What is it?
The Cupra Ateca is the first instalment in a new line of performance derivatives from Spanish car firm Seat, all of which will be sold without Seat badges. From here on out, top-of-the-line sporting models from the VW Group’s Iberian outpost will simply be badged ‘Cupra’. As far as anyone knows, however, they will continue to be factory-tuned versions of existing Seat cars rather than entirely distinct models.
So does such a move from a southern European volume car maker sound familiar? Well, it should. Because when Fiat stopped using its Abarth nameplate like Volkswagen uses ‘GTI’ or like Honda uses ‘Type R’ and instead set it up as a brand in its own right, it tried something very similar to what Seat is trying now. The first CEO to be installed at the fully-fledged and restored Abarth company was ex-Fiat boss Luca de Meo, appointed some 11 years ago now. And yet, despite its history and having built one or two interesting performance cars since its modern renaissance, Abarth is arguably still in the process of re-establishing itself as a discrete modern car brand today.
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.