SEAT Tarraco SE Technology: long-term test review

Final report: If you need a large family car you’ll do little better than a SEAT Tarraco, which has catered for our every whim

Overall Auto Express Rating

5.0 out of 5

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Congratulations Tarraco, you’re an award-winner – and rightly so. You’re large enough to cope with all the demands that a family can throw your way, but you can also be fun from behind the wheel.

Mileage: 6,758Economy: 41.7mpg

Two months after joining our test fleet, the SEAT Tarraco edged out the Skoda Kodiaq and Peugeot 5008 to win the Large SUV of the Year honour at the Auto Express New Car Awards 2019. Now, as my time with our Tarraco comes to an end, I think it deserves to be crowned again.

Six months of rigorous real-world testing can sometimes highlight problems that wouldn’t have otherwise been noticed when a car was driven for the first time, but the Tarraco has just got better and better. I’ve been impressed with how it drives, how much space it has and how it looks. In my book, it’s a definite award-winner.

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There’s one question I have been asking myself though; would I still like my Tarraco so much if it had a different specification or came with a more or less powerful engine? And the answer is yes. Probably.

However, I think that combining SE Technology and the 2.0 TDI 148bhp motor makes my model the pick of the range simply because it provides the best all-round option for a family. It’s not too expensive yet it’s still packed full of kit.

I’ve previously mentioned that SE Technology is a slightly strange spec, with some equipment I’d expect to see on higher trim levels and other stuff that I’d only expect to see lower down the range. Nevertheless, it really does offer everything that you need on a daily basis. I simply can’t see why anybody would want to step up to the more expensive Xcellence trim.

The digital cockpit and eight-inch navigation system come as standard and look great, but more importantly they are extremely easy to use. I found everything I needed within the menus without using the manual – and I’m no tech expert.

I also really like the 18-inch ‘Performance’ alloy wheels. There are flashier 19 and 20-inch rims further up the range, but I prefer a larger tyre wall. When dropping my young son, Hugo, off at nursery, I often have to mount the kerb and it’s nice to know that I’m not going to nick the alloys.

Rear-seat headroom is fantastic and tall adults can sit comfortably. It’s also useful with a child car seat; I can lift Hugo into and out of the car without banging his head, and I don’t have to stoop to see what’s going on.

Being very big and very white, the SEAT is also pretty easy to spot in a car park, and Hugo really enjoys pointing and shouting “car” whenever he sees it. I’m not sure I would choose Oryx White if I was going to buy one, though; trying to keep it clean has been a constant battle, although cleaning it at home has actually been fun – especially with a little one to help.

SEAT quotes fuel economy of between 44.1 and 47.9mpg for the 2.0 TDI and I’ve got relatively close to the lower end. Most of my miles have been spent either trundling around city streets or cruising down the motorway, so I can’t really complain at such a large and heavy SUV averaging 41.7mpg. Admittedly, it hasn’t always been loaded up, but most of the time there have been at least two adults and a child in the car, plus the added weight of Hugo’s car seat and buggy.

Of course there are a few niggles, such as how the rear seat belts can catch on the boot cover when it’s pulled across.

But the Tarraco has been a superb servant during my time with it. I’ve loved it, my wife has loved it and my son has loved it. It’s been a great family car and for me it’s definitely still the Best Large SUV.

SEAT Tarraco: third report

We put the SEAT Tarraco's seven-seat credentials to the test on a trip to Wales

Mileage: 5,102Economy: 42.9mpg

Until recently, the easiest way to transport more than five people around would have been in an MPV, but the rapid rise of SUVs means it’s now possible to get seven people into a car that’s both more stylish and better to drive.

One of the main areas in which large SUVs suffer compared with MPVs is the lack of space at the very back, with the rearmost seats often only suitable for children. To find out whether the criticism is justified, I headed to Wales in our SEAT Tarraco to visit my brother John and, over a long weekend, our combined families put the SUV’s people-carrying ability to the test.

On arrival, everybody quickly crowded around the Tarraco and the reception was mostly positive. They all liked the way it looked and thought the interior was modern and spacious. Then each person took their turn at sitting in different positions, and we slid the seats back and forth to try and find the best possible set-up.

