First UK drive of racy 148bhp ver­sion of one of our favourite SUVS.

Auto Express - - Contents - Richard In­gram Richard_in­gram@den­ @rsp_in­gram

Span­ish SUV is pepped up with a dose of racy at­ti­tude

LAST month (Is­sue 1,486) Auto Ex­press re­ported on de­tails of SEAT’S new high­per­for­mance Cupra sub-brand. Among the ru­moured new models will be a 300bhp Ateca Cupra, com­plete with low­ered sus­pen­sion and four-wheel drive.

Un­til that car ar­rives, how­ever, SEAT bosses have plugged the gap with a sporty­look­ing FR trim – of­fer­ing more ag­gres­sive body styling, low­ered sus­pen­sion and colour-coded cladding. But is this ver­sion wor­thy of its hiked price? We’ve driven it in the UK for the first time to find out.

Slot­ting into the range just be­low the plush Xcel­lence flag­ship, the FR com­mands a pre­mium of around £1,000 over the equiv­a­lent SE Tech­nol­ogy model. It’s avail­able with 1.4 or 2.0-litre turbo petrol en­gines, as well as a pair of 2.0 TDIS.

The FR gets stiffer springs and a 15mm drop in ride height com­pared with the stan­dard Ateca. That makes it marginally firmer over rough sur­faces and a lit­tle more fid­gety on all but pan-smooth tar­mac. A Peu­geot 3008 is more com­fort­able – even in Gt-line spec. The thing is, the Ateca was a fine-han­dling car to be­gin with, and the FR tweaks do lit­tle to im­prove the way it drives.

The FR steers as sweetly as al­ways, with very lit­tle body roll and plenty of grip. The nor­mal car’s al­ready-stiff struc­ture makes it fun to drive, while the sup­port­ive seats hold you in place on twistier roads. Thank­fully, our test model was on the stan­dard 18-inch wheels, rather than the op­tional 19-inch­ers, re­sult­ing in a rel­a­tively quiet ride. We’ve yet to try the big­ger rims, but ex­pect they may have an ad­verse ef­fect on re­fine­ment.

SEAT has also given the FR ad­justable drive modes, al­though adap­tive dampers aren’t part of the pack­age. In Sport mode, the Ateca ben­e­fits from weight­ier steer­ing and a more re­spon­sive throt­tle, while cars fit­ted with the DSG auto get a re­vised shift pat­tern. The changes are slight, but Nor­mal mode of­fers the best over­all com­pro­mise.

Our car came with the tried-and-tested 148bhp 1.4 TSI, linked to SEAT’S ex­cel­lent six-speed man­ual gear­box. The set-up is as quiet here as it is in any of the Volk­swa­gen Group’s models, tick­ing along with­out so much as a mur­mur at idle. It’s not the most tune­ful en­gine as you rev it out, but it packs plenty of punch – and de­spite its mod­est torque fig­ure, it will breeze past slow­er­mov­ing traf­fic on the mo­tor­way.

FR also adds spe­cial badg­ing, a sporty bodykit and colour-coded trim in place of the nor­mal car’s black whee­larches and scuff plates. There’s a gloss black grille, too, as well as alu­minium roof rails, win­dow frames and lower door trims. A set of chrome tailpipes com­pletes the look. Stan­dard equip­ment in­cludes SEAT’S

“FR adds spe­cial badg­ing, a sporty bodykit and colour-coded trim to the Ateca”

“The FR steers as sweetly as al­ways, with very lit­tle body roll and plenty of grip”

full LED head­lights, Al­can­tara seats and dual-zone climate con­trol. The eight-inch Me­dia Sys­tem Plus touch­screen is also in­cluded, and gives own­ers ac­cess to Ap­ple Carplay and An­droid Auto con­nec­tiv­ity, as well as sat-nav and USB charg­ing.

Qual­ity is as solid as ever, but cabin changes are lim­ited to an FR badge on the steer­ing wheel and some mul­ti­colour am­bi­ent lighting on the doors. It’s not a strik­ing de­sign, but it’s func­tional and well laid-out, and ev­ery­thing is easy to use. Op­tions like wire­less phone charg­ing, a top-down cam­era and handy self-park func­tion con­tinue to ce­ment SEAT’S place among the tech lead­ers in this seg­ment.

Those taken by the sportier styling and low­ered sus­pen­sion, though, will be pleased to hear the changes have no ef­fect on fuel econ­omy and emis­sions. That means the 1.4 ECOTSI FR will emit 123g/km of CO2 – and thanks to cylin­der de­ac­ti­va­tion tech it claims 52.3mpg. The sys­tem func­tions seam­lessly, too, with the only in­di­ca­tion it’s work­ing be­ing a small il­lu­mi­na­tion on the dash­board.

NEED TO KNOW New 187bhp 2.0-litre TSI unit makes its de­but in the FR, and is avail­able ex­clu­sively with four-wheel drive and a DSG box

EQUIP­MENT All FR models come with an eight-inch touch­screen, sat-nav and Full Link con­nec­tiv­ity. Else­where, you’ll find body-coloured trim, low­ered sus­pen­sion and chrome trin­kets, FR badg­ing and am­bi­ent in­te­rior lighting

PRAC­TI­CAL­ITY Knee room in the back of the Ateca is on par with the Leon hatch, and head space is good. Big 510-litre boot trumps a Nis­san Qashqai’s load bay and the rear seats split and fold 60:40 to make room for big­ger items

HAN­DLING Low­ered sus­pen­sion and stiffer springs are part of the FR pack­age, and while the ride is firmer than the stan­dard car’s, the new set­tings don’t have much ef­fect on the Ateca’s al­ready en­ter­tain­ing han­dling

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