We're driving the 148bhp 2.0-litre diesel with a manual gearbox and four-wheel drive, and it’s fair to say it’s not the smoothest engine; there's a bit of diesel thrum and some vibration through the controls. That said, this is a pre-production model, so we can cut it some slack, especially as the 187bhp diesel we also tried seemed considerably smoother.
Still, the lower-power diesel provides decent everyday pace. Even four up, it starts pulling from just below 2000rpm and carries on doing so until about 4000rpm. That said, if you’re on a real charge and need to overtake on fast country roads, you do need to rev it hard and work the gears to get it going.
Thankfully the gearbox is smooth and light, and considering this car isn’t the finished article, the rest of the control weights are impressively sorted. The brakes are strong with good pedal feel, while the steering – provided you leave in its Normal setting and avoid the overly heavy Sport mode – is progressive and direct.
In fact, Seat’s talk of sporty dynamics seems largely well founded; for an SUV, the Ateca gets around twisty Spanish roads with little fuss. Even under duress it remains well controlled and offers good grip, and it’s certainly more fun to thread along than a Qashqai.
As a consequence, it is firm riding, but on our Spanish route it always remained tolerable. In fact, the decent damping prevents unnecessary rebound, while general imperfections are absorbed without too much fuss. It’s only the occasional thud over sharper ridges and a busy secondary ride that let it down. The suspension is reasonably quiet, too, as is road noise on 18in wheels, although its door mirrors whip up plenty of wind noise at cruising speeds.
The cabin’s design will be familiar to anyone who’s sat in Seat's current Leon; that's to say, it's well finished. The Ateca's soft materials on its upper surfaces look and feel high in quality, and while the plastics get scratchier the farther down you go, it’s well up with class standards.
There’s little wrong with the driving position, either. As you’d expect, it’s suitably lofty, with lots of adjustment and all the major controls thoughtfully clustered around you. The thick and angled C-pillars block out a big chunk of rear three-quarter vision, but our car's optional park assist and birds-eye camera helped take the sting out of this.