Seat scores a hit with the Ateca, but its aim was low

Likeable, roomy Ateca will be a boon to Seat sales, but it’s very much a me-too SUV

Make: Seat

Model: Ateca

Year: 2016

Fuel: Petrol

Date Reviewed: June 27, 2016

Mon, Jun 27, 2016, 12:07

   

Aim for the stars, a teacher of mine once told me, and you might only get as far as the pavement, but at least you’ll be out of the gutter. A garbling of Wilde it may have been, but the quote does reveal something of human nature. Star-gazing might give us the dreams and ambitions of lofty goals, but perhaps we’d be better off setting our sights lower and being happy when we hit the easier target.

That perhaps was Seat’s dilemma when creating the new Ateca crossover. It’s a car for which Seat as a brand and its dealer in particular have been crying out for some time. As the rest of the world has jumped aboard the SUV bandwagon, Seat has been left behind, reliant on hatchback sales from its Ibiza and Leon models and snagging families with its large Alhambra people carrier. The problem is, families want SUVs these days.

Well, now Seat can give them one. The Ateca is a little smaller than the Volkswagen Tiguan with which it shares much of its mechanical package, and a lot smaller than Skoda’s upcoming seven-seat Kodiaq, but it seems to hit the SUV target right in the centre ring. It’s roomy but relatively compact on the outside (just 4.3-metres long in fact, shorter than the Leon ST estate), light for a car of its size and space (there’s a massive 510-litre boot for front-wheel drive versions) and with a sharp, generally handsome mien about it. It is a touch derivative though. While the nose of the car, with its upswept under panels pretending to protect it from off-road bashes, looks smart, not least thanks to those glowering headlights with the LED daytime running accents, the rest of Ateca is a bit predictable. In fact, from the side, I’m not sure I could reliably pick it out from a Nissan Qashqai at twenty paces.

Predictability

That predictability continues inside, where the cabin looks and feels much as does that of the Leon. That is both compliment and demerit - the ergonomics of the control layout are close to faultless, the seats are comfortable, the space is good and the quality of most of the materials used is simply excellent. It’s just that it lacks a bravura touch, a sense of Seat stamping its personality on the car. It essentially looks and feels like what it is - a collection of carefully assembled VW Group parts bin components with which it’s hard to find fault, but equally hard to become excited about.

That said, Seat is loading the Ateca up with high-end options in an attempt to entice buyers looking for some gadgets that might make their daily lives a little easier. The 360-degree parking camera system is especially impressive, with hi-def displays so good that we were able to navigate a course of cones in an Ateca with blacked-out windows in the manner of a pilot flying blind on instruments. Nary a cone was disturbed, although we wouldn’t recommend trying that one at home…

Other toys include a keyless entry and ignition system that pops the locks as your hand approaches the door handle, an optional four-wheel drive system that really will allow the Ateca to do a modicum of off-road scrambling, a powered tailgate with a hands-free kick-switch under the back bumper and a switch which when twisted toggles the car between Sport, Normal and other modes (none of which make much of a difference to the way it drives to be honest).

Smooth handling

That driving experience is again difficult to fault, but equally hard to get worked up about. The Ateca handles smoothly even when chucked about on a demanding mountain road, tracking securely where you point it (although the lightly-weighted power steering lacks the feel and feedback of the Leon’s setup) and riding with commendable smoothness unless you spec it up with larger optional alloy wheels. Even then, it’s fine, just a touch stiffer. There’s little here for the enthusiastic driver (again, something of a disappointment given Seat’s hot-blooded Latin roots) but perhaps that may be improved when we get the sportier FR model in a while.

Currently the top-spec Ateca is the four-wheel drive X-Perience model with a 190hp 2.0-litre TDI engine, DSG automatic gearbox and extra body kit and those big alloys. This is definitely the best looking Ateca, thanks to some well-judged bodykit and splashes of chrome, and it’s more than good to drive, but it’s €38,220 in this form. Thankfully there is a cheaper version if you forego the bigger engine, the DSG (which is starting to lose its edge against some of the better traditional automatic gearboxes) and the four-wheel drive.

Seat turnaround

Seat Ireland reckons that the best seller will, somewhat unsurprisingly, be the 1.6 TDI diesel, with front-wheel-drive and most likely in mid-ranking SE trim, which will retail for €28,150. The tempting entry price of €24,750 is for a 115hp 1.0-litre turbo petrol engine, which Seat reckons few Irish buyers will go for, but it’s well worth checking out the 1.4 TSI turbo petrol, which we tested in €27,920 SE form. That engine, with a six-speed manual gearbox, is refined, has punchy performance and decent 40mpg economy and is in an impressive Band B1 for emissions. The 2.0-litre diesel has something of a gruff engine note at times, but it’s worth pointing out that the Ateca is the best Seat of recent years from the point of view of overall refinement.

What it’s not is daring, nor game-changing. Perhaps that’s understandable. Although Seat has emerged from crisis mode, it may be that a conventional, conservative care designed to appeal to many while upsetting none was the best course of action. Indeed, in Ireland, where Seat has performed a remarkable turnaround in the last year, almost erasing a seven-figure loss in 2015, perhaps a simple, broad appeal SUV is precisely what the sales doctor ordered, and it should help Seat achieve its ambitions of ‘organic’ sales growth to around 3.5 to four per cent of the market, as compared to just under three per cent now.

Bereft of any Latin excitement, I suspect that the Ateca will prove very pleasing to value-conscious family SUV buyers, who’ll appreciate its space, comfort and likely reliability (Seat has an excellent track record in that regard) and who won’t be even slightly bothered by such concerns as whether or not its a radical or inventive car.

The lowdown: Seat Ateca 1.4 TSI 150hp SE.

Price: €27,920 as tested, range starts at €24,750.

Power: 150hp.

Torque: 250Nm.

0-100kmh: 8.5sec.

Top speed: 201kmh.

Claimed economy: 5.3-litres per 100km (53mpg).

CO2 emissions: 124g/km.

Motor tax: €270.

Verdict: Although potentially a game-changer for Seat it’s not going to make many waves in the SUV market. A solid, sensible and likeable car though.

Our rating: 3/5