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What’s the 296bhp Cupra Ateca 4x4 like to live with?

£35,330 when new

Car specifications

Budget
£35,330
Brake horsepower
300bhp
Fuel consumption
38.2mpg
0–62 mph
5.20s
CO2
168g/km
Max speed
153Mph

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Explaining the point of Seat’s Cupra sub-brand, and its first spawn, the Cupra Ateca hot-hatch crossover thing, is a tricky job. Fortuantely Craig Jamieson and Owen Norris of the Top Gear office have spent a week each living with the 296bhp 4x4 day-to-day, and now it’s time for them to debate whether it’s any good or not. Let’s try to keep it polite, gents…

Craig: Owen, you’ve been driving the Cupra Ateca for a while, right? I did too and I’m… perplexed. I mean, I quite liked driving it, and I mostly like the way it looks, and it if magicked its way into my possession, there’s no one thing that’d make me kick it off my driveway. I’m just unsure about the concept, more than anything.

Owen: I’m unsure about those wheels and that badge.

C: Yeah, why does it have a new badge and why exactly does that badge look like a tramp stamp?

O: Graphically, it’s not good. That’s the problem, I think; it’s an image thing. You can’t create a brand just by sticking a badge on the front. Seat’s performance cars aren’t bad; why not just call it a Seat?

C: That said, I pulled up out the front of my house and had a guy get out of his car, walk over and ask excitedly, “What’s that?” He was pumped.

O: I parked in a car park and walked away to get a ticket, and on my way back, two guys walked past the car, pointed at the badge and looked at each other as if to say, “WTF is that?” I think it was more inquisitive than anything.

C: What about the Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde split-mode suspension thing it has going on? I was only really happy in the softest suspension mode. I was on the roads out near Dungeness and had a bit of a play with a few things, and the way the ride firmed up in Super Cupra mode was extreme.

O: The thing about the modes is that that you get a car that I can take the kids to school in and the journey doesn’t make them sick. Then when I’m by myself, it’s something I can have a thrash in. So you get switchable modes – soft and comfy and then rabid. And I think it worked.

C: I never go to Sport mode; I always go to the most extreme. If I’m going to be sporty, I’m going to be ALL of the sporty. Halfway-house sport mode is like going to a steakhouse and getting a hamburger. If you’re going to kill a poor moo-cow for your dinner, at least make it worth it.

O: Er… now you’ve lost me. Are you hungry or something?

C: I mean, if you’re going to do it, do it properly. Half measures are never the answer.

O: True. When I was on my own, bowling along, it felt a lot like a Golf R estate, but then I got to the roundabout on the A50; in a Golf, you can really attack it, but there’s so much extra weight in the Ateca that you quickly realise you’re in something very different. You notice. But if you’re just accelerating away from the lights, it’s better. It doesn’t sound brilliant, but it’s OK for a four-pot. There were a few times when I was pulling at the downshift paddle that I got it to crackle a little bit, but it’s not like you used to get in the days of old. Engine noise these days is all fake, though, isn’t it? There’s a noise, there’s a roar, but you have to use paddles and a lot of effort to get any satisfying crackles.

C: I was actually really disappointed by the sound. I know it’s all in the name of economy, but I didn’t really get the economy I wanted, either. As Ollie Kew is fond of saying, it fell between two stools. If I’m giving up the sound of a V6 or V8, I want a lot of economy to make up for it. I didn’t get it. Babying the thing barely returned more than 30mpg. And then it didn’t feel all that fast when I was up it for the rent. Also, while we’re at it, I’m in a small SUV crossover-type thing, so why am I trying to break the sound barrier in the first place?

O: I thought that the Cupra was pretty good on fuel, considering. The 29mpg I got is all right, especially when I didn’t baby it, and I was in Christmas-holiday traffic. And it is quite a quick car, let’s remember.

C: I think that’s just because you usually drive a Nissan Leaf. I mean, 5.2 seconds from zero to 62 is a good number, even by today’s standards. But it never felt that quick. I never started from zero, but rolling up from town to highway speeds felt more brisk than ballistic. Then there’s the sporty pretensions. Like I said, I found Super Cupra mode too hard for the road, which is fairly unsurprising. Which then made me think, “Hey, this must be for the track, then, right?” And then I thought, “Who in their right mind would take a 1.6-tonne SUV to a track and think it’s a good idea?”

