IAIN ROBERTSON 

The growth of the compact SUV sector has been four-fold in the past two years and Seat wants its slice of the segment, suggests Iain Robertson, with a car that shows strong family ties but uses the latest VW Group compact car platform as its base.

As a growingly vital member of the greater Volkswagen Group, the Iberian arm of the company has been making its presence felt over the past few years, which makes a healthy change over its former staccato performance. The magic of Volkswagen Group’s shared platform strategy, which has been exercised and revised comprehensively for the past 25 years, has resulted in distinctive characters being developed for each of its brands, which include Audi, Volkswagen and Skoda remember, as well as Seat, despite underpinnings that are largely identical.

In fact, it was the introduction of the latest Ibiza model in 2017 that brought to our attention the tremendous versatility of the new MQB A0 platform. The most recently launched and superb VW Polo was the second model to use it, followed by this, the all-new Seat Arona. Wondrously flexible, the enhanced ride quality, improved handling and chassis balance inherent to the new technology should be impressive features, although they do not always work out that way, as you will read momentarily.

Sharing strong design ties with other models from Seat’s line-up is a most positive way to create range familiarity and, with zestiness and Spanish flair being inherent to Seat, the new Arona should enjoy a busy year, for a company that announced recently it has broken all previous sales records in the UK. As a range, consumer choice is immensely important for the five-door, front-wheel-drive Arona (not even a whiff of the rear axle being powered). Six trim levels that start with SE and move upwards through SE Technology, FR, FR Sport, XCellence and XCellence Lux, are supported by six petrol and diesel engine options and a starting price of just £16,555 that includes air-con, metallic paint and bi-colour roof. At the other end of the scale, a fully-laden ‘launch edition’ (based on XCellence trim), with every extra factored into the mix, costs £24,235.

Interestingly, the Arona is also the first to market with VW’s latest 1.5-litre turbo-petrol EVO engine that features cylinder shut-off technology to improve CO2 emissions and fuel economy expectations. While five-speed gearboxes are standard, six-speed alternatives are fitted to both 1.0TSi (115ps) and 1.5 EVO, with the seven-speed DSG automated-manual as an option on the ‘115’ engine. The 1.5 EVO will stop the clock at exactly 8.0s for the 0-60mph sprint, which highlights its performance edge and I shall test one soon.

Storage space can be at a premium in compact cars but the 400-litres of boot space in Arona (823-litres with seats folded and 1,280-litres to the roof) underscores the value of intelligent design; the boot floor is also adjustable for height. Deep door pockets and useful bins located around the car’s cabin ensure that there is plenty of space for in-car paraphernalia too. Naturally, there are model-dependent trim and equipment enhancements but, select the right version and your Arona can feature keyless stop-and-go, with a pushbutton starter, also known by Seat as KESSY, both rain and light sensors, adjustable drive profiles (dynamic chassis control), wireless mobile-phone charging and a full-link touch-screen.

As with other Seat models, full LED headlights, adaptive cruise control, front assist, blind-spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert, hill-holder and autonomous braking are all model features that add to its breadth of appeal, especially as many of them are part of the standard offering. If you consider that XCellence and FR are the luxury and sporting trim levels respectively, the 1.0-litre, three-cylinder, 112bhp (115ps), 6-speed manual version of the former trim level was my test car of choice, even though the FR grade is likely to be the most popular, with that engine/transmission.

Being a fan of small capacity motors, especially the latest crop of ‘tiddlers’, does help significantly in my appreciation of its installation in Arona. Its three-pot thrum is slightly more noticeable in the Seat than, for instance, the Polo, which may be a result of using more effective, or expensive sound-deadening materials in the VW product, but it is not an unpleasant noise and seems totally in character with the Seat. It is not lacking on the performance front either, despatching the 0-60mph benchmark in a zippy 9.7s, with a posted top speed of 113mph. Possessing an Official Combined fuel economy of 57.6mpg, while emitting a modest 113g/km CO2, ensures that running costs are maintained at an affordable level.

Yet, the bald figures do not describe the first-rate drivability of the Arona, as junctions and tight bends can all be conducted in third gear, the engine pulling strongly from little more than idle speed. Most open-road overtaking manoeuvres can be carried out in fourth gear, block-shifting back into sixth to maintain surprisingly high cross-country averages. Much of this ‘lazier’ style lies in the 148lbs ft of torque that fills the important mid-section of its rev-range. The gearchange quality is deliciously slick and there is an absence of ‘flywheel effect’, which can slow down shifts.

Creature comfort levels are well-sorted in Arona. The comfortable front seats are multi-adjustable, as is the steering column, which ensures both a great driving position and a good view outward, although rear seat space is little better than cramped. While a 5.0-inch screen is standard fayre on the entry-level SE, moving up the range means that an 8.0-inch touch-screen is fitted to every model, complete with full connectivity and Bluetooth, as well as a pair of USB slots and two SD card slots. However, the dashboard, door trims and other plastics around the cabin are not just sharp-edged and brittle but they lack that distinctive ‘VW-type’ quality advantage. A ‘plank’ of silvery coloured plastic that spreads across the dash-panel is not my idea of adding tactile class.

On the road, the Arona benefits from quick-reacting power steering and a most sporting ride quality…actually, make that ‘harsh’. Road surface imperfections are met with a sudden damper reaction that is hard to disguise. Personally, I find it strange, as both Polo and Ibiza (on this platform) ride so well, which leads me to believe that, in an attempt to control body-roll, most of the compliancy has been removed. Fortunately, the Arona can hustled through bends and carry out lane-changes without issues, which makes exploiting the car’s performance potential a lot of fun. All-round disc brakes provide assured stopping power and parking brake duties are assigned to a pull-up lever, between the front seats.

Seat has always led its rivals by incorporating items as standard that its competitors do not and the SE trim is a very sound base for many buyers. Of course, market demands mean that customers always seek to specify extra-cost items but Seat lives up to its prime remit to provide excellent value for money. As such, it offers the right kind of appeal to a broad tranche of the UK market, from private to business users.

Conclusion:   Seat has always been very careful to enhance its packaging exercises with bonus materials. Nobody will be disappointed by the Arona offering. It is a most competent compact hatchback car, with plenty of space for either family, or items to be moved around. Low running costs will put it on top of most buyers’ lists, while a sharp street presence should aid its cause. If I have a single over-arching problem, it is that the Arona is the non-edible equivalent of corned beef hash. Almost everyone will like it but too much of it would be very boring indeed.

 

 

 

About Iain P W Robertson

Frequently being told to 'go forth and multiply', Iain P W Robertson's automotive wisdom is based on almost forty years in the business, across all aspects from sport to production, at the highest levels. He likes dogs and drives a Suzuki (not related).