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

  • Genesis G70
    First Drive
    22 September 2017
    Based on the Kia Stinger, Genesis' new G70 saloon shows plenty of promising signs that it could be a hit in Europe
  • Lamborghini Aventador S
    First Drive
    22 September 2017
    Still visceral and dramatic as ever, but does the vast number of mechanical changes and tweaks help make the Lamborghini Aventador S more engaging?
  • Renault Koleos
    Car review
    22 September 2017
    Renault’s new crossover sees the Koleos name return, attached to an SUV of a quite different stripe
  • Nissan X-Trail
    First Drive
    21 September 2017
    On our first chance to get the facelifted Nissan X-Trail on UK roads, the petrol proves a viable alternative, although for outright pulling power the 2.0 dCi is the better bet
  • Alfa Romeo Stelvio 2.2d 210
    First Drive
    21 September 2017
    Most powerful diesel version of the Alfa Romeo Stelvio is swift and more frugal than its closest rivals, but makes less sense than the range-topping petrol version