What is it?
The Ateca breaks new ground for Seat, being the first SUV it's ever sold. Despite this, the Spanish marque has been careful to ensure that the Ateca is recognisably a Seat, and they've done so with success.
In the metal, Seat's SUV is arguably one of the best-looking cars in its class. Although there are elements of the Leon inside and out, the Ateca doesn't look like they’ve just photocopied the hatchback at 125% and put it on stilts.
The Ateca is based on the same MQB platform as the Volkswagen Tiguan. Where they differs is in price; Atecas cost from just under £18,000: considerably less than the VW's base price of £22,325. Even our 187bhp four-wheel-drive test car with an automatic gearbox came in at less than £30,000 before any options.
What's it like?
Despite undercutting its German half-sister, you don’t really miss out on a huge amount. Sure, you don’t get the Tiguan's sliding, reclining rear seat bench, and the front door trims aren’t as plush, but you’re still getting a very usable little SUV.
The Ateca's a Seat, so it’s not all about 'boring' practicality; there’s plenty of talk of dynamism, agility and driving pleasure in the car's press release. As with other models in the range, though, it’s not quite as thrilling in reality.
That’s not to say the Ateca handles badly - indeed, it’s one of the more enjoyable small SUVs to throw around. On the 19in wheels of our test car, corner turn-in is crisp; the precise (but somewhat lifeless) steering helps you to place the nose exactly where you want it.
The suspension is on the firmer end of the spectrum. Body roll is kept to a minimum, considering the lofty bodywork, although the penalty is some ride patter over road surfaces that don’t appear particularly rough. While we suspect a more generous tyre sidewall would help, we doubt it would fully cure the problem.
It's worth noting that this was on Seat's most sophisticated multi-link rear suspension, which is exclusive to all-wheel drive models. Opt for front-wheel drive, and you get a much more basic setup, which is unlikely to make the ride and handling any better.
Nevertheless, it’s not an uncomfortable car, especially when you consider Seat are pitched as the Volkswagen Group’s sporty Latin offshoot. Certainly, the way the Ateca deals with longer crests and compressions in the road is very effective, although the damping does seem a little bouncier than that of a Nissan Qashqai.
Should you push beyond the Ateca’s limits, you get plenty of understeer. While a lift of the throttle will tuck the nose in nicely, you won’t be getting the fifth-generation Haldex coupling to shuffle enough power rearwards to affect the handling balance greatly.
Of course, the Ateca isn’t a car designed for such driving. If you work within its limits rather than beyond them, the Ateca is satisfying to drive, yielding a pace that would leave plenty of conventional hatches eating its dust.
The 187bhp version of the familiar 2.0 TDI engine is responsible for this performance. It may start to sound a bit ragged over 3000rpm, but there’s a pleasing slug of torque beyond 1500rpm that allows you to gain speed with authority. It’s not outright fast, but it’s certainly brisk enough for any real-world situation.
But what of practicality? Like its sister, the Tiguan, the Ateca is usefully bigger inside than a Nissan Qashqai and nearly as capacious as a Kia Sportage.
Head room both in the front and rear is unlikely to be an issue, even with the panoramic sunroof of our test car. Leg room in the back is also good enough for the majority of adults to get comfortable. Having said that, the sliding rear bench of the Tiguan does mean those who are long-legged should be able to get comfier still.
The Ateca's boot space also impresses; it's even roomier than what you’d get in a Sportage, and there’s virtually no load lip. Access is made even easier by an electric tailgate which automatically opens, triggered by a twitch of your foot underneath the rear bumper.
Up front, there’s a new 8.0in infotainment touchscreen that offers a much less frustrating menu than the carousel of icons seen in other Seat systems. This new screen is responsive and packed full of smartphone functionality.
The dashboard is arguably less impressive, though. The mix of soft and hard plastics is acceptable given the low pricing, but we wish Seat had been a little more adventurous. Apart from the bigger touchscreen, it looks like it was lifted straight from the Leon, and while that wasn’t a bad-looking dashboard when it was launched, it's now in its fifth year of service.
Should I buy one?
While there are a couple of niggles, the Ateca is impressive overall. While it may be slightly less practical and offer fewer premium options than the Tiguan, the significantly cheaper purchase price and decent levels of standard equipment make this a seriously tempting proposition.
Although it isn’t an out-and-out hoot to drive, the Ateca also seems to be one of the more enjoyable small SUVs in that respect. As long as the Ateca doesn’t rattle our teeth out on shoddy UK roads, it could put Seat on to a winner.
Seat Ateca Xcellence 2.0 TDI 190 4Drive
Location Spain; On sale September; Price £29,990; Engine four-cylinder, 1968cc, diesel; Power 187bhp at 3500-4000rpm Torque 295lb ft at 1750-3250rpm Gearbox seven-speed dual-clutch automatic Kerb weight 1610kg; Top speed 132mph; 0-62mph 7.5sec; Economy 56.5mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 131g/km, 26%