Arona from Barcelona
Seat. Not the thing you’re sitting on but the car brand, pronounced ‘say-art’. Most Kiwis have never heard of it, despite the brand being as big as, say, Skoda in Europe.
Mention of which, Skoda was a brand that relaunched here and is now thriving but 15 years ago was little more than an automotive joke. Under VW ownership that’s all changed and Skoda has its own niche, renowned for its space and value. With Seat, the Spanish arm of Volkswagen, they’re kind of where Skoda was at the turn of the Millennium, only they’re a relative unknown. But we’ve now driven most in the range and have been impressed by their dynamics, style and price.
The New Zealand line-up is now virtually complete for Seat, with the recent arrival of the compact crossover, Arona, which is mechanically similar to Seat’s small hatch, Ibiza. The others comprise the Leon, a Corolla competitor, Ateca, a mid-sized SUV, and next year a larger seven-seater, Tarraco.
Starter for 10 - how are the Seat models named? After towns in Spain, it turns out, something I learnt myself at the launch of Arona (which is a town in the Canary Islands). One other relevant thing; hot versions of Seats are called Cupras, a word which derives from copper. As of January this year, Cupra becomes a sporty brand unto itself. Its first offering is a hot version of Ateca and a warmed up Arona is promised at some point.
But we’re here about cooking Arona which has just gone on sale in New Zealand in two spec guises, Style ($29,900) and FR ($33,900). Both utilise the same drivetrain as in Ibiza, a 999cc turbocharged three-cylinder engine hooked up to a seven-speed twin-clutch transmission. They’re both front-wheel drive, and no 4WD variant is offered, typical in the small SUV sector.
To behold it looks a bit like an Ibiza at the front, no surprise there, and like a scaled down Ateca elsewhere. Unlike some in the class it has reasonable hatch space of around 400L expanding to 823L, and the floor can be configured on two levels, increasing luggage capacity slightly.
It’s a new small car platform it rides on, MQB-AO, so proves pretty handy in the corners. The brand flavour is youthful, dynamic, sporty and that’s how Seats come across. We drove the FR variant first, on lower profile 17-inch rubber and it rode a touch firmer than the Style variant on 60 aspect 16s.
Both display pretty good body control in the turns though. Not that many will ever give it a good lashing on road, but certainly Arona doesn’t mind having a crack at at a corner. It has enough power (85kW) and torque (200Nm) for reasonably brisk overtaking, while its 0-100 time of 10sec is a bit quicker than some but not all in the burgeoning sector. In seventh gear, an indicated 100km/h corresponds with 2500rpm. We recorded fuel use of 6.5 overall, though Seat quotes a combined figure of 5.0L/100km, and 4.5 in rural running.
Back in town it pulls well from 2000rpm, though the turbo starts to make its presence felt even earlier, around 1500rpm. We noticed a bit of hesitation away from the lights, a combination of the engine restarting, the twin-clutch gearbox getting its act together and turbo lag. But once underway it’s quite sprightly. A tight turning circle, good outward visibility and compact dimensions (LxWxH of 4138mmx1780mmx1552mm) make this rather city friendly.
Style specification includes AEB, parking sensors both ends, self-parking, a rear view camera, dual zone air, auto wipers and lights and an eight-inch touchscreen with full link (Mirror, Apple, Android) but it misses out on cruise control, comfort entry and pushbutton start, shift paddles, and engine modes which are FR features.
Active cruise and keyless entry, both standard on FR, add $1100 to the bottom line. FR also adds blind spot monitoring, sports seats and wheel, fatigue detection, LED DRLs, window tints, roof rails and contrasting roof colour. Nav and wireless phone charging add $950, heated front seats $750 and BeatsAudio sounds $1000 for both variants.
The small SUV sector is growing apace, responsible for 12,000 sales per annum, up from around 1000 in 2010 and 6000 in 2015. As to Seat, it kicked off late in 2017, with a lone store in Newmarket and service centres in Wellington and Christchurch, and has banked over 80 sales since, most of Ateca but Arona is expected to be popular.