First drive review: Seat Ateca 2016

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Author: | Updated: 22 Jun 2016 16:31

It’s tough to underplay just how important this new model is to a brand looking to return to long-term profitability. Their first SUV had to be good. They’ve nailed it.

When you’re late to the party, you’d better make an impact when you finally arrive, and that’s exactly what Seat has achieved with their new SUV.

Designed to go head-to-head with the likes of the Nissan Qashqai, Renault Kadjar and its own sibling, the Volkswagen Tiguan, it’s built on the same MQB platform that underpins the well-liked Seat Leon, as well as the Volkswagen Golf and Audi A3.

The SEAT Ateca is the Spanish company's first SUV

The Leon link hasn’t been lost on the designers, who have managed to retain the sharp-edged styling of the hatchback and transferred that into a high-riding SUV. The transfer works well, with the sharp lines, edgy contours and slightly racy stance sit well behind the family Seat grille.

More hot-hatch than school-run-SUV

If it looks like a Leon and shares a lot of its underpinnings with a Leon, it stands reason that it should drive like a Leon, surely? Well, it’s probably closer to a traditional car than any SUV has managed before, but there’s no doubting that it is taller and heavier than its family hatchback counterpart.

Threading the Ateca through the twisty roads around the launch venue highlights a surprisingly firm ride, but one that keeps the bodywork in check. There’s little body roll, with the car remaining well controlled in all but the most desperate of circumstances.

Ateca is surprisingly good fun in the bends

The suspension manages to smoothe the road well enough, although small imperfections rattle their way through to the cabin. On rough UK roads this may prove a little tiresome, but you’d probably forgive it that in return for handling that’s more hot-hatch than school-run-SUV.

Outright performance falls a tad short of hot hatch standards, though. This test model was powered by a 2.0-litre diesel engine that produces 148bhp, enough to propel the Ateca to 62mph in nine seconds, with a maximum speed of 126mph. That’s good for a rough and tumble SUV though, and quicker than you’ll get from a similarly specced Qashqai. Only a rather gruff engine note lets things down a little.

Seat Ateca's cabin is good quality with lots of soft-touch plastics

Looking at the inside of the Ateca, it’s another case of better the Leon you know. The dashboard appears to have been lifted wholesale from its smaller cousin, but that’s not a bad thing. The design works from both an ergonomic point of view, with everything falling to hand as you would expect, as well as cosmetically - it’s a fine looking interior, even if some of the plastics are a tad firmer and scratchier than you would find on a Tiguan.

More space than a Qashqai

The rear seats allow for three adults to squeeze in together, although two will have plenty of space each. There’s no third row of seats like there is in the Tiguan, so the Ateca remains a five-seater, and that also means the clever sliding and folding seats give way to a conventional 60/40 split rear bench.

Ateca's folding rear seats create a bigger loading bay than Qashqai

Folded down, the seats and boot combine to create a space bigger than you’ll find in the Qashqai, and more useable too thanks to its square shape. There’s a step in the floor though, but that can be solved with the (optional) height adjustable boot floor. Seats up, it’s still big at 510 litres, unless you opt for four-wheel drive which robs the boot of 25 litres.

Equipment levels are high across the range, with touchscreen infotainment and air-conditioning standard on all models. Step up to the SE spec and the infotainment screen grows from five to eight inches, the air conditioning gains a second zone and cruise control is added to the mix.

SE is the best balance between cost and equipment, although the range-topping Excellence is likely to be the best seller. Just 200 lucky buyers will be able to pick up the First Edition, which sits between SE and Excellence but offers real extra value.

4WD system available, but not necessary for UK models

The 4x4 option will be a small seller in the UK, where these cars will rarely venture beyond a New Forest car park. That helps keep economy up and emissions down, but even this go-anywhere model emits just 114g of CO2 per km. An official economy figure of 64.2mpg is optimistic, but my time with the Ateca showed it’s not a particularly thirsty car.

The verdict – better value than a Tiguan?

In fact it’s a thoroughly likeable car. Better, even, than the Tiguan, but pricing comes into that decision. The Volkswagen may be a little bit plusher, but the Ateca starts at less than £18,000 – you’ll need around £4,000 more to upgrade to a similar spec Tiguan. Factor in lower CO2 emissions and the Ateca’s fun feel in the driver’s seat, it’s clear that Seat is on to a winner.

While the Ateca isn’t make-or-break for Seat, it’s tough to underplay just how important this new model is to a brand looking to return to long-term profitability. Their first SUV had to be good. They’ve nailed it.

Seat Ateca at a glance…

Model tested: SEAT ATECA XCELLENCE 2.0 TDI 4Drive

Price: £27,425
Top speed: 126mph
0 – 62mph:  9.0 seconds
Combined fuel economy: 64.2mpg
C02 emissions: 114g/km of C02

Car tax band: C (£30 per year)
Engine:  2.0-litre turbo diesel
Power:  150PS (148bhp)
Torque: 340 Nm (251 ft lb)

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