The key players in seat’s return to the New Zealand market are its SUV offerings, which start with the Ateca. Will it thrive in such a saturated segment?
Seat is now up and running here in New Zealand, well in Auckland at least, with the opening of its first dealership; sorry we meant ‘store’. Not sure what the difference is but Seat prefers the latter. Anyhow, the steps of establishing the brand here are underway and more vehicles are on the ground. Ateca is the first of Seat’s SUVs to dot down, while the Leon and Ibiza small cars begin to arrive in greater numbers. Other models will soon be here too, including a smaller SUV, Arona, debuting in April as a CX-3 competitor.
The front-driver is powered by a litre turbo kicking out 85kW and, starting at $29,900, it will give the brand added traction here as it fights for custom in the busiest sectors of the market.
A quick Ateca refresher
You can call the Ateca a compact SUV, vying for the same hard-earned as the likes of XV, Qashqai, Sportage, and 3008. Ateca comes in three flavours; Style, Xcellence and FR. The base model Style rolls on 17s, is armed with BSM, AEB, a camera with rear parking sensors and an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment with smartphone compatibility. Xcellence adds 18s, active cruise, a surround view camera, Alcantara-trimmed sports seats with warmers up front, a smart key and powered rear door, while the FR is essentially a dressed-up sports model.
The entry-level powertrain is the 110kW/250Nm 1.4 turbo driving the front wheels through a seven-speed twin-clutch, and is said to hit 100 in 8.6sec and return 5.4L/100km on average. In Style trim it’s $38,990 while the Xcellence version is $44,900. There are two AWD models, the FR 4Drive being motivated by a 140kW/320Nm 2.0 turbopetrol which is said to crack 100 in 7.9sec and return 7.0L/100km. It’s priced at $50,990. We look forward to driving this when it, and the 1.4 models, arrive soon.
At present, the only Ateca model on the ground is the Xcellence TDI 4Drive, featured here. It uses a 2.0 TDI with 140kW and 400Nm, which is claimed to achieve 100 in 7.5sec and return 5.3L/100km. It’s the priciest Ateca at $52,900. Talking dollars, Ateca comfortably undercuts its Tiguan cousin, which ranges in price from $42K right up to $67K, although this hasn’t stopped VW selling a swag of them, over 1800 in 2017. Seat must be hoping some of that success will rub off on its wagon which, to our eyes, looks more appealing, and is a sharper drive as well.
Ateca the sporty one
Seat’s Ateca is styled in Spain and built in the Czech Republic, such is the far reaching influence of the giant VW Group in Europe, and so there are many bits of this SUV that are familiar. And yet the Ateca has its own character given Seat is the Group’s sportier, more dynamic family member, ‘impressive driving fun’ being at the core of the brand.
Xcellence models come with sports seating, the extra support appreciated as they aren’t overly firm, and though the seats lack electric adjustment, you can set the driving position down low in a way most SUVs won’t allow. There are variable drive modes to alter the zeroes and ones that command the drivetrain and these are subtly different to other VW Group vehicles that use this same hardware. For instance, the 2.0 TDI didn’t exhibit quite the same off-boost lethargy in town running as it did in the bigger Kodiaq thanks chiefly to the keener transmission protocols which aren’t so intent on lugging around in taller gears. The Ateca’s city gait hints at an underlying sportiness and while not unpleasant, neither is it plush if you are after ultimate comfort.
The turbodiesel gains the benefits of 4Drive, Seat speak for AWD with the fifth-gen Haldex unit delivering on-demand traction. This gives plenty of bite off the mark; if you manage to activate the launch function, take offs are accompanied by a jolt from the rear diff as the torque hits. But it’s pretty quick, registering a 7.4sec 0-100km/h run on a stinking hot day.
The Ateca’s tacho has a 5000rpm redline but the 2.0-litre is done spinning by 4500rpm, though it’s the typical diesel midrange that matters more. Select the auto’s Sport mode with a quick tug on the lever and the manner in which the twin-clutch mines this torquey goodness sees the Ateca really hum.
And Ateca has the handling attitude to match. The 4Drive models gain a multilink rear for added dynamic finesse (front drivers are lumped with a torsion beam) with the extra stability seeing it round off curves with genuine competence. The sporty suspension tune defends against those undesirable traits of excess roll and lurch when negotiating bends and, interestingly, the electronics allow the driver to explore the worth of the tyres rather than intervening too early.
Again it’s that driver-focused approach rearing its head. Ateca feels nimble on the go, more so than the larger Kodiaq and the heavier Tiguan (Ateca TDI 4Drive scaling up at 1570kg versus 1700kg for the Tiguan TSI 4Motion). It steers with more vigour too. Of the three VW Group SUVs based on this platform, Ateca is certainly the most interesting from the driver’s seat, and one of the best in this class.
Up to snuff in other areas?
The edgy and energizing look of Ateca we like, while the front-end styling hints at its dynamic ambition. The shape of the glass house improves its side profile though we’d be tempted by the optional 19s to address the fact the 18s look a bit underdone in those arches. But it seems what wow factor they had was expended entirely on the exterior as the cabin is fairly sombre, black being the theme with just a splash of chrome here and there. The familiar VW Group components are noted, though the dials and infotainment graphics gain a Seat flavour.
While the majority of the interior is robustly constructed, we did discover a couple of ill-fitting trim pieces, and aspects such as lined door pockets and extended soft plastics (the rear door tops, for instance) that are present in the Tiguan are lacking here. As mentioned, the seat requires manual adjustment which we can live with, though most others at this price point come with an electric helper for this task; here it’s a $650 option.
Another option is the $1600 black leather trim, fitted to this particular Ateca, though we’d be happy with the standard Alcantara. There’s no hardwired navigation either, so you’ll need to bring your phone or pay $850 for the sat nav option. The central display is useful, complete with a digital speed readout, and a monitor to keep track of both short and long term fuel consumption, this example reading 7.5L/100km for the latter. There’s also active cruise which is easy to set up and it features a low speed assist for traffic queues.
The leg room in the rear is decent considering the compact dimensions, and the seat comfort sound also. There is no slider or recline function but the bench folds easily with remote levers in the boot area. While there’s enough space on offer, the hold is hampered by a lack of length, and the cargo cover is best removed in order to pile more stuff in. Seat quotes 485L for the AWD models, and 510L for the 2WD. Each has a space saver spare, and the TDI model has the best tow rating at up to 2000kg.
We enjoyed our time with the Ateca as its dynamic nature is not the usual in this segment. It’s not the best value in the class but if, like us, you crave a bit of driving character in something practical and good looking, this is one to check out.
|Seat Ateca Xcellence TDI 4Drive
|1968cc, IL4, T/DI, 140kW/400Nm
|7-speed twin-clutch, AWD