What is it? SEAT’s first proper SUV
Key features: Stylish looks, strong powertrains, plenty of tech.
Our View: SEAT has offered all-wheel-drive cars before, but the Spanish brand has never had a full-house SUV in its range. And this is a problem, because the crossover/SUV market is the one that is soaring, and which just about every other manufacturer is now in.
Type of review: First UK drive
So now we have the Ateca compact SUV, and SEAT management will tell you that the brand’s late arrival to the party is no bad thing, allowing them to ensure they best meet the requirements of customers. This car will take on the likes of Renault’s Kadjar and the all-conquering Nissan Qashqai, while next year it will be joined by a smaller sister, currently dubbed A Zero Cross, to tackle the Japanese brand’s equally popular Juke.
The Ateca – the name follows SEAT tradition in referring to a small Spanish village – is designed as a sister model to the Leon. But while completely designed by the Spanish brand, it is built at the Kvasiny, Czech Republic factory of sister VW Group brand Skoda.
And this is of course the crucial point – while according to company head Luca de Meo marking “the start of a new era for the brand” the Ateca is hardly stepping into unknown territory. It is built on the MQB platform that has underpinned just about every new VW Group model over the past couple of years, and the all-wheel-drive versions employ transmissions long proven in the cars of sister brands Audi, Skoda and Volkswagen.
First impressions of the Ateca are impressive. It is an SUV with visually more low purpose than pumped-up dominance – effectively a more imposing, larger Leon. Measuring 4363mm long with a 2638mm wheelbase, it feels comfortable and spacious on the inside, while the boot-space of 510 litres is 80 litres more than the segment-leading Qashqai can offer. Note, however, that if you choose an all-wheel-drive version you do sacrifice 25 litres. A double boot floor provides useful hidden storage, while fold the rear seats and the space jumps to a maximum of 1604 litres.
SEAT says it designed the cockpit wholly around the driver, though basically it’s an evolution of that already offered in the Leon. Certainly everything falls to hand naturally and intuitively, the high centre console notable, while the finishes, at least on the visible bits, are up to the mark. A definite plus is the amount of adjustment available in seat and steering column – it’s easy to get totally comfortable behind the wheel.
There are five engine choices available, SEAT’s literature adding “at launch” which suggests more might be on the way. For now you have the choice of 1.0 TSI 115hp and 1.4 TSI 150hp petrol units, and TDI diesels in 1.6 115hp and 2.0 150 and 190hp offerings.
Only the two 2.0 diesels can be specified with all-wheel-drive, while SEAT expects the 1.4 petrol and 150hp diesel to be most popular amongst retail customers, the efficiency and therefore tax credentials of the 1.6 TDI to attract fleet buyers. The latter are expected to account for 45 per cent of sales.
During the launch The Car Expert tried out the 1.4 petrol and the 1.6 and 2.0 190hp diesels, the latter with all-wheel drive. The busy roads around Manchester, pot-marked with roundabouts and traffic lights, made it difficult to form a firm opinion on the Ateca’s dynamic qualities and that will have to wait for a full road test, but initial impressions are positive.
The refinement of the engines is a given – they are proven VW Group units. The diesels still sound a little agricultural on start-up and at low revs but they settle into a beat which is as smooth as it is freely giving of pace.
SEAT has always been pitched as a sporty member of the VW Group and its chassis are expected to perform. No complaints here – the car rides well, if a little firmly, and maintains a confident, upright poise in corners, whether with or without the extra grip of the all-wheel-drive transmission.
All bar entry-level S models include the Drive Profile function that sets the chassis according to four modes, Normal, Sport, Eco and Individual. AWD versions also add Snow and Offroad modes, along with Hill-Descent Control. The Ateca is said to have a fair degree of off-road ability, though very few customers are expected to leave the tarmac very often…
The £17,990 starting price for the Ateca is impressive, but that does buy the 1.0 petrol unit, small for an SUV, in entry-level S trim, which is light on equipment though you do get a touchscreen infotainment system. The standard safety spec is impressive, however, including such aids as front assist with city emergency braking and pedestrian protection, and tiredness recognition and multi-collision braking features. Technology is a feature of the Ateca – go up the range and you can add such useful aids as auto high beams, traffic jam assist, blind-spot alerts…
Ignoring the 200-strong ‘First Edition’ models which are likely to be sold out before you read this, there are three further trims, of which SE variants are expected to be the prime fleet seller. They start from £19,590 with the 1.0 and £21,015 with the more attractive 1.4 TSI – an extra £875 gets you a 1.6 diesel in Ecomotive form. Among the gains are better infotainment, with Bluetooth and voice control, cruise control, dual-zone climate control and parking sensors.
Move up to SE Technology, a shade under £2,000 more than SE but annoyingly not offered with the 1.4 petrol, and you gain satellite navigation and DAB radio. Most retail customers, however, are expected to choose Xcellence, £2,890 more than SE, the extras including the navigation/DAB ambient lighting in a choice of eight colours, sports seats, keyless entry, a wireless phone charger and rain-sensing wipers.
And of course there is a goodie-strewn options list, ranging across such delights as adaptive cruise control, a panoramic sunroof, self-parking and an above-view camera to an electric tailgate that opens automatically by waving one’s foot under the rear of the car.
In terms of engines on first impressions we would choose the 1.4 petrol unit. You sacrifice 12mpg and 7g/km of CO2 emissions over the 1.6 diesel, but alongside an £875 cheaper price comes a 0-62mph time three seconds quicker and very smooth progress. And its Benefit-in-Kind tax is one per cent less than the diesel.
So will the Ateca be a success? It looks very likely. UK dealers are reporting unprecedented interest and pre-orders for the car and we are not surprised. Combining ability with a splash of style that is part of the brand’s image but always harder to achieve with an SUV, it’s an effective new entrant to the crossover market.
SEAT Ateca – key specifications
Models tested: SEAT Ateca SE 1.6 TDI Ecomotive 115PS 6-sp m, Xcellence 1.4 EcoTSI 150PS 6-sp man, Xcellence 2.0 TDI 190PS 7-sp DSG
On Sale: Sept 2016
Range price: £17,990-£29,990
Insurance groups: 8E-21E.
Engines: Petrol 1.0, 1.4. Diesel 1.6, 2.0×2.
Power (hp): 115, 150. 115, 150/190.
Torque (Nm): 200, 250. 250, 340/400.
0-62mph (sec): 11.0, 8.5. 11.5, 9.0*/7.5
Top speed (mph): 114, 125. 114, 122*/132
Fuel economy (combined, mpg): 54.3, 53.3**. 65.7**, 55.4*/53.3.
CO2 emissions (g/km): 119, 122**. 113**, 129*/135.
Key rivals: Renault Kadjar, Ford Kuga, Kia Sportage
Test Date: September 2015.
* = 4Drive manual, 2WD versions TBA ** = SE versions