Seat Tarraco: You can't choose your family, but you can choose your family car...
The Seat Tarraco is among the best family cars on sale today, says William Scholes
THE Seat Tarraco has featured on these pages before, but having now had the chance to spend some time living with one, it's worth devoting some extra coverage to the new seven-seat SUV, writes William Scholes.
First things first: if you're in the market for a large family SUV - and lots of you are, judging by the number of them on Northern Ireland roads - then the Tarraco needs to be on your check list.
This is a cracking car. Looking over my notes after more than 10 days with it, the credit column is far longer than the debit side of the ledger.
Positives include how handsome it looks. Well proportioned, with a strong stance and presence, the Tarraco perfectly treads the line between low-key and look-at-me.
The 19-inch alloys which come with Xcellence trim, as tested, set it off nicely, but design details such as the light strip across the tailgate and the headlamp design catch the eye, too.
My wife, who generally pays attention to the test cars on the driveway chez Scholes with the same diligence that Boris Johnson grasps details, was impressed enough to ask, "What's that?".
Trust me, this almost never happens - as much a comment about the blandness and same-again character of contemporary car design as it is about her observational skills.
The good looks continue when you open the doors. Xcellence trim gets you super-comfy seats covered in a mix of cloth and suede-alike Alcantara; it's a really nice combination, and I found myself admiring the grey cloth way more than is healthy...
My wife, who generally pays attention to the test cars on the driveway chez Scholes with the same diligence that Boris Johnson grasps details, was impressed enough to ask, "What's that?". This almost never happens
If you have sat in any Volkswagen Group car, let alone a Seat, in recent years, then the dashboard arrangement will hold no surprises.
Everything is sensibly and intuitively laid out, clear to read and easy to operate. What more could you want?
Because it's a new car, the Tarraco gets the VW Group's latest infotainment system. It's fast-acting and idiot proof.
The Tarraco also gets a 'digital cockpit' dashboard display, which allows the driver to configure the information in front of them in a variety of ways.
It's less gimmicky than it sounds, and helps add to the impression that this is a thoroughly modern, high-tech car. It's well finished, too.
The elevated driving position and the length of the bonnet in front of you are obvious tell-tales that this is a large car.
It's also a size wider than previous Seats, as confirmed by the breadth of the centre console and the fact that the driver and front-seat passenger are further apart than they would be in, for example, a Leon hatchback or the smaller Ateca SUV.
That width makes itself felt in the middle row of seats. Arranged as a pair and a single, it is ample for three friendly adults and generous for children.
The presence of only two sets of Isofix mounts, on the outer seats, is one of the few marks in my debit column. Parents of younger children, take note...
The middle row of seats can slide backwards and forwards, so varying the amount of legroom shared by those sat in the second and third rows. Middle rowers can also recline their seatbacks.
My rear-seat testers appreciated the fold-up tables mounted on the back of the front seats, too.
Access to the two smaller seats in the third row is no better or worse than you will find elsewhere. The large back doors open wide and square, which is a bonus, but those trying to get in to the rear-most pews will need to be agile.
Children, then, are the ideal occupants. The seats themselves are very good, and earned rave reviews from the two guinea pigs, sorry, small boys, that I put there.
The third row of seats fold into the boot floor when not needed - erecting them and stowing them is very easy - and even with them in place there is a decent enough boot; Seat says the seven-up volume is 230 litres.
Set-up as a five-seater, and you can get 700 litres in there if you fill the Tarraco's boot to the roof. Fold the middle row, and you can cram in 1,775 litres.
The middle row of seats is arranged as a pair and a single, and is ample for three friendly adults and generous for children. The presence of only two sets of Isofix mounts, on the outer seats, is one of the few marks in my debit column. Parents of younger children, take note...
It's likely that prospective Tarraco owners will also look at the related Skoda Kodiaq. It has a slightly larger boot, though both are so massive that it is hard to imagine too many punters rejecting the Seat on the basis that it can't hold as many boxes from Ikea.
The back of the front passenger seat folds flat, making it ideal for very long loads. I got 2.4m lengths of timber in there, no bother.
So we've established that the Tarraco will look good on your driveway and has plenty of room for your kids and their mates.
We can also tell you that you will probably need to turn up the stereo's volume to drown out their chattering, because the Tarraco is a quiet car - the engine is never intrusive, and wind and road noise is well contained.
