Seat's third and largest SUV brings just a hint of youthful exuberance to an oh-so-practical category

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Seat is getting increasingly keen on SUVs, for the very good reason that market predictions indicate European demand for these already popular vehicles will grow by another 25% between now and 2025.

From next February, Seat will have a three-model SUV line-up when its new seven-seat flagship, the Tarraco, joins the small Seat Arona and medium-sized Seat Ateca in showrooms. The move is very likely to boost Seat's UK sales beyond their present record levels and increase the proportion of SUVs in the company’s model line-up from a quarter to a third.

The Tarraco avoids being dismissed as a piece of badge engineering because it has sporty, unique-to-Seat styling inside and out and a spec that suits the marque’s more youthful ethos

Seats attract markedly young buyers than the other Volkswagen Group brands, and the company’s marketing people are confident that the three-tier SUV range, deliberately styled with more zing than those from the other family brands, will continue to do so.

What does the Tarraco line-up look like?

The Tarraco comes in both front and four-wheel drive guises, starting at £28,320 for a 1.5 TSI 150 SE First Edition and reaching upward to around £40,000 for the top-spec 2.0 TSI 190 Xcellence. Other engine choices are 148bhp and 187bhp versions of a 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel.

Read mode: Best family SUVs

The four-wheel drive system, called 4Drive, is configurable (for use both on and off road) via a twist control on the centre console and incorporates electronic niceties such as hill descent control and roll-over protection. The basic front-wheel-drive model comes with a manual six-speed gearbox, but four-wheel-drive versions use a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox.

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There are two main trim levels, SE and Xcellence, but each is enhanced by a comprehensive array of launch editions and extra equipment packs. The bottom line is that even the most basic Tarraco is quite well equipped and the top models look very decent value against the ever-swelling pack of contenders.

How does the Tarraco perform on the road?

The Tarraco is a good-looking and imposing vehicle, 4.75m long and unashamedly linked with Volkswagen and Skoda models of the same underbits and lineage. Indeed, although the distinctive body and interior parts were designed at Seat’s Martorell headquarters, the vehicle is being built with similar models from other brands, like the Volkswagen Tiguan, by Volkswagen in Wolfsburg.

Still, the Tarraco avoids being dismissed as a piece of badge engineering because it has sporty, unique-to-Seat styling inside and out and a spec that suits the marque’s more youthful ethos. Mind you, anyone familiar with the Skoda Kodiaq won’t find the new big Seat too surprising.

Like its siblings, the Tarraco comes across as a capable family car, adequately quick and responsive with any powertrain. Its strength is accommodating people and stuff. The seats are firm but comfortable and there's an array of trim materials, from durable-looking fabrics to full-on leather.

All UK-spec models will be seven-seaters, but it’s fairer to describe the Tarraco as a five-plus-two than a true seven-seater. On the other hand, it's compact enough for a life in the suburbs – a vital point for success in this country.

Like its siblings, the Tarraco seems to shrink as you drive, a compliment to its taut and neutral-handling chassis. All versions are refined (apart from some inexplicable wind noise we noticed in two or three different examples, emanating from the door mirrors). The steering offers top class feel and the chassis’ rolling comfort is deeply impressive, even at the highest speeds. The brakes are strong and easy to modulate.

We drove three versions on test — the base model and the top petrol and diesel versions — and found, somewhat perversely, that the smoothest and quietest of them all was the front-wheel-drive 148bhp petrol model that rides on the tamest 17in alloys. However, if wheel size is a priority for you, the top Xcellence models offer wheels of up to 21in in diameter.

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How does the Tarraco compare to its rivals?

The Tarraco would be a good choice, but not necessarily a done deal. There’s very tough competition for Seat in this category, and it's a bit of a latecomer.

Our own experience with the Tarraco’s close relation at Skoda made us aware of the model’s essential appeal, and Seat adds pizzazz to that. The Barcelona-based marque is expecting strong sales from the Tarraco and shows no fear that this bigger, bulkier, more practical off-roader will dilute the character from which it benefits.

This is a very strong contender in the class and a little bit livelier than most of them.

Seat Tarraco FAQs

Is the Seat Tarraco available as a plug-in hybrid or electric?

While there’s not an all-electric version of the Seat Tarraco, a plug-in hybrid is on its way. Due to arrive in late 2021, the Tarraco e-Hybrid has been delayed until 2022. Under the skin it’s virtually identical to the PHEV powered VW Tiguan, which means the Spanish machine gets a 2.0-litre petrol and electric motor combination that delivers 242bhp and just over 30 miles of EV range. However, the need to package the 13kWh battery under the boot floor means the plug-in Seat loses its seven-seat capability.

What are the main rivals to the Seat Tarraco?

You can’t move for mid-sized SUVs on the road these days, so it's not surprising to find the Seat Tarraco has a fair few rivals. If we stick to seven-seaters, then the mechanically identical Skoda Kodiaq and VW Tiguan add a little more practicality and upmarket appeal respectively, while Kia Sorento and Hyundai Santa Fe twins are bigger still and feature more electrified powertrain options. The Land Rover Discovery Sport is pricier, but packed with premium appeal and unstoppable off-road.

How much power does the Seat Tarraco have?

If you’ve been looking at other VW Group products, then the engine line-up for the Seat Tarraco will be familiar. Entry-level models feature either a 1.5-litre petrol or a 2.0-litre diesel, both with 128bhp. The latter is also available in four-wheel drive guise with a higher 197bhp power output. The largest petrol is a 2.0-litre TSI that can be specified in either 187bhp or 242bhp guises, whie the plug-in hybrid will also have 242bhp when it arrives later in 2022.

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What choices of gearbox are there on the Seat Tarraco?

The lowest powered versions of the Seat Tarraco are fitted with a six-speed manual gearbox as standard. Featuring a light and accurate shift plus a progressive clutch action, it’s easy to use and pleasurable to use. Optional on these versions and standard on all other models is a seven-speed twin-clutch automatic that serves-up quick and seamless shifts. A similar transmission will feature on the plug-in hybrid, but it will have only six speeds.

Where is the Seat Tarraco built?

Although the Seat Tarraco was designed and developed at the brand’s headquarters in Martorell, Spain, it’s actually built in Germany at parent Group VW’s vast Wolfsburg plant. It’s assembled alongside the mechanically identical Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace. The facility is one of the biggest in the world, covering 6.5 million square metres, and it also produces its own currywurst sausage that is served in its canteens as well as local supermarkets.

How many generations of the Seat Tarraco have there been?

Seat is a relative newcomer to the SUV revolution, so the Tarraco is still in its first generation having only been launched in late 2018. It’s not due to be replaced or even facelifted in the near future, but the Seat did give its flagship SUV a minor refresh late in 2021, adding enhanced equipment and more advanced active safety aids. However, with the demise of the Seat Alhambra MPV, the Tarraco is now the firm’s only seven-seater model.

Steve Cropley

Steve Cropley Autocar
Title: Editor-in-chief

Steve Cropley is the oldest of Autocar’s editorial team, or the most experienced if you want to be polite about it. He joined over 30 years ago, and has driven many cars and interviewed many people in half a century in the business. 

Cropley, who regards himself as the magazine’s “long stop”, has seen many changes since Autocar was a print-only affair, but claims that in such a fast moving environment he has little appetite for looking back. 

He has been surprised and delighted by the generous reception afforded the My Week In Cars podcast he makes with long suffering colleague Matt Prior, and calls it the most enjoyable part of his working week.

Seat Tarraco First drives