SPANISH sunshine and sexy styling have given SEAT’s cars an image that’s secured the brand an identity as the bright young thing of the Volkswagen empire.
The sharp supermini Ibiza and lean machine Leon have been the models taking the lion’s share of sales for a company that’s been primarily considered to be a two-model army.
But things are changing. A whopping 3.3 billion euros is being invested in SEAT until 2019 in a product offensive that will see three new vehicles launched next year alone.
First though is the brand’s first ever SUV, a car being dubbed one of SEAT’s most crucial ever – the Ateca compact crossover.
Popular established models like the Ford Kuga, Kia Sportage, Renault Captur and, principally, the Nissan Qashqai are seen as the Ateca’s main rivals and at around entry grade it undercuts the lot of them in price.
Like most SEAT vehicles the Ateca is derived from Spanish geography – in this case a village to the west of Zaragoza – but is actually built at sister brand Skoda’s factory in the Czech Republic.
It’s design is predictably slick – low-slung with a swept back profile – so on looks it’s a match for anything out there on the SUV scene.
And of course its natural habitat is going to be more urban jungle than rural woodland, which sparked SEAT to opt for a combination of city streets, suburban avenues and arterial roads around Manchester for the Ateca’s press exercise.
On sale this week and costing from £17,990, the car comes with a choice of five engines from launch and the same number of trim grades. Both six-speed manual and seven-speed DSG twin clutch auto transmissions are also up for grabs.
The turbocharged TSI petrol and TDI diesel engines span a power band from 115PS to 190PS, with either front-wheel or all-wheel-drive, so there’s something for just about everyone.
Diesels start with the 1.6 TDI 115PS while the 2.0 TDI is available with 150 and 190PS and fuel consumption figures range from an official 56 to 66mpg. CO2 figures are from 112 to 131g/km.
The entry level petrol engine is the 1.0 TSI with 115PS, the 1.4 TSI comes with cylinder deactivation under partial load and produces 150PS. Consumption and emissions figures for these units are between 46 and 53mpg and CO2 from 112 to 131g/km.
Step inside the Ateca and you find a cabin that’s simply laid out and spacious, with room for three across the back. Boot capacity is also half decent, with a double floor plus pocket at each corner.
The lower end models feel very much like the Leon – functional if a bit drab – while the more expensive Xcellence variants head more upmarket towards Audi.
Technology options extend from full-LED headlights to assistance systems like Traffic Jam Assist and Emergency Assist, plus infotainment set-ups with eight-inch touchscreens and Full Link connectivity.
There are also puddle lights which illuminate the area below the doors, projecting the Ateca’s name onto the ground.
An 80-mile test route through an industrial hinterland and into the Cheshire countryside brought out the best in the entry level 1.0 TSI Ecomotive 115PS petrol version.
It was enjoyable and well balanced to drive, at no point felt underpowered and had plenty of feedback from the steering. And our Combined fuel return of 49mpg wasn’t far off the official 54.3 figure.
At the opposite end of the price scale at £29,990 the 2.0 TDI diesel with 4Drive all-wheel drive DSG auto in Xcellence trim proved an extremely accomplished SUV.
As with every model, once the driver is in the car a ring of light surrounding the start button pulsates like a heartbeat, Jaguar-style, indicating the Ateca is good to go.
There’s also SEAT Drive Profile for adapting the car to the current driving situation, road conditions and personal tastes.
A rear view camera, aluminium kickplates and leather upholstery add to the driving experience of a variant that clearly carries more power and torque but at an average 40.8mpg it was some way short of the claimed 53.3 return.
That said, the Ateca is a car that both looks and feels like a high quality product – one that’s sure to entice its share of customers.