SEAT on a roll with

new Arona

SEAT Arona Xcellence, 2018, front
SEAT Arona Xcellence, 2018, front, action
SEAT Arona Xcellence, 2018, side
SEAT Arona Xcellence, 2018, rear
SEAT Arona Xcellence, 2018, interior
SEAT Arona Xcellence, 2018, grille
SEAT Arona Xcellence, 2018, headlights
SEAT Arona Xcellence, 2018, sat nav screen
SEAT Arona Xcellence, 2018, boot loading

WITH a range as fresh as a bunch of newly plucked Seville oranges, SEAT is unquestionably on a roll.

The Spanish marque's success has been boosted by European buyers' love affair with the SUV - sales up fourfold over the last three years.

The Ateca, launched in 2016, has followed up the popularity of the Leon, then new Ibiza took a bow last summer to be hailed as one of the best superminis.

Now SEAT is unleashing its baby crossover, the Arona, a sort of jacked-up hatch that will compete in the fastest growing sector alongside such notables as the Nissan Juke, Renault Captur and the just released Kia Stonic and Hyundai Kona.

Smart and sporty-looking - almost a miniature Ateca - prices range from £16,555 to more than £24,000 with a choice of six trim levels and six different engines. All versions are five-doors and front drive only.

Despite the compact external dimensions - little more than four metres long - there's plenty of cabin room for four adults and the hatchback boot takes 400 litres of luggage, noticeably more than the Ibiza and roomier than many rivals.

It's anticipated that the petrol versions will prove most popular, with the 1.0 litre 115 model leading the sales drive. The less highly tuned 1.0 litre 95 version I drove on the launch could also prove a winner. Both models are three-cylinder units with sharp throttle response and willing engines that thrive on being revved.

The less powerful version comes with only a five speed manual gearbox, while the 115 model (113bhp) gets a six speed manual with the option of an automatic seven-speed twin-clutch transmission.

A gutsy 1.5 TSI Evo will appeal to those looking for sportier performance. Its 148bhp four-cylinder unit sends it to 62mph in 8.3 seconds and on to 127mph. Despite the punchy acceleration it has a combined fuel consumption of just 55.4mpg, only slightly less frugal than the 1.0 litre economy models.

Two diesel models are available, both with 1.6TDI engines, producing either 94bhp or 113bhp.

There are few surprises within the cabin, apart from the general feeling of space. While the fascia is smart and businesslike with well finished, decent plastic mouldings there's a lack of character or originality. Lots of dark plastic and functional though unexciting surrounds.

The entry level model gets a five-inch touchscreen, but in SE Technology trim and above there's an eight-inch version.

Ample head and legroom is available in the front, and even with rear seat passengers there's comfortable space for everyone.

Built on an all-new platform , which will be shared with the next Audi A1, the Arona rides well with plenty of suspension movement to absorb road imperfections, yet cornering roll is well contained. Noise levels are generally low with just a distant throb from the three-pot engine and little wind disturbance. Over some surfaces tyre noise can intrude into the cabin.

To some buyers, a 1.0 litre engine might sound absurdly puny to haul a four-seater SUV, but in reality, even the lower powered three-cylinder proves lively and responsive. With acceleration to 62mph in around 11 seconds, it's no slouch. And cruising at 70-80mph proves a natural and relaxed gait.

Even the base SE model comes equipped with rear window wash-wipe, hill hold control, air con, electric front and rear windows, cruise control and height/reach adjustable steering wheel. And the SE technology model that I drove - price £17,545 - also gets rear parking sensors, eight-inch touchscreen and full connectivity pack including sat nav and Apple CarPlay.

All Arona models have the cost-free option of metallic paint and all are fitted with roof rails.

With among the best in class residuals and a fresh, buoyant range the latest SEAT model is likely to build on the firm's success which has seen sales in UK rise by more than 18 per cent in the last year.

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