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In-depth reviews

Cupra Ateca - Engines, performance and drive

The most potent Cupra Ateca makes the most of the sharp handling combine to create a pretty exhilarating experience

Overall Auto Express Rating

3.5 out of 5

Engines, performance and drive Rating

4.0 out of 5

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When the Cupra Ateca was launched, we thought it was one of the finest handling cars in its class. That’s still true today, but there are many more decent alternatives to avert your gaze from the Cupra. 

Like many hot SUVs, there’s a selection of driving modes to cater to your tastes. Normal, Sport, Cupra, Snow, Off-Road and Individual – but Cupra is the setting you’ll require to enjoy the Ateca at its most impressive and aggressive. In this mode, the steering is weightier, the throttle is sharper, the gear shifts are quicker, and the exhaust note is enhanced.

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Body lean is kept in check by its firm suspension, while the 4Drive all-wheel drive system delivers a huge amount of traction, which serves to inspire even more confidence in the drive. There’s even an Off-Road mode, although the combination of 19-inch or 20-inch wheels and low-profile tyres won’t allow you to venture too far off the beaten track.

It’s much wiser to explore the Cupra Ateca’s on-road prowess, where only the non-communicative steering threatens to spoil the party. Its brilliant off-the-line pace isn't quite matched by the handling – which doesn’t goad you into finding the limit in a way a traditional hot hatch would. The standard seven-speed DSG gearbox is fairly fluid at low speeds, although it’s not immediately decisive when you’re pressing on – the tiny gearshift paddles behind the wheel aren’t the most confidence-inspiring either.

It can’t mix it with the likes of the Honda Civic Type R or Hyundai i30 N – that was never the intention – but it can trade punches with the likes of the four-cylinder iterations of the Alfa Romeo Stelvio and Porsche Macan. And that’s high praise.

Engines, 0-60 acceleration and top speed

Any thoughts that the Cupra Ateca is little more than a tarted-up SEAT SUV are soon forgotten when you hit the accelerator. In VZ-branded Cupra Atecas, there’s 2.0-litre, turbocharged four-cylinder with 296bhp and 400Nm of torque. If you’re a VW aficionado and those stats look familiar, this is the well-used EA888 engine that VW has put into a series of its hot ‘R’ badged models. You may even notice that the 296bhp figure isn’t as much as the 316bhp you get from the current Golf R – that’s because the Cupra Ateca’s engine is borrowed from the previous version of the hot Golf. 

The 0-62mph time is polished off in 5.2 seconds – quick enough to trouble most self-respecting hot hatches. You really need to keep the rev-counter between 3,500 and 6,000rpm to make the most of the engine’s power band, otherwise, it’s a little flat in its response. 

The faster you go, the more exhilarating it becomes, especially in Cupra mode. The soundtrack from the standard quad exhaust tips doesn’t quite deliver on the visual promise, and the only way to solve this is to pick the louder Akrapovic exhaust, which is a pricey option at over £3000.

We’re yet to drive the 148bhp 1.5-litre and 187bhp 2.0-litre, although we have tried them in various other VW Group cars and generally find them decent offerings. They certainly will give a less rambunctious feel than the full-fat 296bhp engine though. The 1.5-litre Cupra Ateca completes the 0-62mph sprint in 9.3 seconds whereas the 2.0-litre 187bhp model comes in at 7.2 seconds.

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