Sequestered as they are between proper SUVs and peppy hatchbacks, compact crossovers’ default dynamic characteristic is usually to be neither one thing nor the other, resulting in something that is neither desperately tall and pillowy nor precisely nimble or engaging.
That has clearly suited the target buyer, but we’ve tended toward faint praise for the segment as a whole and long bemoaned the absence of anything resembling a driver’s car.
The Ateca doesn’t entirely resolve that, but it comes closer than any before in plugging the gap between soft-roader aesthetic and handling aptitude.
Fundamentally, it makes this leap by taking a familiarly short, logical step and seeking to do nothing more than drive like a hoisted-up Leon.
The trick here is that Seat has made the frequently proclaimed intention work. Rather than adopt the slightly bigger-skin feel that VW has grafted onto the Tiguan’s platform, the smaller Ateca takes full advantage of carrying less weight on its simpler, mildly stiffer chassis.
Its positive feel is complemented by the credible heft and directness of the electric steering, in turn delivering much the same assured driving style we’ve credited to practically every MQB derivative since its introduction.
Certainly the Ateca remains a crossover – a fact obvious enough in its body movements – but there is easily enough Leon in its adroit turn-in and abundant grip to keep you interested in pushing on.
Only the sneaking suspicion that the torsion beam rear axle is striking obstacles at speed with slightly less sympathy than the multi-link set-up would gently inhibits the front-drive version’s appeal.
That’s forgivable, though, given the all-wheel-drive car’s premium, and in all honesty it barely dents the lasting impression of the first-rate compromise struck here in the cooking model.
On Millbrook’s Hill Route, the Seat was everything we have come to expect from the MQB platform: confident, astute and practically foolproof — and yet gently involving, too.
Disguising its tall-sidedness is the contemporary crossover’s trick, and the Ateca plays it well. Driving the Ateca to seven-tenths, a layman might notice little difference between it and a Leon.
Beyond that, the Ateca is undoubtedly more testing of its suspension, brakes and stability control, but it leans, stops and corners with only slightly less verve.
Switch the traction control off and the experience is little different, partly because grip is broad enough to make its breaching something of an effort with a 1.6-litre engine, and partly because the stability control is unswitchable.
Slightly less obtrusive it may be with the traction control off, but as the system is reasonably subtle when left to its own device, the requirement for disabling it is largely redundant.