SEAT takes the fight

to Nissan

SEAT Ateca, front static
SEAT Ateca, front action
SEAT Ateca, rear action
SEAT Ateca, rear static
SEAT Ateca, rear seats
SEAT Ateca, front seats
SEAT Ateca, dashboard
SEAT Ateca, boot
SEAT Ateca, badge
SEAT Ateca, cabin
SEAT Ateca, upright

FIRST thing to know, Ateca is not the name of a curry.

So says SEAT with a smile, introducing its most important new car in years and its first in the rampagingly popular SUV sector.

In fact, this newcomer is named after a modest Spanish village some miles inland from SEAT's nerve centre in Barcelona where the designers must hope a bit of Latin flair has rubbed off on its new baby.

Destined to become one of the core models of this outpost of the currently troubled VW Group empire, the Ateca is the first shot in an SUV campaign that will see a smaller sibling arrive sometime in 2017.

They can't come quickly enough as industry watchers confidently predict we will all soon be fighting for the keys to an SUV shaped family transporter.

These built-tall-and-butch machines are headed in the sales charts by the Nissan Qashqai, a car so dominant in its part of the market it was picked out and named by SEAT as it introduced its Ateca to the press.

Also detailed with a flourish was the fact (although marketing people can find figures to support most arguments) that an Ateca is likely to cost you up to three per cent less than an equivalent Qashqai. Take that Nissan!

Even so, at a part of the market where emotion rules over simple cost calculations, it might take more than a useful price advantage to persuade people into the SEAT offering.

So designing a car that looks neat, stylish and modern is a good starter. And it does, with crisp lines and a suitably grown up stance, the Ateca scores well in the car park stakes.

Inside, it could comfortably have come from either Skoda or Volkswagen, with the same no nonsense approach to driving that makes those two marques such a sensible choice to people who like their cars simply to work in an uncomplicated way.

It's not quite in Audi interior territory; although as carefully screwed together (by Skoda in the Czech Republic), it lacks the German brand's ultimate layer of glitz. It also costs thousands less, of course.

So perhaps SEAT - until now the difficult to place child in the VW Group portfolio - has found its role in life, to offer a reasonably priced alternative to more obvious names, with a dusting of Spanish design elan in the mix.

Propelling the new Ateca is a familiar mix of two petrol and three diesel engines, with a potentially frugal 1.0 litre petrol at the entry level, from £17,990 and a £29,990 2.0 litre diesel auto with on demand four-wheel drive at the summit.

In fact, should you want either all-wheel drive or automatic gears you'll have to head for a 2.0 diesel, although SEAT thinks likely best sellers are 1.4 TSI petrol (in top Xcellence trim) and 2.0 TDI 150 for private buyers with fleet users gravitating to an SE 1.6 TDI Ecomotive.

The Ateca might look capable of modest off-roading, a primary attraction of SUVs even if they venture no further than a kerb in the Waitrose car park, but a modest 15 per cent of them will have SEAT's 4Drive fitted.

More important to more buyers will be the techie bits inside the car that let you fully integrate your mobile phone, regardless of make and, standard on every Ateca, emergency braking that stops you in low speed likely collisions if you're not paying attention.

Open the tailgate (by waving your foot under the bumper if you add the right options pack) and you'll find a boot that is a bit bigger than the Qashqai's (that name again) and can be turned into a fine attempt at a van by easily flopping the rear seatback forward.

Venture into any of the SEAT's seats and you could be in any of the recent similarly sized products from the VW Group. Take that as a compliment and tribute to a colossal research and development budget that makes any SEAT (or VW, Audi or Skoda) so comfortably easy to drive.

The driver is faced by a dashboard that favours simplicity and sense over glitz and is all the better for it. You might call it just a touch dull (also, the black on black feel of the cabin as a whole) but there's no doubting it all works well.

So does the car when you head out for a drive, powered by the likely private buyer's favourite 1.4 litre petrol engine in a £21,015 Ateca SE. Its 150 horsepower and willingness to rev politely mean there's enough overtaking potential to mean an Ateca packed with people and holiday luggage won't feel out of its depth.

The ride is on the firmish side of limo-like but that means this biggish and tallish car feels reasonably crisp when you ask it to change direction, which is what you hope a family friendly SUV will provide.

It also showed 42mpg after a modestly demanding test drive, with a switch to a 150 horsepower diesel with 4Drive in Xcellence trim doing better, at 53mpg but topping £30,000 with a few extras on board.

The sweet spot of the range is probably the 1.4 petrol version, especially if you are unlikely to rack up interstellar mileages, where a diesel is the more sensible choice.

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