What is it?
Considering the Nissan Qashqai is in its second generation and has sold by the bucket load, you could argue Seat’s a bit late to the SUV party. However it’s hoping to make up ground quickly; from May it will open order books on this new Seat Ateca to challenge the Qashqai, and has also confirmed a smaller Juke rival will join it next year.
The Ateca’s finer details are yet to be finalised, but here’s what we know so far: there’ll be three trims starting from £17,990 for the S, followed by SE, then a range-topping Xcellence model, which should come in at under £30,000.
Engines will include two petrols and three diesels, most with a choice of six-speed manual or optional dual-clutch automatic gearboxes, and four-wheel drive will be available on the diesels.
The Ateca is built off the ubiquitous Volkswagen Group MQB platform that also underpins the forthcoming new Tiguan, so the skeptics among you may see this as nothing but a rehash of that car. But Seat is keen to point out the Ateca has been engineered from day one as a sporty lifestyle vehicle, and has a very different character to it’s pricier VW stablemate.
It’s certainly got plenty of new kit. Options will include a traffic jam assist, which, like a Mercedes S-Class, will ease the stress of slow-moving jams by operating the accelerator, brakes and steering for you.
And if you fall asleep behind the wheel, an Emergency Assist system will attempt to rouse you with a beep, followed by a pulsing of the brakes. If that doesn’t do the job, the Ateca will take matters into its own hands and bring itself to a halt, keeping within its lane, and stick its hazards on. At this point the now irate truck driver behind might use more traditional methods to wake you from your slumber.
For the smartphone generation, MirrorLink and Apple CarPlay will be available to allow you to connect your phone if you go for the top-spec infotainment system. This will also read out new text, Twitter and Facebook messages, and let you dictate a reply if you are desperate to comment on a post. It’s even got the capability to let you set up your own screen gestures to shortcut to your most popular commands.
What's it like?
We're driving the 148bhp 2.0-litre diesel with a manual gearbox and four-wheel drive, and it’s fair to say it’s not the smoothest engine; there's a bit of diesel thrum and some vibration through the controls. That said, this is a pre-production model, so we can cut it some slack, especially as the 187bhp diesel we also tried seemed considerably smoother.
Still, the lower-power diesel provides decent everyday pace. Even four up, it starts pulling from just below 2000rpm and carries on doing so until about 4000rpm. That said, if you’re on a real charge and need to overtake on fast country roads, you do need to rev it hard and work the gears to get it going.
Thankfully the gearbox is smooth and light, and considering this car isn’t the finished article, the rest of the control weights are impressively sorted. The brakes are strong with good pedal feel, while the steering – provided you leave in its Normal setting and avoid the overly heavy Sport mode – is progressive and direct.
In fact, Seat’s talk of sporty dynamics seems largely well founded; for an SUV, the Ateca gets around twisty Spanish roads with little fuss. Even under duress it remains well controlled and offers good grip, and it’s certainly more fun to thread along than a Qashqai.
As a consequence, it is firm riding, but on our Spanish route it always remained tolerable. In fact, the decent damping prevents unnecessary rebound, while general imperfections are absorbed without too much fuss. It’s only the occasional thud over sharper ridges and a busy secondary ride that let it down. The suspension is reasonably quiet, too, as is road noise on 18in wheels, although its door mirrors whip up plenty of wind noise at cruising speeds.
The cabin’s design will be familiar to anyone who’s sat in Seat's current Leon; that's to say, it's well finished. The Ateca's soft materials on its upper surfaces look and feel high in quality, and while the plastics get scratchier the farther down you go, it’s well up with class standards.
There’s little wrong with the driving position, either. As you’d expect, it’s suitably lofty, with lots of adjustment and all the major controls thoughtfully clustered around you. The thick and angled C-pillars block out a big chunk of rear three-quarter vision, but our car's optional park assist and birds-eye camera helped take the sting out of this.
Up front, there’s room for two tall adults and the seats offer plenty of support. And it’s the same story in the back, although the rear seats don’t slide or recline like they do in the new Tiguan.
The boot isn’t as big as the Tiguan’s, either, but will still swallow a couple of medium-sized suitcases or a buggy. There’s debate about whether a twin-height boot floor will be standard, but with it fitted and in its upper setting there’s not much of a load lip, although you still get a small step with the rear seatbacks folded. The levers to drop them are conveniently located by the tailgate, which has the option of powered opening and closing, activated by a waggle of your foot under the rear bumper.
Should I buy one?
This is always a tricky one to answer when we haven’t got all the facts, but first impressions look good. It seems Seat has created a practical, sharp-looking SUV, which could well end up being one of the sharpest in its class to drive, too.
Our best advice would be to hold off making an SUV purchase if you can. This Seat Ateca could well be the one to beat when it starts arriving in showrooms in August.
Seat Ateca 2.0 TDI 150 4Drive
Location Spain; On sale August; Price From £17,990 Engine 4 cyls, 1968cc, diesel; Power 148bhp at 3500-4000rpm; Torque 251lb ft at 1750-3000rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual; Kerb weight 1548kg; Top speed 122mph; 0-62mph 8.6sec; Economy 57.6mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 128g/km, 25%