IAIN ROBERTSON 

Seat Tarraco FR

Seat Tarraco FR

Hold your horses! It is another new model not due until 2020 but Iain Robertson has managed to grab a sneak preview of the hottest version of Seat’s large SUV that also features plug-in hybrid technology for the first time, to the Spanish brand.

Electrification has become a typically governmental construct. As with all governments, ours can only perceive specifics in monochrome. Its views are therefore polarised and can be split equally into either right, or wrong. The total alternative fuel market in the UK is still, despite a small amount of hyperactivity this year, less than 2% of the total new car market, which is divided between EVs, PHEVs and hybrid vehicles. Needless to say, government is still urging us to ‘invest in the future’, at a time when we need to be retrenching. Much the same as for the much-vaunted hydrogen fuel-cell market (that has fallen flat on its face for perfectly valid reasons), buyers are not exactly rushing out to become electrified and for darned good reasons: range, recharging and exceedingly high initial costs.

Of course, we cannot hide behind a tall hedge, however neatly trimmed, in the hopes that the EV situation will go away…because it will not. Government is not exactly helping the position, having reduced the eco-grant for EVs from £5,000, to £4,500 and, now, £3,500. Yet, there is enough margin in an average EV for the hard-done-by carmakers to do what MG has done with its recent ZS EV model (MG matched the £3,500 government grant with £3,500 ‘cash-back’ of its own); do not tell me that these vehicles are priced right.

Seat Tarraco FR

Seat Tarraco FR

The viable alternative lies in hybrid technology, which increases its appeal by factoring-in a plug-in facility. This class of car is now being referred to as ‘full-hybrid’, just to add to the confusion.

Be aware that we are about to see a rash of new hybrids hitting the new car scene in coming months. The logic for it lies in a motor industry that has been fossil-fuelled for virtually all of its 125 years of existence. Of course, electrification is not new and electrically-powered vehicles have been available throughout its history. However, to expect carmakers to make an instant swap to electricity would not just be over-costly but could lead to the winding-up of several brands. Hybridisation is a sensible, convenient and dependable bridge towards full electrification that will help in environmental terms, until the point at which electricity generation does not rely on fossil fuels, which is another tap on the shoulder from the wide-awake brigade.

Seat Tarraco FR

Seat Tarraco FR

As part of the greater VW Group, Seat has been a little late to the SUV party and its Tarraco (Seat’s version of the Skoda Kodiaq), launched earlier this year, could be swamped easily by its in-house rivals, let alone an already hectic new SUV scene. However, Seat expresses a sportier and more youthful image, which does help it to develop its business spread and brand loyalty is growing, slowly but surely (it is already 7.8% up on last year’s total sales volume).

Designed and developed largely at Seat’s facilities in Martorell, Spain, although the main impetus is from VW headquarters and the Tarraco is actually being produced in Wolfsburg (Germany), at the heart of the VW Group. With the introduction of the plug-in hybrid powertrain, something with which the VW Group already has extensive knowledge and experiences, it will gain added levels of efficiency, to make it a very sustainable alternative choice that fits neatly into a concerted manufacturer push for hybridisation.

Seat Tarraco FR

Seat Tarraco FR

In fact, its powertrain is based on VW’s popular 147bhp TSi petrol-turbo engine connected to an 85kW electric motor that charges a 13kWh lithium-ion battery pack. It provides drivers with a series of switchable driving modes. The plug-in hybrid aspect allows users to drive in pure-electric mode for around 32 miles, should they need the range, in the process reducing tailpipe emissions to zero, or the combination of boosted petrol engine and low-end insta-torque electric motor will provide significantly increased performance. It can be recharged to 80% capacity within 30 minutes.

For Seat, the technology enhances its efficiency profile, without the need to make sacrifices in either dynamics, or comfort levels. Yes, it is a little heavier than the standard offering, thanks to its battery pack, but as the total output for the system is 242bhp, with a healthy 295lbs ft of torque, it will be magnificent for the car’s towing potential, let alone high-speed continental cruising. In fact, Tarraco’s top speed will nudge 140mph, while the customary 0-60mph benchmark will be covered in just over 7.0s. However, the most important statistic lies in its dramatically reduced CO2 emissions expected to be below 50g/km on the official WLTP test cycle, returning around 47mpg (although the figures need to be ratified). Regardless, with a drivetrain prioritised for EV usage, a Tarraco FR is going to qualify for low taxation and (probably) zero congestion zone charges. It should handle with competence, as well as stop, steer and manage most soft-roading demands.

Seat Tarraco FR

Seat Tarraco FR

To be sold initially as a one-trim model, the FR specification will provide bolstered, electrically-operated seating, the application of intriguing new materials (including a Neoprene-look upholstery and art craft leather combination), digital instrumentation, wider wheel-arches and standard 19.0-inch diameter alloy wheels (20.0-inch optional). In addition to Trailer Assist, the new model will also feature Parking Heater that allows the engine and the car’s cabin to be pre-warmed in colder weather conditions. Seat will start taking orders for the new model in early-2020, with deliveries commencing in early-summer.

Conclusion:       Seat intends to introduce no less than six electric and plug-in hybrid models by early-2021, which suggests that the company is going to be exceptionally busy next year!