QUITE a number of people have been moaning to me recently about the treatment they received at the hands of car dealers who sold them diesel cars at the height of the oil-burning boom of the last 10 years.

Convinced by salesmen that diesel was the must-have thing because of its incredible economy figures and tax-friendliness, few were warned that diesels really need constant use and high mileage to extract the most from them; otherwise they clog up and present all manner of ongoing problems with nasty stuff you don’t want to know about — particulate filters and injectors, amongst other things.

Upon returning cars to the garages from which they were purchased, many owners found themselves being told they should never have bought such a car because of the low mileage they do, despite the fact the sales personnel actively steered them into these machines in the first place.

They were also horrified when they were faced with considerable bills — up to several thousand euro in some cases — to rectify problems they had never been warned about. It is hardly a surprise then that there has been a massive fallout and that diesel sales are suffering.

We here at Examiner Motoring have been banging on for a long time now that small-capacity petrol engines are a growing and important force in the automotive world and we have consistently praised the worthiness of such units as a really good alternative to what sales personnel might want to steer you into.

Admittedly, with 66% of all new cars sold this year being diesels, as against just 30% petrol (hybrid, electric and the other Wacky Races stuff accounting for the rest), oil burners are still the most prevalent engine choice here in Ireland, but that is changing as people realise that diesel is not a fit-all solution to their needs.

Ironically, given the massive mess which was the VW ‘dieselgate’ scandal, one of the petrol engines we have liked most in recent years comes from the VW stable and is utilised right across the Volkswagen Group’s own products and their subsidiaries such as Audi, Skoda and Seat.

This week we try the excellent Seat Ateca fitted with that self-same 1.4 litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol unit and while it will not be propelling you to any land speed records, I found it to be a remarkably versatile and useful companion. And it is in a car which has already established itself as being among the class leaders.

A highly credible SUV, the Spaniard is fully equipped to take on segment kingpins such as the Hyundai Tuscon and the Nissan Qashqai.

On price alone, the Ateca represents a very sharp buying option and with the petrol option tested here, there will be no worries about potentially expensive repairs if you’re not clocking up the necessary mileage.

The facts and figures of this Ateca — oh, and there is a diesel option if you are a high-miler — show it to output a very decent 150 bhp, a top speed of 201kph and a 0-100kph time of 8.5 seconds, all the while emitting just 122 g/km (for an annual tax bill of €270) and a claimed economy figure of 5.3 l/100km (53.2 mpg). Now while you will need to be very light of right foot to achieve consumption figures that good, recording decent numbers should not be ridiculously hard and in any event, whatever return you manage should be weighed up against potentially crippling maintenance costs.

Allied to a six-speed manual gearbox, the engine provides sprightly enough performance and, although this version was front wheel drive only, the ride comfort levels and the handling performance were top drawer by comparison with anything else in the genre.

As it is a 2WD, it will not stray too far from leafy suburbs, but as a B-road prospect, it’s not that bad, and the car is not particularly hindered by the torsion beam rear axle, as against the multi-link system used on the 4x4 version, but there are slight issues with stuff like road and wind noise, which make the car seem a little unsophisticated by comparison with others of this ilk.

The interior layout might also seem a little dated as it is based on the Leon hatchback, but the amount of room in this thing is very impressive and the boot is huge.

Comfort levels are top drawer, seating excellent and the SE specification as tested is comprehensive rather than overwhelming.

All the connectivity and infotainment knick-knacks are in place, although if you’re expecting equipment like Sat Nav, think again.

But there is one interesting, if rather ineffectual, addition and that is the centrally mounted ‘Drive Profile’ switch which allows you choose what sort of driving mode you want the car in. It looks impressive and if you put it into, say ‘Sport’ mode, all sorts of interesting looking guff comes up on the touchscreen.

Trouble is, it does not actually seem to do anything and there is certainly no sudden injection of pace or power emanating from under the hood once you engage it. It looks good, but it is pretty superfluous as far as I could see.

But those are minor down-sides in the greater scheme of things.

Seat has come very late to the SUV party, but its’ entry with the Ateca is a pretty stunning one in the circumstances.

This is a really good looking car and one with plenty of capability too. It is also a car which will stand the Spanish arm of VW very well if the fall-out from ‘dieselgate’ continues to affect the parent company.

And with this petrol engine on offer for those of you who don’t clock up enormous mileage, it has an option for people who want peace of mind about the car’s ability to keep them on the road at all times.

It is a very smart option for a variety of those people who like the idea of economic diesel but who simply don’t employ their engines in the way diesel engines need to be exercised.

Colley’s verdict

The Cost:

From €25,120 - €29,649 as tested.

The Engine:

An excellent small capacity petrol unit.

The Specification:

Worthy but not overwhelming. Good value though.

The Overall Verdict:

The choice of someone who has put some detailed thought into their purchase.

Star Rating:

Petrol power propels Seat Ateca’s star


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