Not so long ago, Seat was a fledgeling car manufacturer in Spain, a country not renowned for vehicle manufacture. Struggling along for years by making nondescript variations of previous-generation Fiats, they achieved few sales, or even interest, outside their own country. In the early 1980’s, Fiat gave up and withdrew from their relationship with Seat, leaving the door open for a takeover by the aggressively expanding Volkswagen Group.
From that point on, Seat began to develop their own models, drawing on engines and other parts from the Volkswagen stable. Export sales soon ramped up, and the company grew and prospered, although their products still tended to be seen as cheap and cheerful.
That began to change a few years ago as new and improved models were released to widespread acclaim. No longer mediocre, the latest Seat’s increasingly incorporate cutting-edge technology whilst still offering good value for money.
Indeed, Seat are presently on a roll, with an intensive new model release programme which looks likely to further cement their position as a force to be reckoned with in the global auto business.
Typical of Seat’s new model programme was the introduction of the Seat Ateca SUV in September 2016. Within a few months of its launch, the Ateca has already gained a number of industry awards, notably “Best Small SUV 2017” from both What Car and Auto Express magazines, Autobest “Best Buy Car of Europe 2017” and “Best for Modern Families” from Top Gear.
Emissions and fuel consumption are diesel-rivalling
So we were keen to find out whether the Ateca lived up to its hype, or whether reality was more mundane. Our vehicle of choice was a 1.4 litre Eco TSI 150PS petrol, 2-wheel-drive with a 6-speed manual gearbox, a model likely to be the choice of many families in these increasingly diesel-discriminatory days. Emissions and fuel consumption of this unit are diesel-rivalling, with an impressive 123g/km of CO2 and a combined fuel consumption of 52.3mpg. This uses Active Cylinder Technology (ACT) to achieve a significant reduction in fuel consumption. This system automatically shuts off two of the engine’s four cylinders (cylinders two and three) under low to mid loads – in practice between 1,400 and 4,000 rpm with torque loads between 25 and 75 Nm.
A wide range of Ateca models are available. Kick-off point for the range is S grade, with a starting price of £17,990 OTR and which offers a rich mix of features including 16-inch alloys, electric door mirror adjustment, Seat’s Media System Touch with Bluetooth, USB port, SD card slot and four-speaker audio, height-adjustable driver’s seat, split-folding rear seats, boot light, front armrest, leather steering wheel and gear knob trim, power windows, seven airbags, Tiredness Recognition system and the new Front Assist and City Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Protection.
SE grade adds 17-inch alloys, roof rails, auto folding door mirrors, LED taillights, front fog lights with a cornering function, rear reading lights, ambient cabin illumination, rear armrest, roof console with sunglasses holder, front passenger seat height adjustment, cruise control, dual-zone climate control, rear parking sensors, Seat Drive Profile with Driving Experience button and the Media System Plus, with eight-inch colour touch screen, integrated voice control and eight-speaker audio.
SE Technology models ride on 18-inch bi-colour alloys and beef up the infotainment package with the addition of navigation, using 3D mapping and a high-res colour display. There is also an additional SD card slot and the audio system provides DAB radio reception. Style touches include chrome window surrounds and aluminium-finish roof rails. At the top of the range, Xcellence grade is a no-holds-barred celebration of Seat technology and quality. It comes fitted with 18-inch Performance alloy wheels, twin chrome tailpipes, aluminium roof rails, dark-tinted rear privacy glass, full LED headlights and tail lights, welcome lights in the door mirrors, rear-view camera, LED ambient interior lighting with eight colour options, KESSY keyless entry and go, leather upholstery, black headlining, aluminium door sills, and a Connectivity Hub in the centre console, including a wireless charger. It also comes with a Convenience Pack comprising auto headlights and wipers, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and automatic coming and leaving home lighting. Customers can ramp up their car’s specification with a wide range of equipment options and accessories, including Driver Assistance and Convenience packs that bundle together different features in cost-efficient combinations.
“Our” car was a top of the range “Xcellence” model retailing at £24,440, although it must be said that the equipment levels of some of the lower specification models are almost as good and usefully cheaper. The SE Technology model, for example, still offers sat nav as standard, but saves around £1,100 by forgoing leather seats and a few other goodies.
Interestingly, whilst the Ateca may have been designed in Spain, it’s manufactured at sister company Skoda’s factory at Kvasiny in the Czech Republic alongside the forthcoming, and acclaimed Skoda Kodiaq. If the idea of buying a car made here concerns you, it shouldn’t do. Auto manufacturing is truly global these days, with cars being made far from the countries associated with their brand. The upmarket Audi Q5, for example, is made in Mexico! The Audi Q3, in contrast, hails from Seat’s plant in Martorelli, Spain.
Crisp and Teutonic styling
The styling of the Ateca is crisp, and almost Teutonic, with a pleasing absence of the sort of unnecessary curves and bulges which beset many manufacturers products in the name of styling (take a bow Toyota and Lexus!).
