In typically Spanish manner, SEAT’s first toe-dip into the teeming waters of the compact SUV segment is more like a stomp, the sizeable lettering on the car’s ‘trasero’ leaving onlookers with no uncertainty that Ateca has just entered the room. In entry-level ‘S’ and even ‘SE’ trim, fewer heads turn, but in range-topping Xcellence guise as tested, the Czech-built Ateca holds its head high with a resolutely exuberant and confident entrance.
Looking attractive from all angles with Leon-inspired styling, chiselled panels, sharp creases and bold lines, the Ateca radiates muscularity and its triangular light signatures are arrestingly distinctive. In a category overflowing with choice, Spain’s competitively-priced SUV debutant stands proud in Xcellence trim complete with aluminium roof rails, chrome window surrounds, 19” exclusive machined alloys and impressive Ateca-branded puddle-lights that may indeed be superfluous but ooze appeal. Just as trim selection matters, colour choice is also important, white suiting the Ateca well and accentuating its detailing, while grey and silver could be said to work less effectively. Its VAG roots are obvious with a rear closely resembling a shrunken Kodiaq or morphed A4 Avant, but Spain has certainly injected the party with flair and youthfulness, which is what the SEAT brand is all about.
In the ‘small’ SUV class, the Ateca is a hair’s breadth taller than the industry’s darling Qashqai and a cigarette packet’s width lower than its VAG sibling, the Tiguan, the Spaniard offering a generally raised-up seating position without making access uncomfortable for less agile drivers. It’s a pleasant middle-ground between conventional hatchbacks and other taller cars from the likes of the X-Trail and Ford Kuga to a handful of lofty MPVs. Compared to the other partygoers, some of whom have been there for a considerable time, the SEAT has nothing to worry about and garners double-takes from plenty of admirers who can’t help running their eyes up and down it.
Inside, the Ateca is superbly comfortable over long journeys and Xcellence trim’s leather sports seats unusually blend side-hugging support with a welcome posterior sponginess. Compared to the platform-sharing Tiguan, the SEAT’s cabin isn’t quite as upmarket in the nooks and crannies where harsher plastics are discoverable, aligning it with Korean rivals to a certain extent, but the Ateca’s primary touch-points, surfaces and controls feel solid and possess a relatively positive sense of perceived quality. Its centre stack, for example, may well appear quite square and perfunctory, devoid of the abundant flair and curvaceousness of Peugeot’s 3008 for example, but everything is ergonomically intuitive and the incorporation of Audi’s light-indicated fuel gauge is cockle-warming.
Xcellence-spec’ Atecas come with an abundance of toys, safety features and creature comforts. The 8-inch Media System Plus colour touchscreen is unsurprisingly home to a plethora of technology from the easy-to-use sat nav system and the DAB radio that sounds absolutely marvellous through the package’s ‘SEAT Sound’ 8-speaker setup, to voice control that worked faultlessly, full smartphone integration courtesy of Full Link, and handy wireless phone charging thanks to the optional Connectivity Hub. With two USB ports, Aux-in and an SD card slot, today’s connected drivers and passengers won’t be left fretting.
Space for averagely-proportioned rear passengers is more than ample with no grumbles and zero contortion required, but the transmission tunnel makes it more ideal for four rather than five, particularly on longer journeys. Storage is somewhat poor, though, with a small centre console between the front seats, door bins of only moderate size and a far from cavernous glovebox. The incorporate of proper pockets on the seat-backs certainly beats the nets commonly found in many other cars these days, though.
Boot space in a front-wheel drive Ateca as tested is a healthy 510 litres with the rear seats in use, expanding to 1,604 litres when they’re folded flat, which is a doddle thanks to the handy levers provided. This trumps Nissan’s recently-facelifted Qashqai, which offers 430 litres as standard, although the Brit’s expanded capacity of 1,598 litres is admittedly only a smidgen less than the Spaniard’s. All the talk in other media about its VAG sibling, the new VW Tiguan, offering a relatively eyebrow-raising 615 litres of standard boot space is a trifle misleading, as the German actually provides 520 litres unless the rear seats are slid forwards on rails by 170mm to attain the aforementioned maximum figure, which inevitably renders the rear seats somewhat useless except for stick insects. The Ateca’s total boot capacity of 510 litres includes the space in the spare wheel cavity alongside the tyre inflator and ‘gunk’ kit provided in lieu of an actual wheel. The optional ‘double’ or variable-height boot floor allows different configurations to be arranged, which is practical in some ways but does result in lighter or smaller oddments annoyingly rolling around under the faux floor. Xcellence trim means an electrically-operated tailgate, which is welcome for parents and anyone carrying shopping or larger loads, and the back seats flop reasonably flat although a slight lip is created that somewhat impedes long and heavy objects like grandfather clocks or IKEA wardrobes.