As eight-year-old Arthur, the youngest member of the family, was testing the rearmost seats, I asked him if he was comfortable. “I’m fine,” he told me. “The seats here are the same as in the middle row. My legs touch the seat in front, but I still have some space to move them.” 

However, his sister Molly, who is 15, was a little less complimentary. “The seats are okay, but there’s not enough room for my legs,” she said. “I don’t think I would be comfortable on a long journey. If it was just me at the back, I could stretch out a bit on to the other seat, but it’s pretty cramped with two of us here.”

As for fitting an adult into that third row of seats, they all agreed that it was simply too tight back there. Getting in and out of the seats while trying to retain your dignity was almost impossible, too.

SEAT Tarraco: second report

SEAT Tarraco’s large boot helps Pete muscle in on World’s Strongest Man

Mileage: 4,301Economy: 43.4mpg 

Over the Christmas period I love to sit down and watch The World’s Strongest Man on TV, but since I’ve been running the SEAT Tarraco on the Auto Express fleet, I’m thinking of entering next year’s event.

Now, before you think I must have gone insane, let me explain. The SEAT Tarraco’s huge boot means I’ve spent almost as much time lifting heavy things in and out as I have actually behind the wheel. In fact, I’ve been lugging so many weighty items, it often feels like I’ve been to the gym for a weights session.

I’m using the boot’s large dimensions as an opportunity to clear as much clutter from my house and garden as possible, so I’ve been back and forth to the local recycling centre more times than I can remember.

So far I’ve piled in large branches from a tree that I chopped down, turf that had been dug up and then left to soak in the rain, and even unwanted solid wood doors that had been sitting in the shed for years. As a result, my house is looking tidier, and my biceps are getting bigger. It’s a win-win situation.

Transporting big items means that I’ve had to put the seats up and down regularly as well, but it’s not a problem in the Tarraco, because folding them flat is a doddle. A simple pull on the lever at the top of the rear bench, which splits 60:40, causes the seats to fold with ease, meaning I can operate them with just one hand. It’s especially useful when I’m holding a handful of branches or a heavy bag. But even though the SEAT’s boot stands at an impressive 700 litres (rising to 1,775 litres with all the seats folded), it’s still short of the Skoda Kodiaq’s 765 litres (2,005 litres).

Automotive managing editor Stuart Milne recently borrowed the Tarraco for a family trip to France and, having previously run a Kodiaq on our test fleet, he was in a good position to compare the two large SUVs. Stuart thinks that there’s a noticeable difference between them, because he struggled to fit in everything his family needed for their holiday, whereas it wasn’t a problem in the Skoda we used to have on the fleet.

The size of the boot has been more than adequate for my needs, though, so unless you are planning on filling it to the brim, it should be large enough for most tasks.

When the Tarraco is not being used to carry heavy items, it’s acting as our regular family transport. That means it’s covering everything from short trips to the shops, to longer journeys to visit family in Wales. 

Once I got used to the Tarraco’s sheer size, it’s been faultless. The Spanish car boasts a smooth ride, soaking up most potholes and road imperfections with barely a shudder, and it keeps body roll in check when travelling down a winding road. Driving dynamics may not be the most important factor for buyers of big seven-seat SUVs, but it’s good to know that the Tarraco is certainly not devoid of fun – something that a few of its rivals can’t claim.

The 2.0-litre diesel engine only has 148bhp, but it still feels punchy and is able to disguise the car’s 1,660kg bulk without any real issues. It’s just when I go for an overtake and work it hard that I sometimes think the more powerful 187bhp unit would be the better choice, although that’s only available with Xcellence trim and above.

The cabin also suppresses road and wind noise well, even at higher speeds. Plus the seats are comfortable and I really like the high-up driving position. These factors all result in me often feeling quite relaxed at the end of a trip. The only thing I can really fault so far is the standard equipment that comes with our mid-spec SE Technology car. I’d previously said I thought that it was the pick of the range, and I stand by that because the trim does offer almost everything I need.

However, I do find it a little strange that SE Technology is missing a reversing camera and leather seats, but does have features such as puddle lights and Audi-esque scrolling rear indicators. I’d rather SEAT included the former and excluded the latter.

