Sunday 21 July 2019

Chalk ‘n’ cheese: why Cupra Ateca is strange mix of power and practical

Impressive 300bhp engine in mid-size SUV. But €50,000+ is a hefty price tag

First step: the Cupra Ateca performance SUV
First step: the Cupra Ateca performance SUV
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

I stretched every sinew to make a real-world case for this week's review car. I mean it had power to drool over (300bhp), all-wheel-drive and all sorts of impressive technologies.

The only thing was, you see, that despite its engineering prowess, the Cupra Ateca is a midsize 'family' SUV/crossover.

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Would you blame me, then, for wondering what mum or dad would spend €50,000-plus on it? Somehow, I don't think they'd be weighing up the benefit of getting the children to school quicker than anyone else.

If that sounds a tad dismissive, blame it on my frustration at this blend of opposites. Such a sentiment does scant technical justice to the car.

You may know that Cupra is now a standalone brand alongside SEAT in the wider Volkswagen group. The name used to signify performance in many a powerhouse version of SEATs. The Cupra treatment enhanced (still does) some fine cars.

Now come motors with individual Cupra badges and spec. In this case it has subsumed what we know as a sedate SEAT Ateca and spit out a whirlwind SUV. It leaves Cupra open to accusations of overdoing a good thing.

Even when I pushed aside the near-seamless ability of the car to accelerate, to take bends impressively enough (even, briefly, around the Mondello track), handle with decent aplomb, that stark truth persistently intruded: this is a family car on steroids.

But permit me to chart my time with, and impressions of, this Cupra Ateca.

First there is the car in the metal. For all the power that lies beneath, it is demure in design and stature (the Ateca isn't radically sculpted anyway).

I'd go further; it is positively bland. And it was not helped by the dull faded-copper Cupra emblems and signatures. Maybe it is all part of some great identity plan. I'd be delighted to stand corrected if so but it did absolutely nothing for me.

Inside was as disappointing. There was far too much ordinary plastic around. Sure the dashboard has what they call a digital cockpit (it's small though) but Cupra should hardly be relying on something so increasingly ubiquitous for plaudits in a car with this price tag. I could go on; it's just dull inside; an apparent contradiction from trying to do something different.

It was an entirely different story when I left those key points to one side and just concentrated on the driving.

Naturally, I could never legally push it to anything approaching its capabilities on the open road but I did on a wet and challenging Mondello. The 2-litre petrol engine - also in the Volkswagen Golf R and SEAT's Leon Cupra - made it a noticeably quick 5.2 seconds to 100kmh, mid-range pulling power was good if a little hampered by a slightly slow kick-down response from the 7spd DSG automatic transmission.

It was fun to swing it into and out of bends; I pushed it hard in 'manual' lower-gear mode. The car stayed reasonably level and upright under fair pressure. There was only a small hint of bodyroll (SUVs are notorious for that).

On poorer back roads, it had good, but not the greatest traction. My all-wheel-drive set-up helped no doubt. It was impressive without being mind-blowingly brilliant. Yet I really enjoyed the car's slick ability and had fun on my drives.

To be frank, this apparent contradictory blend of two opposites left me feeling a bit mixed up myself. Maybe, I thought, it's not as big a stretch of the imagination as it seems?

Then I got stuck in heavy traffic, saw an ordinary Ateca with a mum and two younger children on board, once more looked around my cabin and the initial reservations came home to roost.

So asking myself if I'd buy it became a futile exercise. Especially when my test car ran to nearly €59,000 with 'extras' (electric tailgate, Beat's audio system, alarm, etc) that should really be standard on a vehicle of this nature.

If I could take the performance, the excellent drive, handling and put it into another, even lower, hatchback frame maybe I could convince myself to part with €50,000 - no more.

But let me make one thing clear. It's easy to be critical of something like this starting out.

It is only a first step and must bring some getting-to-know-you recognition credits. I just wish Cupra did the introductions with something more easily aligned with performance.

I expect better with the next model.

Facts & figures

Cupra Ateca midsize SUV:

2-litre petrol 300hp DSG 4Drive,

7.4l/100km; 168g/km, €570 tax.

Spec includes full LED headlights, Alcantara seats, 19in alloys, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, Mirrorlink, digital cockpit, wireless charger, 'driving experience' button, adaptive chassis control, park assist, two-zone air con.

Extras: Brembo brakes, sunroof, BeatsAudio. Price: €49,990. Tested: €58,732.

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