’s also a 2.0-litre and, uniquely in this class, you can also opt for a 1.0-litre, three-cylinder turbocharged unit with 114bhp on tap.
The unit in my test car proved refined, even under heavy acceleration it was little more than a distant murmur, but also potent, delivering delightfully punchy, flexible, performance. The manual gearbox is a sweet unit, with a slick, precise action that is very much in keeping with the sporting nature of the car.
That greater focus reveals itself as soon as you pull away. The ride is on the firm side, something that is particularly noticeable at lower speeds, but it’s unobtrusive, thanks to well-judged damping rates.
You’ll appreciate that additional stiffness in tight corners, where the Ateca displays admirable body control and, rather than the wafting, rolling sensation that afflicts most SUVs its excellent composure allows you to carry more speed through the bend.
The wonderfully accurate and perfectly weighted steering lets you place the Ateca precisely on the road. There’s plenty of feedback too, so you’re never trying to second guess what the tyres are doing.
The Ateca is a driver’s car. Something that can’t be said for the majority of SUVs. That doesn’t mean that Seat have sacrificed comfort for sharper handling. The ride might be on the firm side but only the most sensitive of passengers will consider it too much of a compromise. It looks the part too, with sharp styling that hints seductively at its sporting intent.
It’s a slightly different tale inside, however, and the passenger space is a little dark and uninspiring. If you opt for the base model you’ll find standard kit a bit thin on the ground too.
The Ateca does, however, still represent good value for money so if your next hatchback has to be an SUV, Seat has just the thing for you.
Seat Ateca Xcellence 1.4 EcoTSI
As tested: £28,485
Engine: 1.4-litre petrol
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Max power: 150PS @ 5,000 – 6,000rpm
Max torque: 250Nm @ 1,500 – 3,500rpm
Max speed: 125mph
Acceleration (0-62mph): 8.5sec
Extra urban: 57.6mpg
Emissions (CO2): 123g/km
For more information visit www.seat.co.uk
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