While puddle lights are a nice addition and very good for impressing your friends and family, I would much rather that the company had fitted some useful equipment that would make day-to-day life with the Tarraco that little bit easier.

SEAT Tarraco: first report

Seven-seat SEAT Tarraco SUV joins our fleet and makes a good first impression

Mileage: 1,658Economy: 44.5mpg

SEAT is very proud of its Spanish heritage, so much so that nearly every model in its current line-up is named after a town or area in Spain. The Ibiza, Leon, Arona, Ateca and Alhambra all follow this formula, and so does the latest addition to the Auto Express fleet, the Tarraco.

For the past 37 years the Iberian brand has been using place names, starting way back with the Rondo in 1982. The Tarraco is the 14th car to follow this principle, but it was the first to be named by public vote. SEAT set up a poll to choose the name for its new seven-seat SUV back in late 2017, and Tarraco, the historical name for the city of Tarragona, edged out Avila, Aranda and Alboran, with more than 35 per cent of the votes.

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Yet while the brand’s approach to its cars’ names is unique, the same can’t be said of the Tarraco itself. The large SUV shares many of its characteristics with the Skoda Kodiaq, sitting on the same version of the Volkswagen Group’s modular MQB platform and sharing the same range of engines. But that’s no bad thing because the Kodiaq scooped the Best Large SUV honour at our New Car Awards ceremony last year.

Our Tarraco is an SE Technology model, which sits near the bottom of the range, with only the standard SE trim below it (Xcellence and Xcellence Lux sit above our car in the line-up). That doesn’t mean it’s short of kit, though, because the focus on technology really shines through.

Folding door mirrors, LED headlights and tail-lamps, daytime running lights, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, rear parking sensors, hill-hold assist, three-zone climate control and an eight-inch touchscreen navigation system with SEAT’s Digital Cockpit all come as standard, along with 18-inch alloy wheels. Stepping up in trim level only really adds leather seats, a parking camera, larger wheels and a few cosmetic upgrades, so the SE Technology specification is the sweet spot of the range.

Just like the Kodiaq, the Tarraco offers bags of space, with lots of storage and plenty of leg and headroom in the rear seats. Boot capacity stands at 1,775 litres with the rear two benches folded flat (just down on the Kodiaq’s cavernous 2,005 litres), while there is even a usable 230 litres available with the car set up as a seven-seater. Those sixth and seventh chairs don’t offer much legroom, though, and are only really suitable for kids. Adults will simply find it too uncomfortable to spend much time back there, and the seats are tough to clamber into.

Where the Tarraco differs from the Kodiaq is in the way it drives. SEAT is well known for focusing on dynamics, and this SUV does not disappoint. Its sheer size means it has some limitations, but it feels controlled when turning sharply into corners and body roll is kept in check for the most part. The SE Technology’s smaller 18-inch wheels also provide a smooth ride and the car soaks up most road imperfections without flinching.

The Tarraco’s engine line-up is standard VW Group fare. There’s the choice of a 1.5-litre TSI petrol with 148bhp, a 187bhp 2.0-litre TSI petrol or a 2.0-litre TDI diesel with either 148bhp or 187bhp. SE Technology is only available with the two lower-powered units, and our model has the 148bhp diesel. We’ve also plumped for the six-speed manual box, instead of the seven-speed DSG automatic.

The power figure might seem low for such a big car, but it copes with the demands of daily life well. So far I’ve used it around town and on some longer motorway journeys, and the engine never feels strained. In fact, the 340Nm of torque means it feels quite punchy when going for an overtake. A fully laden Tarraco might be a different story but, for most people, the lower-powered 2.0-litre diesel should be quick enough. Economy of 44.5mpg is also impressive for a 1,660kg car.

I’m looking forward to seeing how it copes with the demands of day-to-day life. My young son likes to grab and pull at anything within reach, so he’s sure to be testing the car as much as I am in the coming months.

*Insurance quote from AA (0800 107 0680) for a 42-year-old in Banbury, Oxon, with three points.

Web producer

Pete has over 20 years journalistic experience. Having previously worked for Ladbrokes and the Racing Post, he switched from sports writing to automotive journalism when joining Auto Express in 2015.

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