SEAT Ateca diesel First Edition 2016 review

The SEAT Ateca SUV is well-made, good to drive, practical and affordable, plus First Edition spec adds plenty of kit

Overall Auto Express Rating

5.0 out of 5

It’s no big shock that SEAT’s first SUV is a very impressive car, given the platform on which it's based. It looks great but doesn’t compromise on practicality, plus it’s well made and relatively affordable. It’s also better to drive than its rivals, with tidy body control, neat steering and a composed ride. First Edition spec offers most of the kit you’re ever likely to need, while the 114bhp 1.6-litre diesel is punchy, efficient and smooth. The Ateca comfortably becomes the new class leader.

The new Ateca is SEAT’s long-awaited first crossover, but it couldn’t have arrived at a busier time. Buyers have been lapping up SUVs for some years, and only a handful of makers haven’t yet cashed in on the sector. To really stand out, the Ateca needs to be more than merely okay – and so it proved, when a left-hand-drive car beat the Renault Kadjar in a group test.

This time, we’re sampling the SEAT in right-hand-drive UK form, and in a spec from the cheaper end of the range: the front-wheel-drive, 1.6 TDI First Edition. Set to be popular at launch, and limited to just 200 cars, it offers much of the flagship X-CELLENCE’s kit and styling, but at a lower price point.

It’s a very sharp-looking SUV whatever the spec, as it borrows the sleek design cues and tight proportions of the current Leon, but adds presence with the desirable higher stance and rugged body cladding. Our First Edition really stands out with its 18-inch wheels and Samoa Orange paint, too.

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If you’re expecting the same bright and stylish look to the interior, you might be disappointed. As with the Leon, there’s a dark, minimalist feel and a few hard plastics, but the Ateca is still more grown-up and solid than anything from Renault or Nissan – even if it can’t quite match the new VW Tiguan’s level of polish.

As is typical of SEAT, the switchgear is extremely well placed and forward visibility is excellent. This First Edition throws in £3,500 worth of goodies, too, including an eight-inch touchscreen satellite navigation system that’s slick and easy to operate.

The Ateca is also very practical – far more so than the Leon on which it’s based. Rear head and legroom is better than the class average, while storage is good all-round. The front-wheel-drive version also benefits from a bigger boot than four-wheel-drive models, measuring in at a generous 510 litres.

You might assume the VW Group’s venerable 1.6-litre diesel would struggle in an SUV such as the Ateca, but it’s actually pretty well matched. It never feels fast, and there are quieter engines around, yet the strong torque delivery makes it feel gutsy enough for most needs, and quicker than the figures suggest. The six-speed manual gearbox is slick, too, meaning you can make the most of the power that’s on offer.

SEAT Ateca vs Renault Kadjar

Claimed efficiency figures aren’t class-leading, however; we’d suspect the VW Group is being a bit more honest with its claims in light of recent events, but a CO2 figure of 114g/km is trumped by the 1.5-litre Kadjar’s 99g/km. If you’re looking to regularly load up the car, or require four-wheel drive, we’d recommend a more powerful petrol or the 2.0 diesel, yet both would be even less frugal. In the real-world the difference is less noticeable, although the Ateca will be a touch pricer to tax than rivals. 

The Ateca’s ace card is its impressive blend of ride and handling. The SEAT has a slightly sportier set-up than the Tiguan, although this doesn’t come at the expense of comfort. It feels firm but very well controlled, riding with real composure. The steering is well weighted and accurate, body roll isn’t too noticeable and there’s plenty of grip. In fact, the SUV doesn’t feel much less agile than the Leon.

At the same time, wind and road noise are well insulated, with only the background drone of the diesel engine occasionally intruding. By class standards, SEAT is leading the pack first time out. To top it off, the car is even strong value for money, undercutting the Nissan Qashqai spec-for-spec and making the VW Tiguan look decidedly overpriced.

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