(Pocket-lint) - SUV and crossover cars sales are booming. But it's only now that some brands are debuting an SUV for the first time. Case in point: the Seat Ateca, which began production in 2016.
The new Ateca sits above the Leon in Seat's range and is built on the Volkswagen group's MQB platform, meaning it shares its underpinning with the Leon... and also the Volkswagen Golf, Audi A3, Skoda Octavia and many more besides. The car it's most closely related to - and which you might be considering it as an alternative to - is the VW Tiguan, which was recently refreshed.
But if you're thinking the Ateca is just a VW with a Seat badge on, then think again. For the urban-bound, the Ateca is a useful 10cm shorter than the Tiguan, thanks to a shorter wheelbase. It's cheaper than the VW too. And it's got a usefully sized cabin and much bigger boot than the Leon hatch.
However, it's less VW and more Nissan that Seat is going head-to-head against. Given its competitive price and well-equipped specification, the Ateca's most obvious competitor is the ubiquitous Nissan Qashqai. Can Seat usurp the UK's best-selling, default purchase crossover?
Seat Ateca 1.4 EcoTSI SE review: Taking the fight to Nissan
Talking to many Qashqai owners, it seems to have become a default car choice. It's keenly priced, looks right, is small enough to park but big enough for a family and loaded out with tech. It's the go-to choice, so why would you buy the Seat instead?
After spending a week with the Ateca, we think we've uncovered a few reasons, with the key factor being the way the Ateca drives. With many crossovers - the new Peugeot 3008, for example - the way they drive lets the side down. We know a crossover isn't going to be bought for its Nurburgring lap times, but nonetheless, there's precious little pleasure to be had in the way many crossovers move down the road.
The Seat is different. It feels like a very well sorted hatchback. By that, we mean the extra ride height barely seems to have an impact on it. It doesn't feel heavy or bloated. It rides firmly, without lots of body roll, meaning it's comfortable. Our SE car's smallish, 17-inch wheels no doubt helped here. The steering is sharp and precise and it clings on gamely if you go wild with cornering speeds.
This particular model - the 1.4 EcoTSI sporting 150bhp and teamed with a six-speed manual box - shows the Ateca in a particularly strong light. Feeling good for every single one of those 150 horses, it accelerates briskly, revs happily yet smoothly and, as a driver, you get into a nice rhythm with the car.
The gearbox is slick, at motorway speeds the car is quiet and this engine's novel cylinder deactivation technology (it shuts off two cylinders to save fuel in certain circumstances) is barely noticeable. It returned nearly 40mpg, despite much of our driving being on urban roads. Officially, this Ateca will return 53mpg and produces 122g/km CO2. In short, it's impressive to ride in, and enjoyable to drive. And as a driving device alone, we'd take an Ateca over a Qashqai in a heartbeat.
Seat Ateca 1.4 EcoTSI SE review: Superior interior?
However, the average crossover isn't bought for getting your kicks on the B66. Instead, families and empty nesters buy these cars for their elevated ride height, more sporting "go-outdoors" image and practical, commodious interiors.
The Ateca ticks off the first two of these qualities just by virtue of what it is. And the car is wrapped in a neat, non-challenging exterior design - whose most stand-out element on the next-level up SE Technology and Xcellence spec cars is bold, full-LED technology headlamps.
There's not the bold graphics of the Peugeot 3008, and sheet metal radiuses aren't as tightly pressed as the Ateca's more expensive Volkswagen cousin, the Tiguan. But there's little to offend about the Ateca's design.
It's a similar story with the interior, which after some of the more advanced and premium cockpits that Pocket-lint has experienced recently, feels a little plain Jane. There are huge swathes of black plastic, which aren't bad quality but could just really do with a splash of colour or an island of trim inserting to brighten them up. Our SE spec car came with blue seats. By blue we mean they're that shade that you drive around in for three days thinking they're actually grey - yep, they're that subtle - before taking a much closer look.
Still, like any good VW group product, every switch is where you expect to find it, everything you press is nicely dampened, there are a few helpful cubby holes to help out the family types (open them to remind yourself you're in the lower reaches of the group food-chain, because they're not soft lined) and all the important stuff is present. A toddler could use the Ateca, it's that logical, and all of the on-board technology works well.
