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£29,440 when new
The Seat Ateca. What’s that, then? It’s Seat’s alternative to the Nissan Qashqai, Kia Sportage, and multitudinous other diddy SUVs. Seat’s a bit late to the party, really: the Qashqai launched in 2007 and a heck of a lot of rivals have followed since. Including several from elsewhere in the VW empire. Even Bentley has beaten Seat to building an SUV, albeit one much further up the food chain… The Ateca arrives as perhaps the most important car in the Spanish company’s history. Prices start at a whisker under £18,000, which is only a few hundred quid more than you’ll pay for a basic Leon. Aggressive pricing. Sounds important. Does it live up to its billing?
Happily, yes. We’ll start on the outside. While we don’t tend to comment on how cars look – styling by its very nature is subjective – the Ateca is one of the more crisp-looking, less bloated efforts in a class which contains far too many cars that simply resemble chubby hatchbacks. Perhaps it’s bordering on tame as a result, but there are plenty of snazzy colours and big wheels among the options to liven things up. Inside, things are similarly sane, but there’s a whole caboodle of technology on offer, the highlight being a brilliant 360-degree camera system that’s more clear than rival setups, and which further shrinks a car that’s already pretty easy to park and thread through traffic. In fact, it’s barely any different to drive than a Leon hatchback. Alright, so acceleration is blunted by its extra weight, but the steering has a nice amount of weight and it will happily corner at speeds that are irrelevant in a car full of kids and their things. That means when you’re driving it in a sensible manner, everything is smooth, calm and easy. Perhaps it’s so good because Seat has arrived so late to the party, and so has had prime pick from the VW group’s tech cupboard. So it sits upon the same platform that makes the Golf, TT and many others drive so well. But also the one that makes them ride firmly in town. Still, it’s a price worth paying when it makes the Ateca so much more precise to drive than key rivals.
Which should I buy? Its range of engines is exhaustive, ranging from a 1.0-litre petrol turbo to a 187bhp diesel with a paddleshift gearbox. The heartland of these cars tends to be their mid-range diesels, and the 148bhp 2.0-litre in the Ateca is as functional and refined as it is in other small VW group produce. And also as devoid of character. If you want an engine as sharp as the rest of the car, you probably want one of the petrol turbos. At the moment, however, you can only have those petrols with front-wheel drive, while the 2.0-litre diesels only come with four-wheel drive (though they’ll gain a cheaper FWD version in time). With ‘4Drive’ – as Seat calls it – fitted, you get a dial behind the gear stick to twiddle through a variety of modes, from ‘eco’ and ‘sport’ to ‘off-road’ and ‘snow’. Seat knows it’s not kidding anyone, though, and much of the Ateca’s marketing bumf relates to ‘confidence in the city’. A four-wheel-drive system is hardly necessary, then, but we imagine plenty will want it for posturing, even if a 4x4 auto diesel does weigh a full 309kg more than a FWD 1.0-litre petrol… What else should I know? It ticks off all the day-to-day sensible stuff really well. The boot is big (you get even more space if you buy a FWD Ateca), you’ll fit three reasonably sized people in the back, and the interior feels exceedingly well put together, even if it is a bit gloomy. There’s no Virtual Cockpit or bold shapes to lift the mood, but everything functions well and quality feels as close as ever to the upper echelons of the VW group. Seat’s most important car in ages is blooming good, then. The only crossover/small SUV/overgrown hatchback (call them what you will) I’d recommend over it is the classier-still VW Tiguan, but then the Ateca is assembled from very similar oily bits, and ought to be a bit cheaper spec-for-spec. Job’s a good ‘un.