Safety is another facet increasingly factoring in families’ and company car fleets’ vehicle purchasing or leasing decisions and the test car was fitted with ‘Driving Assist Pack 2’, providing high beam assist, lane assist, traffic sign recognition which incidentally often declared that it wasn’t functioning, rain-sensitive wipers, light-sensitive headlights and an anti-glare rear view mirror. Of greater interest is that all variants of the Ateca are fitted with hill hold control and tiredness recognition along with highly-regarded safety advancements in the forms of front assist, city emergency braking and pedestrian protection, one of which was impressively demonstrated when a tractor nonchalantly sauntered onto a fast rural A-road near a blind bend.
SEAT’s Ateca has entered the party styled attractively and has also demonstrated its practicality credentials while giving off the vibe that it’s a safe pair of hands, but these characteristics aren’t enough to stand out and get cemented into people’s minds in such a burgeoning sector. Has the Spaniard got what it takes in the F-word department – fun?
In short, yes, it most certainly has. The Ateca may be late to the party but it has burst in showing that it clearly knows how to have a good time, its talk backed up by plenty of ability when it comes to the walk. Shod with those gorgeous 19-inch alloys the ride is unarguably on the firm side but reassuringly rather than miserably so, only a muffled thud manifesting when driving through potholes and the like, with barely any discomfort felt in the cabin – unlike the Audi Q2 S-line, for instance. A core strand in SEAT’s brand DNA is driving pleasure and, somewhat unusually for a family SUV, the Ateca delivers it by the bucket load. With its chassis finely tuned and its suspension tweaked, this compact SUV can be driven with real confidence and aplomb, coming alive on twisty rural roads, responding sharply to steering input and cornering with real agility that belies its tallish height. The combination of engaging handling, an elevated ride and relatively compact dimensions warrants a smile on each journey and leaves the party’s other guests wishing they could perform this well in the dynamics stakes.
Diesel is subject to a lot of bad press at the moment but the general rule of thumb is that the latest breed of modern Euro6 engines that drink from the black pump are still generally cleaner and more economical than petrol equivalents. SEAT nevertheless expects the best-selling Ateca to be the 1.4 EcoTSI 150 TSI in Xcellence trim with shifting taken care of by a DSG ‘automatic’ gearbox, generally known for its smoothness. A week testing this exact specification demonstrated that it’s a combination that works extremely well, the petrol engine behaving very quietly indeed with enough power on tap for the average motorist. Driving in Eco mode unsurprisingly accentuates an element of lag but it’s easy to get used to and delivered average fuel consumption of 41.1mpg after 370 miles of mixed driving, which might sound poor compared to the published figure of 51.4mpg, but it’s common knowledge that ‘on paper’ numbers are tricky to match, and few rivals’ petrol SUVs are capable of better.
Flappy paddles are provided for those who wish to change gear manually, and the SEAT Drive Profile blancmange can be rotated to Normal or Sport settings when the mood dictates. CO2 emissions of 125g/km may deter some fleet managers from shortlisting the Ateca for their company car drivers, but with petrol still cheaper at the pump and servicing costs typically proving lower than for diesel variants, the 1.4 EcoTSI 150 DSG could well make sense for employees who don’t live a million miles from the office or cover long distances as part of their roles.
Granted, the Spaniard can’t compete on price with the sadly unloved British MG GS slouched in the corner, but from £26,680 in Xcellence 1.4 DSG guise it’s more affordable than the equivalent Qashqai Tekna+, Kadjar Signature S Nav and Sportage ‘GT-Line S’, for example.
SEAT’s Ateca has livened up the party with a real sense of flair and fun making all the other partygoers sit up and take notice, its Xcellence styling looking somewhat familiar but nevertheless alluring, real-world streetwise experience demonstrated by its impressively equipped interior and excellent safety credentials, and its fun-loving Hispanic roots immediately evident to anyone who takes it for a dance.