It's well-proportioned inside too. Back seats aren't as big as many competitor crossovers, but will still happily house a pair of adults or brace of car seats. Many will be attracted to a car like this because the boot is usefully bigger than a similarly sized hatchback like the Leon, and the Ateca doesn't disappoint - its 510-litre capacity is bigger than a Qashqai's and it swallowed our big-wheeled buggy and a heap of weekend-away kit without blinking.
Seat Ateca 1.4 EcoTSI SE review: Engine and spec options
One of the Ateca's key appeals is its conspicuous good value. The model we're reviewing here is a mid-spec 1.4 petrol, in SE trim - priced at £21,550.
Seat added Sat Nav and DAB (£525), Parking sensors (£330), Keyless entry, electric tailgate and a wireless phone charger (£780) and surround cameras (£650), to our test car taking the price to £24,410 - and all the kit most people will want to have.
Instead of adding the options Seat did to our car, you could instead upgrade to an SE Tech model to get the Nav and DAB as standard, along with some more modern-looking alloy wheels, LED lamps and a few other bits. Were it our money we'd be tempted to do that - given it's only an extra £1,735 over the SE. But a basic, 1.0 S-spec Ateca for just £18,150 is an awful lot of car for the money, which has intrinsic appeal given that we know how sweet the 3-cylinder petrol engine is.
Several engines are available with the DSG automatic gearbox, plus there are 115-, 150- and 190-horsepower diesel options which will cost more to buy than the petrols but return around 10-miles extra to every gallon. If you want your Ateca to be a true SUV and have four-wheel drive, you'll need a 150 or 190 diesel. Unless we lived up a track or towed regularly, we're not sure we'd bother.
Seat Ateca 1.4 EcoTSI SE review: Equipped to please
The good news on the tech-front for anyone going for an SE model or above, is that your Ateca will come with an 8-inch colour touchscreen, even if you don't option the navigation model.
With physical menu shortcut buttons flanking the screen, this system is less explicitly modern than the new, all-digital screens that debuted in the new Golf, but we found this easier to use on the move. It's hardly unresponsive, either.
Good news for those put off by the thought of spending extra on the Sat Nav option on SE spec cars, is that SE models and above come with Seat's "full-link" system as standard, which means Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Mirrorlink options are all there and ready to use out of the box.
As mentioned, almost everything is logical and easy to use for both driver and passenger. The Ateca is one of those rare cars that, in this spec at least, doesn't overwhelm and distract you with new technologies while you're driving (the instrument cluster is refreshingly analogue, for instance) but still manages to provide all the useful technology support - USB, Bluetooth, online search for addresses and postcodes, DAB radio if you get the Sat Nav, cruise control, stop-start, and so on - that most of us have come to take for granted.
We're keen advocates that in-car technology should work to augment rather than distract you from driving - and the Ateca is refreshingly well-judged in this regard. Despite the ostensibly plain interior, we've really enjoyed being in and driving it.
Sometimes cars come along that impress us with their new approach or innovative technology. The Ateca is not such a car. But within the space of a week spent with a car for review, sometimes the initial novelty wears off and we're left questioning whether some try-hard design or over-stated tech can mask fundamental deficiencies in the depth of a product's development.
The Seat Ateca is the opposite of that. It's really quite unassuming; in some ways it's very forgettable - it doesn't stand-out, it doesn't do anything dramatically different to any other cars in the compact SUV/crossover class - but that's at the heart of its appeal. It does everything either well, or very well - there's no flat note to be found. Its appeal is that it will slip into your life unnoticed and simply work - doing little to annoy, irritate or confuse.
If you're looking to stand-out, you'll need to look elsewhere. But if you're looking for objectively the best vehicle in its class then you'll be wanting at a Seat Ateca... or the default Nissan Qashqai. Given how well the Seat drives, how well priced it is and the range of options its engines and equipment levels offer, however, we can see why many will now choose the car from Spain rather than the default Nissan.