IAIN ROBERTSON 

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In trying to work out what its logo implies, Iain Robertson remains undecided between a sports clothing firm (Kappa?), or a sinister organisation (Spectre?) that James Bond 007 (other spies are available) wants to shut down; for Seat it means ‘focussed’.

Feel sympathy for the modern designer. That person has a tough enough task in trying to make headway for his client, or employer. Today’s consumer market is jam-packed with competitive products, which ensures trying to make one stand-out from the rest can be undeniably stressful.

The same applies to washing-up liquid, as it does dog food, electronics and white goods, trains, boats and planes. Factor in carmakers and an entirely new set of parameters weighs into view, predominantly because cars can be so personal and character defining.

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In accepting that SUVs are the ‘new’ class of family cars, it is inevitable that spikier sports variants will join the throngs. For the Spanish arm of the immense VW corporation, Cupra (which is an abbreviation of ‘Cup Racing’) is synonymous with Seat’s more sporting endeavours. To be frank, while saying Seat Ateca sounds eminently normal, renaming it Cupra Ateca, in this form, when it is hardly a DS, or Lexus, but is more of an AMG, or Schnitzer (the tuning arms of Mercedes-Benz and BMW respectively), seems a touch superfluous, especially as a ‘CR’, or alternative suffix would have sufficed. Yet, Cupra is intended to add cachet and will be applied to future sportier variants of other models in the line-up.

The simple truth is, the Cupra Ateca is a ‘parts-bins-special’. Clad a Golf R platform in an Ateca SUV body and you will have a Cupra Ateca, complete with 4WD, 296bhp, Alcantara upholstery and focused suspension settings. Priced at £3,835 more than the most expensive regular Ateca (prior to dealer discounts and allowances being applied) and £1,705 more than a 306bhp Golf R estate car, its £37,830 price tag (including the Comfort & Sound Pack at £1,930) struggles on the Seat value front. The brand change is needed clearly for differentiation, if nothing else.

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However, indulge in its ‘launch control’ and the Cupra will crack the 0-60mph sprint in a seriously rapid 4.4s, on its way to a top speed nudging 160mph, driving all four wheels through a 7-speed automated-manual gearbox, complete with paddle shifts. Yet, it is a dichotomously refined sensation, as its four exhaust tailpipes are not accompanied by the ‘pops and bangs’ so typical of other overtly sporting hatches. The mid-range punch of the excellent, 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine is such that flooring the throttle is not always a prerequisite to making fast progress. Both upshifts and downshifts of the DSG twin-clutch ’box, even when the Sport setting is engaged, are virtually seamless, although making a smooth getaway from standstill demands some deft balletic footwork. The electronic parking-brake allows automatic hill-holding, which is an added bonus.

Equipped with ‘stop:start’ that kills the engine in built-up traffic, one of its semi-autonomous features is that the milliwave radar unit that judges the distance from the vehicle ahead also restarts the engine automatically, when that obstacle moves. It works imperceptibly and most thoughtfully in the driver’s favour, in the process enhancing safety (which might be the first time that you have seen me writing something in support of modern ‘electronica’!).

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To give it its due, despite the inevitably raised centre-of-gravity, this version of Ateca rides most acceptably on its 19.0-inch diameter alloy wheels and its handling is as dialled-in accurate as any sports model ought to be. Grip levels are very high, even on slippery road surfaces, although you can feel it, when the torque-sensing rear differential clicks quietly into operation and tautens the drivetrain. The new Cupra also manages to ride firmly on its adaptive dampers, despite the marginally lowered springs, without making occupants feel an uncomfortable edge.

However, there is also an inescapable compromise at play. The taller SUV body does cause greater body lean, when attempting spirited cornering, which the variable-ratio power steering also struggles with. Somewhat lacking in ‘feel’, while the steering reactions become faster, with more lock, they lack the connected impression imparted by the similar system used on the Golf R, which pinpoints that the Laws of Physics are difficult to conceal, even with ingenious electronic packaging. In addition, while ‘Hurricane Eric’ had blown through, minor gusts of wind did move the Cupra off-line by a couple of feet, rather than inches, which is probably due to the Ateca’s ‘slabby’ body.

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Crack open the electrically-operated hatchback and its boot space is enormous, augmented by the 60:40-split rear bench. A false floor also creates an additional secure storage compartment. The cabin is also a roomy place to reside, whether up front, or in the rear, and the range of electric adjustability of the driver’s seat, allied to the manual rake and reach range of the steering column, creates a perfect driving position for almost any human dimensions. Its dashboard instrumentation, set into typical ‘soft-touch’ slush-moulded plastic, can be tailored to the current VW Group vogue for alternative digital displays and the centre console touch-screen also features a lap-timer, or off-road dynamic details, if you desire them. It is very well-equipped, as it ought to be at the price.

Yet, put into perspective, despite its 168g/km CO2 rating and a posted fuel economy figure of 31.7mpg (although I had no struggle exceeding 37.6mpg), the first dedicated member of the Cupra brand will outgun the truly loathsome Honda Civic Type-R in almost every respect, which cannot be bad for a car that started life as a junior-league mud-plugger. It is beautifully assembled, exceptionally comfortable and moderate fun to live with, even though its chassis dynamics carry the inevitable compromise mentioned earlier. It does represent the pinnacle of the sub-£40k sporting SUV arena, a factor that is much in its favour and it makes a Porsche Macan look sorely over-priced.

Conclusion:     Safe, sporty and stable, the Cupra Ateca may top the brand’s price table but it is capable of attracting attention and is seriously rapid into the relative bargain.

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