Seat Ateca: Hitting the family SUV sweet spot
The Seat Ateca blends style and practicality in an appealing family-sized SUV package, says William Scholes
THE choice facing anyone in the market for a new family car has become almost impossibly broad, writes William Scholes.
A sensible five-door hatchback - something like a Volkswagen Golf or Vauxhall Astra - used to do the job nicely, but today it is rather more complicated.
Models like the Golf and Astra are still popular but the family car sector has been turned on its head like no other since SUVs and crossovers started taking over parking spaces at primary schools, shopping centres, Saturday morning GAA and rugby training and any number of other parent-and-child zones.
Nissan's Qashqai is often credited with getting the crossover revolution started just over a decade ago; adding a raised driving position, pseudo-SUV styling and a little more space to the traditional family hatch' values of being easy to drive, cheap to run, value for money and reliable proved inspired.
Kia's Sportage was another landmark model in the drift away from family hatchbacks and MPVs towards SUVs and crossovers.
The popularity of relatively expensive 'premium' models, epitomised by the Range Rover Evoque, emphasised the breadth of the price range that the sector could straddle.
It quickly became apparent that every car manufacturer was going to have to get serious about SUVs.
This style of car today accounts for more than one in three of every new car registered in Europe, with new models of varying shapes, sizes and prices launched or announced every week - or at least that's what it feels like.
The Volkswagen Group was relatively late to fully embrace the SUV trend across its brands.
However, an industry titan like the VW Group was never going to be left behind for long.
In the last couple of years it has flexed the muscles of its considerable resources and released a slew of shiny new SUV models - as well as expanding Volkswagen and Audi's offerings, Skoda and Seat have been given several offerings and even Lamborghini and Bentley will sell you a high-riding off-road-style wagon.
Real people, who can only dream of Lamborghini or Bentley ownership, will be focused on the more family-friendly fare.
Here, there is an argument to be made that the car on these pages, the Seat Ateca, is the sweet-spot of the bunch.
It shares the same underpinnings as its size-equivalent rivals from VW and Skoda, the Tiguan and Karoq, respectively.
Yet the Seat manages to be a more stylish proposition than either of its sober stablemates - albeit more Zara than Manolo Blahnik - without sacrificing any practicality.
The Ateca is available with one of the widest range of engines and transmissions in the business.
Things start with a 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol and rise to 2.0-litre petrol and diesel units - the excellent 1.5-litre 148bhp petrol 'evo' engine is worth singling out - and include front-wheel-drive, four-wheel-drive, six-speed manual and seven-speed double-clutch automatic gearbox options.
Trim levels are similarly broad. The cheapest Ateca is a 1.0-litre SE, priced from £21,880, and the range rises to the £35k-plus full-house 2.0-litre diesel automatic four-wheel-drive 'Xcellence Lux' via SE Technology, SEL, FR, FR Sport and Xcellence.
Even in base SE form, the Ateca is decently equipped. Metallic paint and alloy wheels are standard, as are electric-folding door mirrors, LED daytime running lights, roof rails, touchscreen, self-parking park assist, cruise control, dual-zone climate control and a high level of safety equipment - the Ateca is a five-star Euro Ncap car.
Also above average for these high-riding family cars is the Ateca's refinement - it is surprisingly quiet, with road and wind noise pleasingly subdued. There's an abundance of space for family duties, with good head, elbow and leg room front and rear
SE Technology cars gain LED headlamps, a posher touchscreen and larger 18-inch alloys; SEL models have leather seats and gadgets such as wireless phone charging, keyless entry and heated seats; FR denotes Seat's sporty trim, with a racier bodykit and sports seats; FR Sport cars have 19-inch alloys and leather-trimmed sports seats; and the Xcellence models are luxury orientated range-toppers.
On top of that, there is a choice of 'personalisation' options, including 'styling packs' and the opportunity to give your Ateca alloys wheels painted in red, blue or orange - though the silver or black options look just fine...
The Ateca is one of the better-driving family SUVs. It does a decent job of masking the disadvantages inherent with its raised ride height compared to a hatchback like its Leon sibling, with a well-judged suspension set-up that is firm enough to offer good body control but with sufficient softness to smooth out most lumps and bumps.
The steering is above average in terms of its precision and feedback, too, and there is plenty of grip. The brakes, clutch and gearshift have the same consistency of weighting and response familiar from so many VW Group products. The driving position is spot on, too.
It means the basic ingredients are promising for the just-on-sale high performance Cupra version, which packs 296bhp, 0-60mph in 5.2 second and a £36k price tag.
Also above average for these high-riding family cars is the Ateca's refinement - it is surprisingly quiet, with road and wind noise pleasingly subdued.
There's an abundance of space for family duties, with good head, elbow and leg room front and rear. Three-abreast for adults is comfortable enough in the back seat, though getting three child seats installed would be a challenge - the same can be said of almost all similarly sized cars, though.
Also, if you are completely committed to practicality, it is worth noting that the Ateca does not have sliding back seats such as those found in the Tiguan or Sportage, nor can the rear seats be removed altogether as they can in the Skoda Karoq.
Still, for most people the large, square-shaped boot with its flat floor and low load lip will be more than sufficient.
The Ateca, then, is one of those cars that does well everything asked of it. While not being outstanding in any single aspect, it is distinguished by its very broad range of competence. And what more could you ask for from SUV-shaped family transport with a value-for-money price tag?
AT A GLANCE
Seat Ateca SE Technology 1.5 Evo
Engine and transmission: 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol turbo, front-wheel-drive, six-speed manual gearbox; 148bhp, 184lb.ft
Performance: Top speed 125mph, 0-62mph in 8.5 seconds
Fuel consumption and CO2: 51.4mpg (NEDC-derived combined), 126g/km
Car tax: £165 in first year, then £140 annually
Benefit in kind: 26 per cent
Euro Ncap safety rating: Five stars (93/84/71/60), 2016