This engine feels like the perfect fit, performance wise. You can ride the swell of torque that builds from 1500rpm onwards when you wish for relaxed progress, or it’ll happily sing out to 6000rpm when you need to put on a spurt. It sounds good, too: slightly gravelly but never grumbly or coarse.
It’s only available with a six-speed manual gearbox, but unless you are absolutely wedded to the idea of an auto, you won’t mind. The shift action is slick and the clutch is light and positive; throw in the progressive brakes and there’s a welcome fluidity to it even in snarled-up traffic.
That said, in free-flowing traffic you are aware of some wind and road noise (the latter most notably on 19in wheels), but then you could say the same about any of its rivals. All in all, then, the Ateca is a pretty relaxing motorway cohort.
But why sit on the motorway when Seat has done such a fine job of making its new baby scoot through corners? It’s no hot hatch, true, but compared with the current crop of reasonably priced small SUVs, the Ateca is quite a twinkle toes. The front end will change direction with zeal, helped by the rack’s accurate gearing and intuitive build up of weight as you pile on lock. Ultimate feel through the rim, however, is not great, but then looking at the class as a whole, we weren’t really expecting it to be.
It’s not just the tidy front end that impresses, though. The spring and damper rates feel nicely honed, so instead of demonstrating the usual SUV trait of bucking like a bronco over crests and dips, the Ateca stays on a tight leash. It’s a similar theme through any roundabout or bend taken with vigour; despite its height, the Ateca doesn’t lurch like a weeping willow caught by a hefty gust.
There is, of course, payback for this: the ride is firm. With 17in wheels the Ateca deals with lighter surface undulations admirably well but, inevitably, jolts over larger, sharper-edged intrusions. However, avoid the optional 19in wheels, which really exacerbate the problem, and it’s an acceptable compromise, we think.
Inside it’s basically a Seat Leon with a better view out. It’s not the most imaginative looking piece of interior design but it is easy to use. The upper materials look and feel pleasantly squidgy; lower down that plushness gives way to harder, scratchier plastics. Still, at this price point that’s not uncommon.
Up front there’s not much to whinge about concerning the driving position. The steering wheel and seats have a big enough range of movement – including driver and passenger seat height and lumbar adjustment – to adapt to different body shapes. There’s plenty of head and leg room, too.
Rear seat passengers shouldn’t whinge, either. For two tall adults there’s ample leg room, while the head room offered is impressive - only extreme headgear extravagance of the kind seen on Lady’s Day at Ascot might show up a weakness. And you can fit three across the rear bench in reasonable comfort, providing your trio accepts some shoulder rubbing. In fact, the only real flaw is that there’s no sliding or reclining rear bench like you find in a Volkswagen Tiguan; then again, the Ateca is a much cheaper option than its VW Group stablemate.
The boot is bang on the money for the class. It’s a fraction bigger than a Qashqai’s, so you’ll have no problems throwing in a couple of large suitcases or fold-up prams, but do go for the optional dual-height boot floor, which lets you separate out delicate items and reduces the step left when you fold down the rear seats.