SEAT Ateca - First

Drive

SEAT Ateca, side, action, off road
SEAT Ateca, off road, axle twist
SEAT Ateca, side, action
SEAT Ateca, rear, action
SEAT Ateca, side, static
SEAT Ateca, off road, ramp
SEAT Ateca, interior
SEAT Ateca, rear
SEAT Ateca, side
SEAT Ateca, off road, slope
SEAT Ateca, front, action
SEAT Ateca, gear lever, auto

SEAT may have been late to the SUV party but it looks likely to become one of the most popular guests.

Its new Ateca has all the credentials to challenge front runners such as Nissan Qashqai, Renault Kadjar and its own cousin, the VW Tiguan in UK's fastest growing sector.

Like the newly released Tiguan, the Ateca is built on the group's lightweight MQB platform which is used by Golf and Audi A3.

With a sporty image and priced to undercut the VW, the £17,990 to £29,990 SEAT range looks great in the flesh with sharp, racy styling and clean lines that should make it stand out from the crowd.

A subtle family grille dominates the nose but it's nowhere near as aggressively-styled as say the Hyundai Tucson.

First models go out to customers in September although order books opened on June 1. Three diesel models and two petrol versions will be available with a choice of either six speed manual gearbox or dual clutch automatic transmission, at extra cost.

Only the diesel models will be offered with four-wheel-drive.

Most makers of compact SUVs find that in UK the take-up of all-paw drive is small and SEAT anticipates no more than 15 per cent of Atecas will be all wheel drive.

Similarities between the Leon and the Ateca in the cabin are immediately noticeable.

The dash layout is clean and appears well laid out with switches and dials with easy reach. There's plenty of tactile, soft touch plastic but trim quality is a tad down on either Audi or VW, more on a par with Renault and Nissan.

Three trim levels are available but even the entry S versions have air condiitioning and seven airbags as standard.

The top model - the Xcellence - comes with leather upholstery, and LED headlights.

Climb aboard the Ateca and you first notice its roominess. There's loads of shoulder space, more in fact than in the Audi Q3. In fact, it is marginally wider than the Audi, though fractionally shorter.

Rear seat passengers have ample headroom for six-footers and loads of legroom.

The boot, too, is bigger than most rivals with a capacity of 510 litres and 485 litres in four wheel drive versions.

An electric tailgate closes at the touch of a button. Sometimes the action proves a bit too leisurely - especially when it's raining.

Get behind the wheel, and the Ateca has that familiar SEAT feel with eager and accessible performance and a minimum of fuss.

I first drove the 1.4TSI (£20,960 in SE form) which pushes out 148bhp and accelerates to 62mph in a nifty 8.5 seconds and then on to a maximum of 125mph.

With light controls and a slick six speed manual gearbox it's easy and undemanding on twisty country roads or cruising down a motorway. The steering is a shade numb but that's not unusual with SUVs.

The TSI should prove cheap to run with CO2emissions of just 125g/km and an official combined consumption of 52.3 mpg.

Roll angles are well controlled during brisk cornering. There's definitely a bit of hot-hatch DNA about this version of the Ateca and the free-revving 1.4-litre engine emphasises its sporty character.

The most popular version in the range is expected to be the 2.0TDi (£22,875 in SE form) which uses the VW group's ubiquitous diesel 148bhp engine.

A sturdy workhorse with gutsy performance and impressive economy, it is nevertheless somewhat audible at low idle and low speeds.

Press-on and relax the revs, and it quietens to a distant murmur. Acoustic glass helps in making the Ateca a refined car for motor way cruising.

Acceleration is about the same to 60mph as the 1.4TSI but the diesel's extra torque makes it feel quicker when overtaking or in high gear.

Top speed is 116mph and the combined fuel consumption is 62.8mpg, about 10mpg better than the petrol model.

A 1.0litre, 113bhp three cylinder version will be also available but these are yet to roll off the production line.

It's hard to under-estimate the importance to SEAT of the new model - it will offer loyal buyers of the marque a chance of remaining within the fold as their families and grow. And it is sure to attract a high proportion of conquest sales to the Spanish brand.

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