Have SEAT found cash in the Ateca?

Launched last year, SEAT’s Ateca is the Martorell-based company’s first compact crossover. Is it any good? We round up what the driving pundits are saying.

SEAT Ateca
SEAT Ateca – © SEAT

In 2016, the Volkswagen group surpassed Toyota as the world’s most popular car manufacturer. Sales within SEAT, the group’s Spanish arm, have risen 27.8% in the last four years. Yet the company have struggled with profitability. As VW group specialists, we wanted to know if the Ateca is likely to be a big hit for the company.

There’s no doubt that the Ateca is a bold move for SEAT: the Spanish company have thrown their hat into the ring against some accomplished rivals. These include the popular Kia Sportage and their own stablemate, the VW Tiguan. Some suggest that SEAT is ambitiously targeting the mighty Nissan Qashqai.

Yet SEAT had nothing in its line-up approaching an SUV. Could it overcome this chronic lack of experience and produce a worthy contender? The short answer seems to be ‘yes’. Let’s look at what the motoring opinion-makers are saying about the Ateca in three key areas.

Styling

The Ateca has been widely praised for its looks. The Ateca shares some styling elements with the latest SEAT Leon, and that’s all to the good. The result is a sharp, sporty, modern look that makes many of its SUV rivals feel a wee bit stuffy. Autotrader sums it up nicely:

[The Ateca] jumps out of the blocks with a design that is vibrant, contemporary and full of angles. Triangular daytime-running LED headlights, a honeycomb grille design, sporty body kit and satin chrome highlights all contribute to the Ateca’s classy sophistication.

Inside, things are more business-like, but there’s the reassuring solidity and logical layout that comes with any VW group car.

Driving

Again, the consensus is that SEAT has scored a hit, particularly with regard to handling. For example, What Car? comment that, although no Ford Focus, “the Ateca is one of the best handling small SUVs on the market…It’s well ahead of rivals such as the Nissan Qashqai.” Top Gear concur, concluding that, “handling is around the top of the class”, with other pundits praising the Ateca’s steering feel.

With such great handling, the ride is a little harsher than the stodgier rivals like the Renault Kadjar, but that may be a small price to pay for driving pleasure.

There’s less agreement on the performance, at least with the smaller engine models. Whereas The Telegraph considers even the 1.0 litre engine to be “really responsive” and providing a “charming soundtrack,” Top Gear beg to differ. They consider that the  1.0 engine struggles in an SUV, and suggest the 1.4 litre engine is a much better option.

Costs

All variations of the Ateca are impressively frugal. If your focus is running costs, the pick of the range is the 1.6 litre diesel, which returns a claimed 65.7 mpg. However, the 2 litre variant runs a close second at 64.2 mpg, and even the petrol versions will top 50 mpg (54.3 mpg in the 1.0 litre version, 52.3 mpg in the 1.4 litre turbo).

However, it’s the sale price of the Ateca that has been raising eyebrows. List price for the entry-level 1 litre TSI Ecomotive is £17,935. That’s cheaper than the equivalent Qashqai – and cheaper even than the acknowledged budget SUVs. Granted, the equipment may be a tad limited on the cheapest models, but when you factor in the style, fun and practicality, the Ateca looks like a real bargain.

Verdict

All of the critics we reviewed concluded that the Ateca was a great car. What Car? were the most effusive, awarding it their Car of the Year award in the small SUV category:

We’re used to seeing the Nissan Qashqai on this page, and it’s taken an extremely well rounded small SUV to knock Nissan’s former Car of the Year off its perch.

Auto Express also considered it prize-winning, awarding it ‘Best Crossover’ in their 2016 New Cars Awards. The Telegraph saw it as a car that appealed to the heart “with great looks and a delightful driving experience” and to the head, “thanks to its excellent value, superb safety record and impressive fuel economy.” Auto Trader considers the Alteca, “as good as it gets for the class”, and Autocar concluded that it had gone “straight to our shortlist of family car favourites.”

We’ll leave the most succinct summing-up to the Top Gear team:

SEAT’s first crossover is a crucial car for the company. Luckily, it’s a good ‘un

After our previous blog post about cars we see in our nightmares, it’s great to get back to a success story. The Ateca looks set to shake up the SUV market and help SEAT continue their upward trend.

With thanks to our sources: