Tuesday 21 August 2018

How Arona measures up to the Ould Rectangle test

Little petrol engine steals the show

Seat Arona
Seat Arona
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

I'm what you'd call a selective subscriber to the adage that things happen for a reason. When it suits, I quote the old saying. When it doesn't, I curse my luck. Now, it just so happened I was to have the SEAT Arona small-family crossover for a good deal longer than I had. My schedules don't always work.

But as a fill-in I got to toot around in a powerhouse 300bhp Cupra estate (€46,000 or so) for a couple of days.

What a thoroughly pleasant surprise it was. We're talking serious punch here; a car to compete with the likes of the Volkswagen Golf R, Skoda Octavia RS, etc - only it is better-priced than most. In its own way it highlighted real progress from a carmaker that is emerging from the shadows of the Volkswagen Group with some decent motors.

Then I picked up the Arona. Now I can tell you that going from a snorting hot performer to a little family crossover with a 1-litre 3cyl petrol engine required a substantial recalibration of mindset. It is always a risk when changing cars mid-stream that the immediate contrast favours the bigger, better set-up model. And with the two SEATs, I was talking chalk and cheese in that respect. Yet they had one thing in common: how greatly they benefit from being part of the Volkswagen stable. It was an interesting and informative parallel from opposite ends of the spectrum.

Certainly as far as the Arona was concerned, the presence of the 'Volkswagen' 3cyl, 1-litre petrol engine had a profound effect on my assessment. It's an engine I've come across in many cousins of the Arona, but seldom have I been as impressed.

I'd go so far as to say it would be a prime reason I'd buy if I was looking for a handy small crossover runaround.

It didn't do anything extraordinary but was as sweet as a nut, regardless of long or short drives or how many passengers were aboard.

I had little expectation of the Arona being as good as it was; certainly not its tidy handling and comfortable ride.

It looked well with contrasting roof and body colours too while, engine apart, its practicality appealed. They've managed to stretch bits and pieces of extra room in the cabin and, especially, the boot.

When it comes to cars like this, I have a rough rule of thumb. I call it the 'Ould Rectangle' test. Are there four 'good sides' to it? If it has (1) decent room, (2) a quiet, reasonably frugal engine, (3) pleasant enough looks and (4) is well priced/specced, then it makes it on to my 'shopping list'. You'd be surprised how the absence of one 'good side' can push a model well down the list.

Indeed, with the test version of the Arona, I have to qualify its prominent inclusion by saying I would not pay €27,500 for it.

The range starts from €17,995, which is fine; so somewhere around €23,000 is a more realistic sum for a well-equipped car of its class and calibre. I often tell people to watch how much they spend on extras. I don't think they pay much attention, especially if there's a PCP involved: €10/€15 a month more can cover a lot of spec but I still think you need to be judicious. Some stuff is nothing short of frippery with a price tag. Some can be good value; especially if it enhances safety.

Of course, I had a few minor reservations about the Arona. I didn't like the wing mirrors; they are too shallow. I didn't like the strap of white/cream inset across the dash and side. It looked garish, even if it lightened up the front. The good thing about that sort of stuff is you can give it a wipe of a damp cloth and it's sparkling. But it would not be as easy to dispense with dirt and grime on the fancy seat fabrics in the test car, if young bodies and limbs were powering in and out. Always consider that before opting for snazzier materials.

In a world full of crossovers and SUVs, the margins of preferences are narrow. The Arona faces keen competition from the Renault Captur, Peugeot 2008SUV, etc. They are established models whereas this is totally new territory for SEAT. It takes time to win name and model recognition. But its start-price, room, looks and excellent little engine make a good case.

Even though my time in it was a little shortened, we piled on the kilometres. It was tight and tidy around town - vital for a car like this - but we were as impressed with its ability on longer runs. As the brother said, after we sampled a feed of fish and chips in Enfield, it went like a 'big' little car.

No, it's not perfect and, yes, some rivals measure up better in some respects.

But for now, I'm sticking with my subscription to the adage that things happen for a reason. For the Arona to impress as much as it did so soon after my drive in the Cupra speaks volumes for its ability to plough its own furrow on its own merits.

FACTS & FIGURES

SEAT Arona 5dr crossover, 1-litre TSi, 115bhp, manual, €200 road tax.

Price: €22,815; Options: €4,776. Total: €27,591. Range starts at €17,995.

Spec includes 16ins alloys, Park Assist, rear-view camera, front/rear Park Distance Control, cruise control, air con, auto lights, bi-colour roof, chrome roof rails, LED tail lights, front cornering fogs, double-floor boot, split/folding rear seats, spare wheel, leather pack, Media System Plus, voice control, Full Link. Optional Spring pack: dual-zone air-con, rain sensors; Digital Radio (DAB). BeatsAudio sound system; Adaptive Cruise Control, 17ins alloys; 8ins glass touchscreen.

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