There’s certainly plenty here to tempt buyers away from the established class leaders.
You wouldn’t expect a compact Crossover of this kind to be very good to drive, but as you’ll discover when you hit a few twisty roads in this Ateca, a pleasant surprise is in store with this one. Drive at seven or eight tenths and there’s pretty much no difference between the dynamic responses you get from this SEAT and those of the Leon hatchback it’s based upon. Only when you really push on do you realise the limitations of this model’s high stance and the relatively basic torsion beam suspension system that comes fitted to most models. Ultimately, it’s all proof that lighter weight, a simpler stiffer chassis and feelsome electric power steering can be enough, in the hands of the right engineers, to create a confident and engaging package. The engines help too, the mainstream range built around 1. 0-litre and 1. 4-litre TSI petrol units and 1. 6 and 2. 0-litre TDI diesels. All are pretty frugal, with the 1. 6-litre TDI capable of 65. 7mpg on the combined cycle and 113g/km.
You’ll need a 2. 0-litre powerplant if you want the option of ‘4Drive’ 4x4 traction, a ‘on-demand’ Haldex system that brings the rear wheels into play if a lack of traction demands it. All well and good but you don’t buy a compact Crossover for its off road prowess. In fact, until this Ateca came along, you wouldn’t have brought one for its on-road prowess either. This SEAT changes things in that regard, with a degree of driver involvement you can control via the ‘Drive Profile’ vehicle dynamics system that comes fitted to most variants and can alter steering and throttle feel to suit the way you want to drive.
The Head of SEAT Design, Alejandro Mesonero-Romanos, says that this Ateca ‘is a car that could only have been created in Barcelona’. Well perhaps, but what’s important is that SEAT’s first ever SUV is a decently good looking thing, confident in proportions that, almost down to the millimetre, replicate those of this model’s arch-rival, Nissan’s Qashqai: that surely can’t be a coincidence. The way the whole thing’s packaged though, is of course quite different, especially here at the front where a large, high-set grille, sharply-defined lights and substantial air intakes nicely set off the broad, muscular stance.
Time to take a seat inside where it’s, well, basically a SEAT Leon with a better view out. It would have been nice perhaps, if the Spaniards had been able to give this cabin more of a unique and more fashionable feel, in the way that some rivals do. With a base-spec trim level, it can all seem rather plain in here. But that said, there’s not a lot wrong with the Leon layout and you’ll certainly enjoy the better all-round visibility that comes with this Ateca’s slightly higher perch. Time to take a seat in the rear. The rear doors are a good size and open wide enough to make access easy. Once inside, you’ll find another thing that might sell you this car over a competing Nissan Qashqai – slightly better standards of rear seat room. In truth, there isn’t really any more space here than you’d get in SEAT’s Leon hatch, but the high roofline certainly makes it feel more spacious and the way it’s all been packaged gives the impression that you could take three adults here if need be, something that would be quite a squash in that rival Nissan.
Out back, there’s a decently-sized 510-litre boot that’s a full 80-litres bigger than that of the rival Qashqai and can be extended to as much as 1,604-litres if you push forward these split-folding rear seatbacks.
More perhaps than any other model SEAT makes, this one actually delivers on its brand promises of a more interesting and involving drive. Plus it’ll help enormously that this car is also well priced, good looking and, for the most part, pretty well equipped. In short, there’s plenty to like here. It may have had a bit of a siesta before joining the class, but this SEAT has proved to be more than worth the wait.