Let’s get one thing straight from the off. This is not a Seat. It might look a lot like one, share a name with one and be available from a special corner of selected Seat dealerships. But it’s not a Seat.
No, it’s a Cupra. Yes, that is the name that used to be attached to fast Seats but it’s now been spun off to become a standalone performance sub-brand, like Polestar is for Volvo.
Recent months have seen the Formentor hybrid crossover coupe unveiled as well as the all electric Tavascan concept giving a hint of what we can expect from the brand’s bespoke models.
Cupra says that by late 2020 it will have seven models on sale but for now the Ateca is the sole standard bearer for the brand.
Physically, it obviously resembles the standard Seat Ateca from which it’s derived. It sits a couple centimetres lower on its sports suspension and features various highlights in Cupra’s trademark copper finish. It’s also wearing some diamond-cut 19-inch alloys, glossy black bodywork highlights and Cupra’s distinctive badge.
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbo, petrol
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic
Top speed: 153mph
0-62mph: 5.2 seconds
CO2 emissions: 168g/km
Mechanically, there are far more significant differences. This Ateca packs the same 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine that has made the VW Golf R and Seat Leon Cupra such potent hot hatches.
In the Ateca it offers 296bhp and 295lb/ft and is connected to an all-wheel-drive system via an seven-speed DSG gearbox. It’s good for 0-62mph in 5.2 seconds and feels suitably potent. It’s quick off the line and the mid-range urge is particularly impressive. Mated to the quick shifting gearbox and with plenty of grip it means you can make rapid progress. The engine’s biggest weakness is a dull and fairly subdued note. You’ll be grateful for it on motorway journeys but even in Cupra drive mode it doesn’t shout “performance”.
As well as lowering the car, the bespoke suspension features stiffer springs and anti-roll bars, and upgraded adaptive dampers to give this SUV its sporting edge. There’s certainly plenty of grip and the dynamic chassis control allows you to firm or soften the shocks along with altering the aggression of the throttle, transmission and steering. But while you can throw it down a country lane at an impressive lick without feeling out of control there’s not a huge amount of engagement. The steering is fast but uncommunicative and there’s only so much clever electronics can do to disguise the car’s added height and weight compared with the hot hatches that share its drivetrain.
The standard Cupra is one of the firmer riding SUVs in its segment and the Cupra cranks this up. Its comfort mode feels on a par with the standard car’s stiffness but it’s a welcome option given that the sportier modes verge on being too unforgiving to use regularly.
As well as the firm approach to ride comfort, the Cupra shares much of its interior with the regular Seat model. That’s good news as, aside from the Alcantara sports seats, sports steering wheel and Cupra badging, it’s the same airy, comfortable and sensibly arranged space. As a halo model, the Cupra gets all the gadgets, including a feature-packed media/nav system with Beats audio and the full virtual cockpit digital instruments.
The Cupra Ateca is more or less in a class of its own. No other mainstream SUVs can match it for power or pace and it’s capable of covering ground confidently and quickly while providing plenty of space and practicality. The problem is that if you really want a four-wheel-drive car from Spain with nearly 300bhp and plenty of space for the family the Leon Cupra estate does all of that without the compromises inherent in a tall, heavy SUV.