In gear, the Qashqai’s lower kerb weight, slightly shorter gearing and negligible torque deficiency (producing just 15lb ft less than the Seat), does eventually pay dividends. The Qashqai proved just as prompt as the more powerful Ateca from 30-50mph in third, and from 50mph to 70mph in fifth, it was a full second quicker. This oil-burning tractability never evolves beyond the competently brisk, but is nevertheless key to the Nissan’s broader appeal as it underwrites the car’s innocuous ability to press on.
This it will do blithely and without complaint; its respectable balance, obliging stability and cordially progressive steering are all part of the reason why so many buyers found the switch from a family hatchback seamless. The Qashqai’s admirable lack of awkwardness and its amiable management of a high roll axis remain at the core of its appeal, as does the generally tolerant ride quality that keeps the suspension from seeming unduly loaded up during cornering, while feeling benignly permissive everywhere else.
This unflappable, unfussy character (Mr Normal, we’ve called it before) has provided the mainstream crossover benchmark for at least a life cycle, which makes the Ateca’s romp away from it on a B-road all the more compelling. Transferring the mild sportiness of a higher spec Leon ought to have been a dynamic hurdle for Seat; potentially resulting in a car no more glumly likeable than the Audi Q3.
But it hasn’t. Instead, on 19in wheels and a passive suspension that includes the more sophisticated multi-link rear axle that comes with all-wheel-drive, the Ateca’s compromise seems expertly struck; delivering not only a more incisive experience, but a better all-round one as well. Predictably, the car is more firmly sprung than the lighter, lazier Qashqai - yet as it’s more consistently damped too, on surfaces where its rival fidgets pensively on how best to settle, the Seat resolves on its happy medium almost immediately.
When the obstacles get larger (or deeper) the Nissan’s seemingly longer spring travel and higher profile tyres do provide a more forgiving attitude to impact, but the Ateca is so astutely poised that the sensation of it being that little bit more pinched barely registers; this is helped no end by the fact that the roving function of its running gear is considerably quieter.
When the road really does open out, the Seat’s advantage is unequivocal. It is palpably quicker, quicker to steer, endowed with more grip and, at higher speeds, marshals its high-sided lean far more ruthlessly. The result, aside from being pleasing in the fastidious way common to most MQB models, is a far speedier, flatter turn-in, followed by the satisfaction of knowing that a very enthusiastic exit isn’t going to have the stability control checking the rotation of an unloaded inside wheel as it occasionally does in the Qashqai.
While its knack for ride and handling is redolent of the physics-defying trade-off that’s been achieved by far more expensive SUVs in the last 10 years (a substantial compliment in its own right) the Ateca’s broader supremacy actually brings to mind the impact on the city car class made by the Volkswagen Up in 2011. Ultimately, the Seat’s superiority is not rendered in originality, scale, price or even running costs (unlike the Qashqai, there is no sub 100g/km option).
Instead, like the Up, it is in the acutely well-reasoned and persuasive improvement on what you feel under your fingertips, what you see and what you hear and, ultimately, how fulfilling it is to sit in and steer. In all, the Seat is a measurable enhancement of the Qashqai’s basic good sense recipe – no less obviously a white bread solution to family necessity, yet one clearly better stocked with Omega 3, wheatgerm, fibre, vitamins and every other additive essential to establishing class-apart desirability. Overcoming the Qashqai’s market share will be tough, but Seat has given the Ateca the best possible start in life.