Another one joins the SUV race - so here's how I rate SEAT's new Arona as rival numbers surge
First drive in Barcelona: SEAT Arona
The challenge with the small SUV boom is finding points of difference between models.
We were talking about that over dinner in Sitges after driving SEAT's new Arona (here this month, starts at €17,995). SEAT pointed to its stand-out design, array of technologies and engines. The only thing is, their myriad counterparts say much the same.
But as it's my job to pick out the differences, I thought it would be good to do so with the Arona under a few headings.
First impressions are good, especially with different colours for roof and body. There's a strong front, rising flanks and sturdy finish at the rear. It needs the looks; anything less risks being lost in the fog of small SUVs. Above average.
I recognised a lot of old acquaintances from the Volkswagen parts pool, but they've varied the package. The 8in touchscreen dominates the centre dash. There's a good deal of plastic, but it felt of good quality. Decent glove box, handy cubbyholes. We had good room up front and the back was okay. There are roomier rivals and a few with less generous dimensions. The boot (400 litres) is above the norm. Seating was comfortable and the driving position good. Instruments were clear, though the satnav on one test car wasn't great. More detailed signage made life easier on our second car. Good head room.
Rather than single out separate items, take a look at SE spec (details right). Seat expects that trim to be the most popular. The spread of stuff compares favourably with others on the market. This really is a matter of prioritising what you consider important. There's loads of connectivity and lots of options. Apple Car Play, Android Auto and Mirror Link feature. SEAT have clearly outlined the basics for each trim level, how much it costs to go from one trim to another and from petrol to diesel or manual to DSG auto (see panel). Many rivals could learn from that. Above average.
On the road/Drive
It's built on a variation of Volkswagen's MQB A0 platform. The Arona sits taller, has better ground clearance and is among the lightest (1,000kg). They've tuned the suspension to comfortably taut, but I feel unless a car is outrageously wayward in handling, people don't fuss much as these cars are mostly driven in urban areas. The nice surprise was the 1-litre 3cyl petrol engine with 95PS (5spd); there's a 115PS too (6spd man, 7spd DSG). The 4cyl, 150PS has active cylinder disconnection technology but is FR trim only (6spd manual).
The 95PS petrol we drove topped out a little up steep, winding slopes but was perfectly okay for what we'll ask of it here. In contrast, the 1.6-litre diesel was throaty and sounded weary (1.6 TDI with 95, 115 PS). The 95PS diesel has 5spd manual or 7spd DSG (we drove this) - not greatly impressed. It would have better fuel consumption, but the 95PS 1-litre got my vote. There was good road holding and it felt nicely set up for an enjoyable drive.
The opening price of €17,995 is a bit deceptive. I don't expect many to buy a car with steel wheels. A pity the 95PS version isn't available in SE trim. It means you'll pay nearly €21,000 for the 115PS version. But it still scores above average.
It's still very much a growing brand and is new to this end of the market so pick-up will take time. It's easier when a brand has a big spread of outlets. I felt the diesel let it down a bit.
It's well put together and to an extent fends off the accusation of sameness in this segment. I'd watch for quality of cabin materials in lower spec models when this gets here this month as we could only access higher-trim versions. But I have to give it above average marks overall on what I encountered.
The expanding list of rivals include Renault Captur, Nissan Juke, Peugeot 2008SUV, Opel Crossland X, KIA Stonic, Hyundai Kona, Citroen Aircross, Honda F-RV, Mazda CX-3, Skoda Karoq, Volkswagen T-Roc. Apologies to anyone inadvertently overlooked, but isn't that a major menu of choice?
The Arona arrives in November for January purchase. It starts at €17,995. Series of equipment 'packs', so you pick and choose what you want. Some stuff that's available: adaptive cruise control, rear traffic alert, blind spot detection and park assistance system, BeatsAudio with six premium speakers, 300W eight-channel amplifier subwoofer in the boot.
S trim: 16in steel wheels, front assist (with city emergency braking), auto lights, air con, speed limiter, 5in media system, Bluetooth, USB port, aux-in, SD card slot, black roof rails, double floor in boot. SE (projected best seller) has/adds: 8in media system plus, 2 USBs, voice control, SEAT Full Link, 16in alloys, tiredness recognition, cruise control LED tail-lights, front fogs, LED daytime running lights. Xcellence additionally includes: park assist (self-parking), rear view camera, front/rear parking sensors, storage under front seats, Alcantara interior, leatherette dash, bi-coloured roof, chrome roof rails. FR has similar spec to Xcellence: 17in alloys, bi-coloured roof, dark tinted rears, self-parking, rear-view camera, SEAT Drive Profile, sports steering wheel.
S from €17,995, SE €20,715, Xcellence €22,815, FR €22,815. Price walks: S to SE, €2,000. Manual for DSG €1,400. SE to Xcellence, €2,100. Petrol to diesel €2,300.
They have a larger, yet-to-be-named 7-seater SUV that we'll see in late 2018. And by then we should know if the Arona rates above average when it comes to buyers.