This means the big Seat is a relaxing cruising car on the motorway and on long journeys.
Its sheer size, plus the laws of physics, mean the Tarraco is never going to make you smile on your favourite back road in the way that a family hatchback might.
Still, the steering is light and direct, and the car grips the road remarkably well before it yields to understeer and various warning lights on the dashboard appear...
The suspension does a sterling job of keeping that high-up body and the Tarraco's mass under control.
And now we must come to the biggest entry in the Tarraco debit column - the engine.
The test car came fitted with a 1.5-litre petrol engine. You can find this unit in a bunch of other Volkswagen Group cars, including Seat models, and on previous acquaintance in cars like the VW Golf I've found it to be a marvellous thing.
Punchy, responsive, frugal, refined... it's every cubic centimetre the epitome of the modern petrol engine. It can even shut down two of its four cylinders when the engine is under low or medium load to save some petrol.
This engine's outputs are 148bhp and 184lb.ft. These are decent figures for a family hatch, but in a wagon like the Tarraco - kerb weight of 1,634kg including the driver, but a lot more once the family and their luggage are piled inside - the engine can feel overwhelmed.
You can specify the Tarraco with a 2.0-litre diesel engine with the same power output but with a much-more-like-it torque figure of 250lb.ft.
The difference is that in the torquier diesel Tarraco you would barely notice long uphill drags, such as those on the A4 between Dungannon and Ballygawley or the A5 from Ballygawley towards Omagh which left the 1.5-litre petrol Seat gasping.
Another downside to 'my' car's petrol engine was the tendency for it to want to kangaroo in first and second gear at very low engine revs - I can't remember the last car I drove that wanted to do that - but perhaps the biggest drawback was the fuel consumption, which I couldn't get to average more than 34mpg.
My driving mix might include more motorway miles than some people but even so, that's a disappointing figure and further evidence in support of having a diesel engine in your Tarraco.
As well as the 148bhp units, you can order a Tarraco with more powerful petrol and diesel engines, both of 2.0-litre capacity and each with 187bhp. The diesel makes 295lb.ft and the petrol 236lb.ft.
These engines can only be had with four-wheel-drive and a seven-speed double-clutch automatic gearbox.
Whichever version you go for, the Tarraco is a car that I have no hesitation in recommending... In fact, it's such a competent and effective machine that it rather begs the question why anyone would buy something like an Audi Q7
The 148bhp diesel can also be specified with four-wheel-drive and the automatic gearbox instead of front-wheel-drive and a six-speed manual. A manual and two-wheel-drive is your only option if you must have the 1.5-litre petrol.
Trim levels start at SE and rise through SE Technology and Xcellence to range-topping Xcellence Lux.
As is often the way, the middle trim offer the strongest value in terms of balancing comfort and luxury with price.
On-the-road list prices start at £28,550 for a 1.5-litre SE, with an SE Technology with the same drivetrain adding £1,030. A further £1,060 gets you into a 1.5-litre Xcellence, with a fully-loaded 1.5-litre Xcellence Lux priced at £32,400.
An SE with the 2.0-litre 148bhp diesel is £30,025. The most expensive Tarraco - an Xcellence Lux with the 187bhp petrol engine, four-wheel-drive and double-clutch automatic gearbox - is £38,305.
I suspect the sweet spot of the range is a 148bhp diesel Xcellence, at £32,115.
Whichever version you go for, the Tarraco is a car that I have no hesitation in recommending.
The seven-seat family SUV market is burgeoning, but the big Seat stands out for its style, practicality and likeability. It's well priced too.
In fact, it's such a competent and effective machine that it rather begs the question why anyone would buy something like an Audi Q7.
AT A GLANCE
Seat Tarraco 1.5 Xcellence
Engine and transmission: 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol turbo, six-speed manual gearbox, front-wheel-drive; 148bhp, 184lb.ft
Performance: Top speed 125mph, 0-62mph in 9.7 seconds
Fuel consumption and CO2: 36.7mpg (combined, WLTP), 34.0mpg (real world), 152g/km
Car tax: £530 in first year, then £145 annually
Benefit in kind: 34 per cent
Euro Ncap safety rating: Five stars (97/84/79/79), 2019