O: Would I use it on the track? No, of course not. If I had an RS6, logic dictates that I’ve got the money for a little Lotus or a Caterham for the track. That said, in an RS6, you could probably have a bit of fun on the track, just because of the speed, but understeer is not your friend, and these heavy beasts are going to give it to you. The Cupra is definitely not the kind of thing I’d schlep across Europe to drive the Nurburgring, but an RS6? Maybe…

C: In an ideal world, you’d have a family car that’s something in which you can waft along in comfort and then a second, performance car that comes out on my very favourite of English phrases – high days and holidays. I just don’t think that trying to do everything at once works; the performance version of something that isn’t a performance car is always going to be compromised – you have to give up comfort for ability or vice versa. If it’s as big and comfortable and feature-packed as your average modern SUV is, it’s naturally going to follow that you have to accommodate the weight and suspension packaging and big boot and headroom and high ground clearance. So then you have all these problems to solve and engineer your way around the second you try to make a high-performance version of it. And that puts you on the back foot from the outset.

O: I turned it on to the most extreme mode and immediately turned it off – Sport is better. I think the custom mode would be best – soft springs, quick gearchanges and as much noise as possible. I found it quite easy to drive smoothly, which, in a Skoda Karoq with its grabby DSG, was actually more difficult. The gearbox is just better set up in the Ateca. Also, I could never get comfy in the Karoq, because the seating and pedal positions were all wrong. And that’s in an ostensibly more comfortable car. In the Cupra, they were much better. I think the pedals could go a bit further back still, but the steering wheel came out far enough and the seating position was much better. 

Talking about modes, though, I like the fact that there’s a snow mode – that makes it an ideal car for Christmas. If it snows, I’m all good. If not, I’ve got a quick car. Regardless, I’m laughing. And the thing is that a lot of people want a decent, safe, high-riding family car that can go down the road reasonably quickly. My neighbour has an SQ5 and he loves it. In Britain, you can’t always have two cars. We don’t have the space and we’re living in the age of austerity. So, in this day and age, you’ve got to have one car that does it all. Yes, a Macan S or Cayenne would be awesome, but that’s £50,000 or more. There’s definitely a gap for something like the Cupra Ateca. If Ford did a Kuga ST or something, I think people would go for it. Just look at the Focus ST estate – it’d be that, just as an SUV, which people are actually buying.

C: But fast estates have niche cool, and they’re actually close enough to the ground so that engineers don’t have to conquer the laws of physics themselves just to bring out a performance version. That’s a better package, right? Or is that not what people are looking for?

O: What I look for in a car is something that a) has the space and amenities to comfortably transport my family and their things, b) keeps them safe in a crash and c) is a bit of fun to drive.

We had to go five-up in the Ateca and we didn’t have enough room – my wife sat in the middle of the second row and basically had to go side-saddle. As for safety, I think it’s better if you’re raised up and can see what’s coming. My wife feels safer being higher up. And it was a million times more fun than my Skoda Karoq. There’s no steering feel, but, as fake steering feel goes, it worked. But it’s a stretch to say “I can close my eyes and it feels exactly like a Golf R estate” – it doesn’t.

But there’s a lot to like here. I actually did find it quite an attractive proposition. At the right price, of course. When you chuck a few toys at it, £40k plus seems excessive. Trim some options and haggle to get it into the mid-thirties and I’d be sold.

C: Look, if it were up to me, I’d spend £20,000 on a 6.2-litre C63 estate and the rest on fuel, tyres and speeding tickets.

O: Now there’s a thought.

Verdict:

O: Tricky one. For me, the car is an 8/10 but the badge drags it to a 7/10. It’s an image thing, simple as that. Maybe harsh, but I am a man of taste and it’s jarring. If we’re talking subbrands, Abarth is cool because of its historic endeavours in racing and cool road cars. It’ll take something more than a tattoo-inspired badge to hook me in.

C: In my mind, an average, comfy, decent car is a 5/10. With that in mind, the Cupra Ateca definitely gets a 7/10. It does roughly everything well; I just don’t get why it has to do it.

Specs
1984cc, 4cyl turbo
AWD, 300bhp, 295lb ft
38.2mpg (claimed), 168g/km
0–62 in 5.2secs, 153mph
1615kg

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