Review: SEAT takes on the big boys with Ateca

The SEAT Ateca comes with lots of useful features on the S grade and a purchase plan of �299 a month for the �17,990 entry model
The SEAT Ateca comes with lots of useful features on the S grade and a purchase plan of �299 a month for the �17,990 entry model
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Ateca is a small community in northern Spain. It’s by no means an obvious name to give what SEAT, Spain’s carmaker, reckons is its most important car in weeks/months/years/ages. Delete according to your view. The SUV-crossover/estate/hatchback (delete etc) will never be its best-seller. That role is shared by the Ibiza and Leon models – benefitting from far more recognisable Iberian name tags.

Ateca, the car “created in Spain”, is built by its amigos Skoda in the Czech Republic, using the VW Group platform found under models such as Golf, Audi A3, various Skodas, the Leon and so on. Conversely, SEAT builds the Q3 for Audi in Barcelona.

The SUV is Europe’s fastest evolving car trend. In the Ateca sector, the VW Group already has the Tiguan, Q3, Skoda Yeti (replaced next year) and imminent Skoda Kodiaq. Publicly, SEAT says the Ateca will not compete directly with these family models. Really? Ateca (from £17,990 to £29,990) is a similar size to Tiguan and Q3 so they may lose some sales to the newcomer which SEAT has no qualms about calling the best in its class. By that, carefully, it means non-VW products like the Ford Kuga and Mazda CX5 and Renault Kadjar and booming Kia Sportage. Nissan’s Qashqai is the daddy, the Sunderland-built winner which alone outsells the entire SEAT range in Britain.

SEAT sales peaked at 53,512 in 2014, lost 6,000 last year and is heading the same way this year, starved of new models. Globally, it made a record 400,000 plus cars and a rare €6 million profit. Happily for them, the Ateca is in demand and is the first SEAT to attract an order bank ahead of its showroom debut. Supplies, one gathers, are not as bountiful as they would like, with the dratted other Europeans having gorged on production ahead of right-hand-drive delivery. That must be galling for the dealers (and public) because this family-sized hold-all looks smart with its sharp, brand-faithful styling, a cross between the Q3 and latest Tiguan. SEAT seems to have fallen away from its Latin emoción image. Of all the contenders its exterior is the most restrained and the interior has the same dignity – lots of dark, angular synthetics, rather a lack of pizzazz but not quite dull.

You can pick from three turbo diesel engines (115ps 1.6-litre, 150ps and 190ps 2-litre) and two turbo petrol units (115ps 1-litre and 150ps 1.4-litre), with permutations of trim levels S, SE, First Edition, SE Technology and Xcellence. A 4x4 system is offered with the 2-litre diesel models.

I was in pure petrol mood at the press launch from a Manchester warehouse. The 1.4 engine, which shuts down two cylinders when coasting, impresses, as does the three-cylinder one-litre engine which has already wowed me in the Golf and would be my pick of the bunch. It is offered with all trim levels bar Xcellence. Note that the base S model is the only Ateca with 16 inch wheels and one paint choice, blue. The rest are on 17 or 18 inch rims and the ride suffers as they get bigger and the tyres get shallower.

Gearboxes are six-speed manual on all models, with a seven-speed DSG twin clutch automatic offered with the 2-litre diesels – and the only offering with the 190ps engine and 4x4 drive.

This being 2016, the Ateca comes with lots of useful stuff on the S grade and a purchase plan of £299 a month for that £17,990 entry model. However, you’ll probably swagger from the showroom having spent a few more quid a month and upgraded to at least the SE (£19,690 with my choice one-litre engine) to enjoy extras like dual zone climate, cruise control, powered folding mirrors, rear parking sensors, Bluetooth with audio streaming and various connectivity enhancements, black roof rails and the 17 inch alloys. Navigation comes with the Technology pack (from £21,580 with the 1-litre engine and £21,890 with the 1.6 diesel). All the other goodies are piled into the Excellence version (from £23,905 with the 1.4 engine). However, even with the top-price model you’ll be asked to pay £255 for a powered driver’s seat.

Thus briefed, I set off into the unknown, trusting the navigation system. The model was the 1.4 SE – £21,015 plus navigation and digital audio at £525, a powered tailgate which can be opened and closed using your foot under the bumper. Watch out: if you wave your foot carelessly when loading the tailgate can come down on you. The Nevada white metallic paint looked good and added £575.

Somewhere in Cheshire the navigation routing began to get cheeky, missing some junctions and – the final abuse – wanting to take me round the lanes for a second time. The voice said this way, the map said that way, I said no way. I pulled rank, set “home” and it still had its confused-nav.com manners, being iffy on intersections, hindered by the junction countdown ending at 0.1 miles.

Verdict: Smart value Spaniard from eastern Europe: lost in Cheshire.