Whilst this clean and uncluttered styling is very typical of VW Group products, the test car came completed with extra bling in the form of the unusual and expensive (at £1,140) 19” Aneto bi-coloured wheels together with front & rear styling kits which between them cost just over a grand, and which add silver plastic faux skid plates to the nose & tail. All of which either enhances or detracts from the appearance of the car, depending on your point of view! Me? I’d save the two grand and spend it on a few well-chosen other upgrades instead………
Sharing a trend with most manufacturers, Seat strives to produce a family image or “design language”, largely by the adoption of a uniform design of radiator grille between all models. In the case of Seat, this takes the form of two stacked rectangles with their upper and lower corners pinched inwards to form trapezoids. Seat take this a stage further, by repeating that trapezoidal shape in a number of places around the car to subtly reinforce the design language. Most manufacturers who try this trick fail miserably, however, the Ateca carries the process off impeccably by ensuring that “form follows function” rather than “style over substance”. To take but one example, the door mirror glasses are trapezoidal, wider at the top than the bottom, giving the widest possible field of view whilst minimising the size of the mirror and hence the size of the resulting blind spot it creates.
A neat, if unusual touch is the “puddle light”, which incorporates an Ateca logo.
As we said at the start of this feature, the days of Seat’s being of humdrum quality are long gone. Closing the doors – after you have opened them using handles lifted directly from the benchmark Golf! – gives a reassuring “thunk” of solidity.
Golf drivers will be instantly at home
Indeed, anyone used to the premium feel of a Golf will be instantly at home inside the Ateca, for trim materials and finishes are of excellent quality, tactile soft feel material being used almost everywhere. The interior gives a fair impression of being Tardis-like, offering plenty of room for the passengers.
This is not at the expense of luggage space either, for the Ateca boot offers 510 litres of space, more than most competitors such as the Qashqai. This does reduce with four-wheel-drive of course – another reason to ask yourself whether you really need that extra complexity. The boot’s rational shape makes loading simple, measuring a maximum 1,003 mm wide and 893 mm long with the rear seats in place. When even more space is needed, the rear seats can be folded over in a moment, using levers in the luggage compartment for convenience. The load space can be made even more flexible with an optional double floor system to help organise storage – keeping muddy boots separate from other luggage, for example.
All four doors open wide, making for very easy entry and exit to all the seats. Once installed, legroom is generous as well. All this within impressively compact external dimensions – at 4363mm long it’s only just over 100mm longer than a Golf, and only 40mm wider. Interestingly, the Ateca gives the impression of being noticeably smaller than the Qashqai, yet in reality, has an almost identical footprint.
One minor irritation, though, are the cup holders, which are both non-adjustable and exceptionally deep, making it tricky to extract a small cup or bottle.
Controls and instrumentation, too, follow the Golf lead, with Seat unique touches added where appropriate. The centre touch-screen – 8” across most models – is extremely easy to use, having clearly taken advantage of the years of evolution in other VW Group models. The excellent 3D sat-nav is standard on the SE Technology and Excellence models, and is again very familiar to Golf drivers. One very useful option is the Top-Down Camera, a real aid to parking.
The instrumentation in front of the driver is again Golf – style, with a central multifunction digital information screen flanked by two large circular dials. A range of information can be called up on the central display, such as next turn indication and fuel consumption. The Ateca is not yet offered with the VW Group’s 12” digital display – doubtless held back for a future facelift.
The fuel consumption display is particularly interesting, for it contains the only outward indication of one of the 1.4 Eco TSI engines party tricks – the ability to use only two of the four cylinders at light throttle openings as an economy measure. Is this effective? Hard to know, but we found the Ateca could easily achieve an indicated and impressive 45mpg in local running. Even at motorway speeds, an indicated 43-44mpg was still achieved – definitely diesel-rivalling. We had expected the transition to 2-cylinder running to be noticeable and accompanied by some harshness, in fact, it was absolutely undetectable.
Relaxed and comfortable cruising
Indeed, one of the highlights of driving the Ateca was its smooth running. Noise levels are extremely low, with engine noise never becoming intrusive. Despite the relatively small 1.4 litre engine, performance was entirely adequate, thanks to the diesel-rivalling 250Nm of torque on tap from only 1500 rpm. Indeed, the only time the small capacity of the engine became noticeable was if the engine speed was allowed to drop below the magic 1500 rpm, below which the torque dropped off a cliff, necessitating a rapid down-shift to wake the engine up.
Talking of gear-shifts, the 6-speed gearbox was rifle-bolt slick to operate, interestingly smoother than the similar gearbox in the Golf. Usefully, a speed limiter is fitted. Not quite so usefully, however, the control for this is located on the indicator stalk, and can be tricky to operate without accidentally triggering a turn indication, much to the confusion of the following traffic.
Ride, on the 19” wheels fitted, was perhaps a little on the firm side, although still soft enough to cushion the passengers from the worst of our dreadful road surfaces very effectively. Roll, often the bugbear of similar tall SUV’s was well controlled, and overall the ride and handling package was well-judged.
Strong on Safety
Safety is not forgotten either. Radar-controlled Front Assist and City Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Protection – standard on all models – are constantly scanning the road ahead for collision risks, sounding warnings and trigger emergency braking if need be. Additional features are available on the options list, including adaptive cruise control, traffic sign recognition and lane departure warning. Also available as an option is Traffic Jam Assist – VW Groups first foray into self-driving, albeit effective only at lower speeds.
So what’s not to like about the Ateca? Frankly, not a lot: the awards and praise are well deserved for this excellent family-friendly motor, especially at a price point which undercuts most of the opposition by some margin, together with a class-leading residual value after 3 years of up to 50% according to CAP experts.
Interested? Find out more here: http://www.seat.co.uk/new-cars/new-ateca/overview.html