IAIN ROBERTSON

It is most useful that Seat can share VW Group technology, states Iain Robertson, as it needs a bigger car to replace its aeons-old Alhambra MPV, therefore, it might as well be the ‘Spanish’ equivalent to the Skoda Kodiaq…which, of course, it is.

When Seat was first launched in the UK, it was a recent addition to the growing VW Group of makes and models. Staunchly Spanish (which it is not now), the company had been a state-run oddity during the reign of Generalissimo Franco, with most of products originating with Fiat, in a case of one socialist nation’s support of another. Fiat used to do that sort of thing, which is how Lada was developed in Togliatti, on the Russian banks of the Black Sea.

To say that early Seats were atrocious would be an understatement. Tinny (with in-built rust potential), basically trimmed and lacking in any sound reasons for any right-minded individual to consider owning an example, they were not even as good as Czech-built Skodas, a company that had become a VW dependant, itself having endured Communist Party management for several decades. VW would change all of that.

The first VW-engineered fruits from Seat helped to turn a carmaker with parlous preconceptions into one of more neutral status. The firm’s first people-mover, the Alhambra, was produced at the VW-Ford joint-effort plant at Palmela, Portugal, which also produced the Ford Galaxy and the VW Sharan. Interestingly, VW and Ford are presently finalising talks for an even deeper business relationship (strategic partnership), with Volkswagen Group, on world terms, which should end Ford’s rather tenuous grip on its future. More interestingly, the Seat Alhambra featured a better badge-engineered version of the same car Ford and VW customers grew to like, enhanced with standard climate control, standard 7-seats and marginally improved chassis dynamics, it was also cheaper (just!).

Clearly, with SUVs grabbing the biggest initiative, Seat is working the oracle with VW-familiar platform engineering for its newcomer. When you think back just two years, it is hard to believe that Seat had no SUVs in its range. Now it has Arona, Ateca and the new Tarraco, all of which are very sound motorcars, possessing enough Seat character to warrant their branding. However, much as Skoda has its ‘simply clever’ aspects, Seat has travelled invariably down the ‘value-added’ route, by offering slightly more space and a better standard but no-frills specification.

Thanks to its seven-seat configuration, the boot capacity can be expanded from a modest 230-litres behind the back seats, to 700-litres, with the rearmost row folded cassette-like into the floor, and a massive 1,775-litres, when the middle pair (three-across but split-fold) are flopped forwards. Available in four trim levels, the pre-dealer-discount price tags are familiar Seat fayre.

Starting with SE (£28,320), moving up to SE Tech (£29,330), then Xcellence (£30,410), with the Xcellence Lux topping the range (£32,135), Seat calls its model progression ‘easymove’, which works exceptionally well and simplifies the retail acquisition process. As is now becoming typical for a number of brands, a run of UK First Editions is available from launch, with even more equipment on-board.

The engine and transmission line-up includes: 148bhp and 187bhp versions of 1.5 and 2.0-litre engines in either petrol, or diesel guises, mated to a choice of six-speed manual, or DSG automated-manual transmissions. While front-wheel-drive is standard, four-wheel-drive is also an option. Again, it is a simple step-up through the range, in which every model benefits from metallic paint, DAB stereos, alloy wheels (17.0-inch on lower value versions; 18.0-inch diameter on the higher cost variants) and three-zone climate control systems fitted as standard. It is a pattern, with which Seat and its customers feel happy.

The 1.5-litre turbo-petrol engine, the cylinder-shut-off TSi unit used broadly by the Group, delivers a decent performance envelope, cracking the 0-60mph dash in around 9.5s, before topping out at 125mph (in front-driven, manual form). It emits CO2 at a rate of 125g/km and can deliver around 49.0mpg. While it is an excellent engine that I rate very highly, in any application in which I have sampled it, if you want stronger mid-range punch, then you might be better to opt for the either of the 2.0-litre engines, with the turbo-diesel invariably providing the best results, in terms of performance combined with frugality.

The engaging driving experience is what I would term ‘typical Seat’, with crisp steering responses, firm but truly compliant suspension damping and a ride quality aided by a 20mm reduced ride height over a Kodiaq, because Seat has a sportier image to live up to. While the adaptive chassis control system (ACC) is standard on the top models, it is an option for the lower-priced versions. It offers four modes, ranging from a default comfort setting to progressively firmer settings, which also affect both throttle and DSG automated transmission responses. It comes as part of the VW MQB platform package.

The interior is pleasantly detailed, with plenty of ‘soft-touch’ materials factoring-in a high-quality appeal. However, unlike the in-built touch-screen system used in the Ateca model, the screen of the Tarraco, while in a good, accessible position, looks quite unhappy in its ‘dropped-in’ location. I mention it, because it is actually unpleasant to look at and upsets the layout of what is essentially a well-planned interior. The driver’s seat can be electrically adjusted (on top models) but the seating position is excellent, supported by an enormous range of adjustment in the steering column, with good headroom and space from the smallest to the tallest of occupants. While the conventional five seats are roomy and comfortable enough, the rearmost perches, although modestly supportive, are better suited to carrying a couple of youngsters, if you can tolerate them being so far back.

The LED lighting signature (front and rear) helps to differentiate the Tarraco from Kodiaq. However, keen pricing will remain Seat’s key attraction. It is going to be tough for Seat to make its mark with a full-size SUV, because of the intensely competitive nature of the market sector, and despite the natty outside detailing (including another new grille face), Seat will need to find and use a fresh raft of unique selling propositions, in order to make a positive impression. To be honest, I am not convinced that it can, when VW hefts such a big stick!

Conclusion:    Seat knows how to play the field and it does a great job by making it easy for potential customers to pick the model that suits their needs best. However, they need to know that Tarraco is available and how it compares with its immediate rivals. If you are in the market for transporting seven occupants, Tarraco is a good car to consider.