So, with a product strategy similar to that of Abarth’s but less history to leverage, how long will it be until we get used to the idea of dropping the ‘Seat’ bit from Seat Cupra? Someone ask Luca de Meo – who’s been president of Seat since 2015. He’s done all this before, after all – and it’ll be interesting to watch how his current employer does things differently from his old one.
Is it a smart move, for instance, to launch a performance car brand with a warmed-over version of a crossover hatchback? For marketability’s sake it might well be, even if it might have chosen differently to produce instant creditability among performance car aficionados. Crossover hatchbacks are hugely popular, after all – and the Cupra Ateca is one of the first to offer a potentially sporting driving experience packaged along with all of the familiar crossover advantages: space, convenience, and in this particular case four-wheel drive.
The car uses much the same ‘EA888’ 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine, seven-speed twin-clutch gearbox and Haldex four-wheel-drive system as the current VW Golf R; but with 296bhp on tap it’s slightly less powerful than the Golf, and being a crossover it’s got a higher centre of gravity and is carrying a hundred-and-something-kilogram relative weight penalty around with it.
Is the Cupra Ateca a true hot crossover hatch?
The Cupra Ateca’s edgy, gently pumped up, high-rising exterior and its dark, tech-laden cabin with crisp digital instruments certainly have their appeal. They reminded this tester of the unsatisfied ache I had, as a kid, for a Raleigh Vektar ‘computer bmx’ bike. You remember the one: big plastic five-spoke wheels, oversized mudguards, and an angular computer console stuck to the crossbar that was big enough that Data from The Goonies might have approved of it. The Vektar had a speedometer. It made bleepy, blurpy, whooshy noises when you pressed a button on the handlebar. You could get one in red and white or super-cool jet black. Oh lord, off I go again...
Anyway, the point is this Cupra Ateca isn’t the dog’s dinner to look at that you might imagine a jacked-up, slammed down crossover would be. The car’s 19in rims fill the car’s arches quite nicely, and the performance styling is handled just right: dialed up far enough to notice it, but not overcooked.
The interior has all of the qualities that make the regular Ateca an effective crossover hatchback. The seats come at you at a convenient height, and all four of them are roomy enough even for full-sized adults. Because this is a four-wheel-drive Ateca it has a slightly shallower boot than some of its siblings, but one that’s still a good size at 485 litres. It’s a very usable family car.
Up front you get a reasonable selection of richer materials than you might otherwise: part-leather sports seats, Alcantara on the doors, textured mouldings and leather on the steering wheel. But if Seat was aiming for an air of sophistication as well as for performance kudos here, it’s not quite achieved everything it hoped for. There remains a few too many plainer-looking and feeling mouldings around the Ateca’s cabin to make it feel particularly expensive, while Seat’s choice to default to high-gloss black and chrome for decoration is a bit unimaginative. The cabin certainly feels technologically ritzy, though: the digital instrument display, with its wide choice of modes, sees to that.
You get six drive modes to choose between after you’ve thumbed the car’s starter button and begun wondering why those quad pipes you saw a moment ago aren’t quite bellowing like quad pipes usually do. In most of the Cupra Ateca’s drive modes, the car makes a fairly reserved amount of noise, and is likely to leave keener drivers wanting for a bit more vocal presence even in its ‘Sport’ and ‘Cupra’ settings. That’s Seat’s chosen ‘performance meets sophistication’ positioning at play again. Enticing, but not yobby or anti-social, is evidently what they’re aiming for. Fair enough.