It seems hardly five minutes ago that the perennial Seat-related question was not a matter of shiny new product but whether the Spanish car maker could possibly hope to survive its seemingly endless non-profit status.

Last-chance survival plans and borrowing end-of-line Audi machinery have featured in the manufacturer’s recent past, as has filling its Martorell factory with Q3 production in an effort to finally make it a cost-effective operation.

Now, though, the future looks suddenly bright. The firm actually claimed a wafer-thin profit for last year, evidence that its latest business plan was on the right track – a track leading inexorably to this, the proclaimed light at the end of the tunnel: the Ateca.

It’s possible to overstate the importance of the introduction of a crossover into some manufacturers’ line-ups, but probably not in Seat’s case, where the chronic lack of anything SUV-shaped meant that the brand was virtually absent from half of the current car market.

The Ateca plugs that hole in style. Closely related to the Volkswagen Tiguan and the upcoming second-generation Skoda Yeti, this Spanish interpretation of the SUV looks mildly sensational and, with a very small petrol engine aboard, can be had for less than £18,000.

That makes it cheaper to buy than the equivalent entry-level Nissan Qashqai, the car Seat is obviously hoping to blow out the water.

While harbouring that same ambition has not resulted in a host of other manufacturers overcoming Nissan’s superstar, recent group testing has already revealed the top-spec Ateca to have all the makings of a new class leader.

Now, though, we descend into the fleet-biased nitty gritty: road testing the car not with the more powerful engine and drivetrain to which Nissan doesn’t really possess an answer, but with the far more modest front-wheel drive/small diesel combination that it most certainly does.

The mid-spec 1.6 TDI SE model we have here starts at £21,900 – practically the same money that buys you a Qashqai 1.5 dCi Acenta. Game on. 

Save money on your car insurance

Compare quotesCompare insurance quotes

First drives

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • McLaren 570S Spider
    First Drive
    25 July 2017
    McLaren has created its most attainable drop-top by removing the roof from the 570S coupé, but none of the talent has come away with it
  • 2017 Range Rover Velar
    First Drive
    23 July 2017
    The Range Rover Velar is the most road-biased car Land Rover has made. So does it still feel like a proper part of the family?
  • Seat Ibiza
    Car review
    21 July 2017
    A model upon which Seat has staked its future, the new Ibiza must now deliver
  • Honda Clarity FCV
    Car review
    21 July 2017
    Honda’s fuel cell flagship reaches its second generation, but is the world ready?
  • Nissan Qashqai 1.5 dCi 110 N-Connecta 2017 review
    First Drive
    20 July 2017
    A UK drive in Nissan’s crucial crossover shows an update has not cost it any of that which makes it sell so well