SEAT Arona review - Engines, performance and drive
The Arona is hardly rewarding to drive, but it is comfortable, composed and refined
No small SUV offers a particularly thrilling experience behind the wheel. But the Arona manages to sit near the top of the class anyway - not because it really involves you when you’re driving down a twisty country road (it doesn’t), but because it does the rest of the basics pretty well.
We haven’t tried the most modest engine yet, but the 113bhp version of the 1.0 three-cylinder has a nice spread of power and torque – enough for you to maintain something approaching brisk progress when needed. It’s easy to keep it in its happiest band of revs – between 2,000rpm and 4,000rpm, we’d say – because the six-speed manual gearbox is slick and easy to shift quickly.
Once you are up to a decent speed, you’ll hear a distant thrum that’s reasonably smooth, but also audible enough to remind you that your car has a three-cylinder engine, not a four-pot. The biggest noise at a motorway cruise is likely to be wind rush from around the usual SEAT sharp-angled side mirrors. There is a bit of three-cylinder vibration through your feet, though, especially via the clutch pedal.
The Arona’s steering is nicely weighted and precise, and combined with the tauter chassis this is easily the sportiest and most fun car in the class to drive. As the ride is on the firm side, body control is tight and the chassis is well tied down. The car is nicely damped, too, and although there’s more aggressive vertical movement over substandard roads, the Arona still smothers bad surfaces adeptly. This set-up gives the car plenty of grip, which means you can make the most of the smooth, refined 113bhp 1.0-litre TSI unit.
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There are a few chassis variations in the range. Everything, aside from FR and FR Sport, sits on ‘comfort’ suspension, and in the most part, this feels like it can cope with all but the worst roads, even when equipped with the 17-inch wheels that come with most trim levels. However, there's no denying that the car always has a firm feel to its step.
FR and FR Sport take things on a bit further, though, with stiffer suspension and (on FR Sport) larger 18-inch wheels. It certainly leads to less body roll in corners, but also gives a harsher ride, with ridges across the road and even motorway joins felt obviously in the cabin.
We’d urge you to try both suspension set-ups before deciding if it’s worth going for the sporty option, because it’s not as if it really adds an extra facet to the Arona’s abilities on twistier roads anyway.
We’ve also tried the 113bhp 1.0 with SEAT’s DSG dual-clutch seven-speed automatic transmission. It’s a doddle to use around town - not totally foolproof, but it shifts quickly enough to get you steadily through most situations.
The Arona has a choice of three petrol engines or a diesel. There’s a 1.0-litre TSI three-cylinder petrol offered in two states of tune - 94bhp or 113bhp. We haven’t tried the basic 1.0, but the 113bhp version of the engine feels pretty comfortable with life. There’s a bit of three-cylinder rumble if you rev it hard, and there is some vibration through the pedals in all situations, but in the most part it’s a strong, flexible, refined companion. The extra power of the 148bhp 1.5-litre TSI unit will please keener drivers, allowing the Arona to accelerate from 0-62mph in 8.2 seconds.
The 1.6-litre diesel produces 94bhp and is available with either a five-speed manual or a seven-speed DSG auto.
It's rattly and gruff when cold, but happily it's much smoother once it's warm. Then, you can enjoy the strong pull at low revs that really suits - in fact, the 1.6 diesel has enough torque to make it feel much quicker in everyday driving conditions, but it means it's also a thoroughly undemanding car to navigate.
Another downside is that the diesel cars are heavier than their petrol equivalents, making them feel less agile. They take more effort to turn into corners as a result, and feel relatively nose-heavy, with more pronounced body roll.
In this review
- 1VerdictThe SEAT Arona is a well-rounded small SUV, with refined engines and generous standard equipment
- 2Engines, performance and drive - currently readingThe Arona is hardly rewarding to drive, but it is comfortable, composed and refined
- 3MPG, CO2 and Running CostsLean three-cylinder petrol engine promises decent economy
- 4Interior, design and technologyNeat, sophisticated design with standard contrast roof and plenty of colour options
- 5Practicality, comfort and boot spaceA fair amount of space, but few of the practical tricks required to make it a genuine alternative to a family hatchback
- 6Reliability and SafetyThe SEAT Arona should be a dependable and safe family car, as it uses many tried and tested VW Group parts