Price is the big hook with Seat's Ateca crossover
Good value but some flaws
It's no surprise that the second test car of the new year is also an SUV. And there's more coming. It is getting to the stage where the lines of differentiation are closing, if not merging just yet. I know the car-makers will be angry with me for saying that, but it is the truth. The Seat Ateca is a good case in point - with one important exception.
For me, it doesn't exactly break design boundaries. Its cabin didn't manifest out-and-out inspiration. Its driving characteristics are nothing so sensational that you would write home about them (with the exception of the brilliant 1.4-litre petrol version).
I'm being outwardly negative here - to make a point about one central aspect of the Ateca. Price.
The Ateca is Seat's first crossover/SUV and naturally they, I stress they, are thrilled with the prospect of being able to have it in showrooms so that an anticipated 1,000 or so buyers will drive one away this year.
I think those buyers - families with small children are the prime targets - will be quite happy with their purchase.
There's a lot of Volkswagen stuff (all good, don't worry) in there and a few bits and pieces getting an airing before others from the auto giant's stable.
But the one thing they may feel most pleased about is the price.
Seat have made no bones of the fact that they need that as a key determining factor to get their new motor up and going.
And that means it has, in the welter of SUV choice, the distinguishing factors of price, price and price.
Even if it isn't, on the face of it, that dramatically less expensive than some of the established giants (Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, Nissan Qashqai, Renault Kadjar, etc), it has already acquired the name for it and that's a huge step in the psychology of buying and selling. Especially for a brand new car.
It's the preferred and polar opposite of what happened with the new Volkswagen Tiguan, which got itself (correctly) the name of being too expensive and people voted with their pockets by going elsewhere.
That shows how price-sensitive this compact crossover segment can be. By the way, Volkswagen have now brought in a Tiguan version at a much more competitive price. Lesson learned.
With the Ateca you get a solid piece of work for your money. There is a decently roomy cabin, a fine boot (at 510 litres, it is larger than the Qashqai's) and a good range of engines.
I'm a fan of that 1.4-litre petrol I mentioned but the 1.6-litre diesel is the one you are most likely to consider. If you want 4WD, you have to get into one of the 2-litre diesels (150bhp, 190bhp), neither of which overly impressed me.
I had the 190bhp version for quite a while. It is great to have 4WD, I readily admit, but the downside in this case is higher road tax and fuel consumption (sadly the case for the 1.4-litre petrol, too).
I feel your ordinary 2WD 1.6-litre diesel fits the bill just fine and does what Seat want to do with the car - keeps the focus on price.
Of course, there is a difference between price and value, and I think that is where the Ateca fares really well because it has a welcome level and spread of equipment and comfort.
Comparing like for like is a treacherous undertaking because most rivals have decent price/value mix-n-matches, too. I'd put it this way in the case of the Ateca: you get a lot of car and spec for under €30,000 with the 1.6-litre diesel. That is crucial because the price sensitivity above €30,000 for a car like this is acute - as I've said.
I liked the seats in the Ateca while I, and an unusually high number of passengers (not all at once), felt we had plenty of room.
Without doing anything extraordinary, they have worked well to create a modern, comfortable, functional cabin.
I wouldn't be a fan of the 2-litre diesel in my test car. The 7spd DSG transmission was sluggish in changing the gears, too. Noise suppression overall wasn't great and there was a lot of up-and-down travel on the wheels over rougher city roads.
However, the car is underpinned with a fine chassis and they've kept body-sway to a minimum. As I've found over the years, that can be a help if you have children on board who are prone to travel sickness - the less over-and-back movement the better.
So is it worth a look? I think it definitely is because I can see families becoming genuinely interested when they look at the entry price, and recognising that this could suit their budget. Few people buy entry-level models but if the price is right, it starts the discussion and they most usually opt for mid-spec. Price is the hook, undoubtedly, in this segment and right now it's a strong card for the Ateca.
Facts & Figures
Seat Ateca compact SUV, 4Drive, DSG automatic, 2-litre (190bhp) diesel, 5.3litres/100km, 135g/km (€280 road tax).
Range starts at: €24,750 (1.0TSi). Diesels from €26,450. Model on test, with extras: €41,881. Remember delivery and related charges can be extra.
Standard equipment overall includes alloy wheels, air con, front assist and LED daytime running lights.
My test car also had leather interior, 18ins alloys, rear camera, Media System Plus (8ins touchscreen), connectivity box, light and rain sensors, heated front seats.
Options included adaptive cruise control, park assist, satnav system with Full Link.