IAIN ROBERTSON 

Using the opportunity to launch not just a new model but also a new sub-brand, highlights Iain Robertson, Seat is entering the most sporting SUV segment with a genuine giant-killer, for which he feels partly to blame, having asked for more.

Earlier in 2018, having sampled the FR version of Seat’s universally acceptable Ateca soft-roader, I actually suggested that the VW Golf-platformed car could probably handle a little extra dose of poke. While I had heard rumours of a possible Cupra version of the model, installing the Golf R engine and transmission, while possible, seemed unlikely…more fool me!

Born of Seat’s award-winning motorsport division, Cupra is now the ultimate Spanish expression of unique sophistication and hot performance, devised through passion and intended to captivate car enthusiasts around the world, by creating new cars that are no longer founded in nostalgia but rooted firmly in the present…so says the marketing information accompanying Seat’s latest hot-rod. Truth is, the Cupra is a VW Group parts-bin special.

Placing Cupra in a stand-alone position is an entirely new dimension for Seat, which intends to create an even livelier range of products carrying the novel badge (see pictures). Dipping into Volkswagen Group’s technological toolkit and accessing the huge potential it gives them, Seat is diversifying its business and developing new models that offer the perfect mix of performance, driveability and practicality.

For what it is worth, Cupra has also re-entered the motorsport scene, competing in the TCR series in 2018 and working towards the first season of eTCR in 2020, with its eRacer concept. As you will notice with the new badging, it is worth highlighting that it was launched as a standalone brand last February, although this version of the Ateca is the first to show the evidence. Cupra Ateca combines sportiness and practicality in a smart design, with the highest performance of any SUV outside of the premium manufacturers. Developing 296bhp and armed with bags of torque from its 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine, it drives through a seven-speed DSG automated-manual transmission that is linked to an all-wheel-drive system.

The performance figures are amazing, with a headlining top speed of 153mph and 0-60mph in a blistering 4.9s, yet it emits just 168g/km CO2, which equates to a hefty first year road tax of £515, with the standard £145 applying annually thereafter, and an excellent 38.2mpg fuel economy figures on the WLTP test cycle. Its Cupra-look is enhanced with the diamond-cut alloy wheels, glossy black exterior details and the new Cupra logo and lettering. Its interior features a leather-wrapped sports steering wheel, fully digital instrumentation and black Alcantara sports seats embossed with the Cupra logo. Standard equipment includes keyless entry and start system, wireless charging, an 8.0-inch touchscreen system, Dynamic Chassis Control and Park Assist, while the options include Alcantara bucket seats, Comfort & Sound Pack and a Design Pack.

However, do not be led astray. We are talking about one of the most expensive Seats ever made. The range starts at a costly £35,900, over £3,000 more than Golf R, which makes me wonder about the breadth of this marketing niche. However, that is for the ‘entry-level’ Cupra Ateca, because the ‘Comfort & Sound’ package adds £1,930 to that price, while the ‘Design’ upgrade whips it up to £39,245 and factoring-in the ‘Comfort & Sound’ package tops the range at £41,175. Phew!

While it is a common fact that new car buyers, which I accept is a relative term these days, as so many people simply never ‘own’ their cars, opt for the higher-specified versions, I state that Seat’s market position may not be worthy of such steep price tags. While, personally, I feel that VW Group list prices, which have crept upwards inexorably over the past couple of years, to levels markedly higher than the apparently slower rates of inflation, are mostly unforgivable, it does make me reflect on what VW may think of its other brands. I make zero apology for suggesting that ALL VW products are sorely over-priced and that the German company is stretching the bounds of credibility to bursting point.

It is the primary reason that this Ateca is a Cupra Ateca (a wholly new sub-brand) and not an Ateca Cupra. Seat recognises that it needs to ‘pull a DS stroke’, emphasising the more upmarket and uniquely classy detailing of its new Cupra line. While there may be a Cupra Ibiza and Cupra Leon in due course, there is a greater profit margin to be screwed from the sweating mitts of Seat Ateca buyers desiring something different. It is callous profiteering.

Yet, in terms of capabilities, the Cupra Ateca is interesting dynamically. It handles intriguingly, veering towards understeer, if pushed to its admittedly high limits. However, those limits are enforced by a plethora of chassis electronics that include adjustable damping, which have the effect of falsifying the tall and potentially topply nature of the Ateca. It is no lightweight, at a kerbweight of 1.632-tonnes, which means that the car is working very hard most of time to remain on an even keel. Of course, driven normally it is sweet enough but, when the manufacturer dabbles in the black art of performance engineering, the end-user will want to exploit the outer edges of the envelope.

As already mentioned, it is exceptionally quick but potentially interested parties should ask themselves if that sort of performance expectation is really what they want from a car that is more than perfectly acceptable in FR trim. Seat believes that it is still ‘sub-premium’ and I have no argument with that summation but many observers consider Seat to be little more than mainstream, having already been escalated (like Skoda) from the bargain basement, which will create a bitter pill for buyers and a degree of uncertainty for Seat. Seeing the sizeable discounts that are available off Seat’s regular price list, through some merchants, suggests that residuals will not be brilliant either.

Produced in Kvasiny, Czech Republic, the new Cupra Ateca will be supplied through just 25 specialist dealers in the UK. As Kia has discovered with its Stinger line-up, that is a programme doomed to failure. First deliveries will be by the end of March 2019. As an extra incentive, the first 160 UK customers will receive a limited-edition welcome gift, a Cupra Member Box produced from real carbon fibre and embossed with the new Cupra ‘tribal’ logo. Inside the box, customers will find a high-quality carbon fibre Cupra key cover and a premium carbon fibre wristband. Whoopy-do!

Conclusion:    Seat demonstrates that excitement can come in compact packages, as its new Cupra Ateca sets a fresh benchmark in the SUV scene…but is it a step too far? Time will tell.