Ateca picks up Seat’s sporty DNA producing a SUV that is fun to drive, says Damien O’carroll.
As Skoda goes from strength to strength with some truly excellent models being released, it was really only a matter of time before we saw VW’S Spanish brand Seat here in New Zealand. But where exactly would it fit? The common preconception about Seat was that it was a budget brand that sat below Skoda in the VW Group pecking order, but that was simply based on historic brushes with the Spanish brand as it popped quietly in one out of the local market. As it turns out, Seat is essentially the sporty alternative to Skoda’s value-formoney luxury approach. This meant that pricing would be broadly on-par with Skoda offerings, but with a sportier bent compared to Skoda’s comfortable conservatism. This means we get things like the fantastic Leon Cupra, with its VW Golf R engine but a remarkably cheap price tag, and now, the small Ateca SUV which foreshadows the Yeti-replacing Skoda Karoq. particular example you see here is the AWD FR model that brings added sportiness and a high level of standard equipment. Style and Xcellence models are also available. The Ateca is a handsome smaller SUV that doesn’t offend and feels no need to be edgy and weird for no good reason, although while conservative, it still manages to be quite distinctive. On the inside you get a fantastically high quality interior that is beautifully made and well laid out, with brilliantly comfortable and supportive seats (that also look great!). So a typically VW Group interior then. In fact, if you have ever sat in a VW, or particularly a Skoda, it will all feel rather familiar. Perhaps a little too familiar, but the quality is certainly there. Under the bonnet the Ateca FR packs a 2.0-litre engine 140kw/400nm four- cylinder petrol turbo engine that is brilliantly powerful and lively. It boasts loads of punch in the mid range and endows the FR with something all too rare in the current SUV dominated market – driving fun. The FR is a blast to throw around out on the open road, with a beautifully nimble and responsive chassis, allied to sharp and equally responsive steering. Minimal body roll and a wonderfully controlled and compliant ride round out the package nicely, while the seven-speed DSG transmission is as slick and fast as ever. However, it is the DSG that also brings some small annoyances into the deal, with all the traditional foibles regarding low speed manuevering, backing up hills and that hesitation off the line. Small SUVS are generally very much a case of style over actual Suv-style ability. Sure, they generally offer marginally more room over their equivalent car siblings, but you pretty much buy one for style reasons. That means that, also generally, dynamics are of a lesser concern. So it is something of a pleasant surprise to the keener driver that the newest generation of small SUVS are actually staring to offer something in that direction, and the Ateca is a very good example of that. Okay, so it still doesn’t quite match the dynamic abilities of a hatch like the Leon or VW Golf, for example, but it has closed that gap to a significant degree. Fun to drive, handsome and remarkably well equipped, the Seat Ateca is possibly the best compromise between needing the practicality of a small SUV and actually enjoying driving.