Ateca shows the future is bright for Seat

The are those in quiet corners of the VW empire that have, for many years, referred to the company’s Seat brand as ‘The Spanish Patient.’ 

Ateca shows the future is bright for Seat

As derogatory as this term might seem, there has been a painful truth about it as the German manufacturing giant has had to swallow the bitter pill of Seat’s losses for decades now.

However, Seat has been turning a trick or two and in the last year alone started generating the level of profit that the guys in Wolfsburg had been hoping to see quite some time ago. Between January and September last year, the Spanish outfit was financially to the good to the tune of some €137m.

And the good news doesn’t end there. Sales of Seat models are now inching towards the milestone of 500,000 units per annum and there is some confidence both in Germany and in Spain that the brand could hit this number by the end of this year and if it does not do it in 2017, it will certainly do so next year.

Both Seat and Skoda were particularly well placed to do just that.

And, in both instances their access to the SUV market would be key to same.

But not the total answer.

In Seat’s case, part of the reason for their well-being is the introduction of the new Ibiza supermini which is expected to provide a substantial shot in the arm for pan-European sales — and also in Mexico, where the company has a very strong profile.

The arrival next year of the new Arona mini-SUV, which will go up against such as Opel’s MokkaX, the Renault Captur and the Peugeot 2008, should also add significantly to a burgeoning bottom line.

But, one of the main reasons for the growing confidence in the Seat brand is with us already and could possibly be the single most important car in the history of the company: the Ateca. This mid-sized SUV is a truly impressive machine and one which is specified and priced to make it a very serious contender in its’ segment.

The wonder is that it has taken Seat so long to get the SUV message; it may be they were not allowed by their VW masters to do so, or simply that they were not geared up for it.

But that is of little relevance now that the Ateca has arrived and plugged what was a gaping hole in the company’s model line-up.

With the SUV segment now accounting for nearly 50% of the car market, having a contender in the class is absolutely critical to any company’s well-being. Not having one is suicidal.

Thankfully for Seat, the Ateca is here now and all the arguments about what they hell they had been up to for all that time without an SUV can now be forgotten. And, not alone do they now have an SUV, but they will shortly have a shed-load of them.

For now, however, we concentrate on the Ateca which, like most Seats, is named after a place in Spain — in this case a small town of just 1,969 residents in the Zaragoza province. If Ateca is just a tiny blip on the Spanish map, the car named after it is soon going to be having a major impact on the automotive world.

Stylish, roomy, great to drive and, what is really worth noting here, equipped with a range of engines and drivetrains that many rivals will find hard to match, the Ateca is one of the most spectacular new arrivals we here at Examiner motoring have seen in terms of its’ immediate ability to compete.

OK, so it is not going to be taking sales off such as the ubiquitous SUVs of the moment — the Nissan Qashqai and the Hyundai Tuscon — right out of the blocks, but it certainly has the class and the potential to do just that if given the right marketing back-up.

We tried the ‘Xcellence’ spec. version which is the top one right now, although there will be others coming down the tracks including, yikes, a Cupra model. The tester was fitted with the 190 bhp two litre turbodiesel engine, the seven speed DSG auto ‘box and Seat’s ‘4Drive’ AWD system, so it was certainly not lacking in toys with which to impress you.

The facts of the tested engine highlight an 8.9 second 0-100 kph time and a top speed of 210km/h, which are decent enough boasts in themselves, but I would suggest that interested parties focus more on the ‘lesser’ 150 bhp two litre oil-burner, as it is both considerably cheaper, more tax friendly and slightly more fuel efficient.

A lot of people will forego the AWD element too, not least because it is the least tax-efficient of the models on offer, but also because front wheel drive will do just fine for many families.

On the road, the Seat is an admirably easy car to live with, whatever the environment you’re in, either urban or rural, and while the handling and ride are good rather than great, the car’s characteristics are not better or worse than many in the class, meaning this car is bang on target for the audience it is being aimed at. Grip levels in the 4x4 version were as impressive as they should be.

The Ateca is hugely roomy and practical and while some of the fit and finish might not quite be up to VW standards, I still came away very impressed.

If those in Wolfsburg had dared ever to dream of a day when Seat would finally nail something down as comprehensively and impressively as they have with the Ateca, then they can sleep easy from here on in.

This is as good a newcomer to the mid-sized SUV ranks has there has been since the Qashqai practically invented the genre and it is a car which, once the public have cottoned on to how good it actually is, will repay every bit of faith VW invested in its rapidly convalescing Iberian subsidiary.

COLLEY’S VERDICT: *****

The Cost: from €24,750 - €41,881 as tested.

The Engine: we tested the top-line 190 bhp turbodiesel, but don’t dismiss the 150 bhp unit.

The Specification: ‘Xcellence’ boasts many bells and whistles, but lesser models will prove hugely popular.

The Overall Verdict: the best thing Seat has done in years.

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