Seat Tarraco: Seven-seater aims for spot at SUV top table
Seat has a new range-topping model - the smart Tarraco seven-seat SUV, says William Scholes
WE have written often on these pages about the apparently inexorable rise in popularity of SUVs, write William Scholes.
The most up-to-date figures for new car registrations across Europe's biggest markets once again confirm that SUVs, crossovers and their ilk are here to stay.
In January 2019, according to industry analysts Jato Dynamics, a total of 1.22 million new cars were registered.
That sounds pretty impressive, but it was also the fifth consecutive monthly drop in registrations and a drop of 4.6 per cent on January 2018's figure.
It is generally thought that this decline is a blip, caused chiefly by the introduction of a new system of measuring cars' emissions and fuel consumption.
This is called WLTP - a handy shorthand for 'worldwide harmonised light vehicle test' - and is designed to give consumers information about their cars' environmental performance that more accurately reflects real-world experience.
WLTP figures are calculated differently from the old so-called NEDC, or 'new European driving cycle', test.
NEDC, of course, had become discredited because it was open to blatant manipulation and the fuel consumption figures were often-madey-uppy-and-nothing-like-what-you-might-get-in-everyday-driving.
The transition from the NEDC to WLTP has been a mammoth undertaking, with car-makers having to submit all their models for testing.
This isn't as straightforward as, say, testing each engine offered on a particular model; instead, WLTP requires each engine, gearbox, trim level and wheel size combination to be tested. The effect of optional equipment on emissions and economy is also tested.
It is an enormous logistical exercise, which is why the supply of some models has been restricted while their makers race to get them tested and approved to WLTP standards.
Dig into the registration figures, however, and behind the WLTP transition blip other trends are consolidating.
Diesel sales continue to fall, for example, and in January accounted for a third of Europe's new car market.
Petrol has benefited most from diesel's decline, and now represents almost 60 per cent of the market.
The rest is made up of 'alternatively fuelled vehicles. These are mainly hybrids, with battery 'pure' electric cars making up just 1.6 per cent of the total market.
That market share is growing, but for perspective even January's fifth most popular model overall, the Toyota Yaris, outsold all the battery electric vehicles on its own; Europe's best-seller, the Volkswagen Golf, sold almost twice as many.
Running in parallel with flux in the petrol-diesel-hybrid-electric mix is the other big industry trend - insatiable demand for SUVs.
These are homing in on 40 per cent of the new car market in Europe. Against the backdrop of the fall in total registrations recorded in January, SUVs still grew, by 6.1 per cent.
The statistic that really stood out for me, however, is that January was the first month in which the Volkswagen Group behemoth - Volkswagen, Seat, Audi, Skoda, Porsche, Lamborghini and Bentley - sold more SUVs than it did any other type of car.
Those brands have had a bunch of new launches in recent months, but the latest to arrive in showrooms and on our roads is the car featured on these pages, the Seat Tarraco.
The Tarraco reflects the diversification within the SUV segment, being one of the new breed of seven-seat versions that have effectively usurped MPVs in the affections of the family buyer who needs to shift a lot of children around.
The Tarraco is the third SUV to take its place in the Seat line-up in double-quick time. It tops the range ahead of the Ateca and Arona
In time-honoured fashion, the Tarraco is closely-related to the Skoda Kodiaq and Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace, which are also available as three-row seven-seaters.
The Seat's bodywork was designed in Spain, however, which is perhaps why it is the most stylish and best-looking of the trio, though it is built in Germany; modern car-making is a very European endeavour.
The Tarraco is the third SUV to take its place in the Seat line-up in double-quick time. It tops the range ahead of the Ateca and Arona.
As is typical of this sort of SUV, the seating layout is perhaps best described as 'five-plus-two', meaning that the two rear-most seats are really best suited for children. Or adults you really dislike.
There is an upmarket feel to the Tarraco, and it is possible to spend more than £40,000 on one.
Prices start at £28,320, however, for an SE model, with trim levels rising from there to the £29,330-plus SE Technology, starts-at-£30,410 Xcellence and the from-£32,135 Xcellence Lux.
The latter two versions are distinguished by their high specification levels, if not their excellent spelling.
Every model gets alloy wheels, metallic paint, DAB radio with lots of connectivity gadgets and three-zone climate control.
SE Technology cars gain privacy glass, 18-inch alloy wheels and sat-nav; Xcellence comes with a wireless charger, adaptive cruise control, electrically operated tailgate, 19-inch alloys, a rear-view camera and Alcantara upholstery; go Xcellence Lux, and you will have a top-view camera, 20-inch alloy wheels, leather upholstery and a winter pack.
The drivetrain line-up is a mix of diesel and petrol engines, with manual and automatic gearboxes and front- and four-wheel-drive.
...it won't be long before we start seeing lots of Seat Tarracos on Northern Ireland roads
Petrols include a 1.5-litre with 148bhp and a 2.0-litre with 187bhp; diesel duties are taken care of by a 2.0-litre unit in either 148bhp or 187bhp tune.
The boot is predictably enormous. Fold all the seats for a volume of 1,775 litres; there is 700 litres when the third row-only is folded and 230 litres when the second and third rows are both up.
The Skoda Kodiaq beats those volumes, though rather narrowly, but is also less interesting to look at...
Seat models typically offer a livelier drive than their Skoda siblings, and that plus its smarter styling and - dare I say it - the brand's more youthful image should mean that it won't be long before we start seeing lots of Tarracos on Northern Ireland roads.
AT A GLANCE
Seat Tarraco Xcellence 2.0TDI 4Drive 190PS DSG
Engine and transmission: 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel turbo, seven-speed double-clutch automatic gearbox, four-wheel-drive; 187bhp, 295lb.ft
Performance: Top speed 131mph, 0-62mph in 8.0 seconds
Fuel consumption and CO2: 50.4mpg (combined), 147g/km
Car tax: £515 in first year, then £140 annually
Benefit in kind: 34 per cent (37 per cent from April)
Euro Ncap safety rating: Five stars (97/84/79/79), 2019