2019 Seat Tarraco: Reliable, but Could be Smarter
The Seat Tarraco's existence is a bit of a weird one. Because looking at the specs and the car itself, it seems to be cannibalising its own brand. I am debating this at my favourite garage in Switzerland and later at a driving school that I know to have a Seat Ateca, the Tarraco's obvious main competitor.
Tarraco on the left, Ateca on the right.
Now, I'm going to stop this train of thought here. Because from a purely journalistic standpoint, the result of the review if written like this would be something that Seat owners will sagely nod at and everyone else will just not understand. Also, I would be doing both the Ateca and the Tarraco a massive disservice.
Because the Tarraco should be seen as its own thing, mainly because it just might be the perfect car for people who have just obtained their license or those who just don't like driving but need a car to haul people or stuff around. A means to an end, if you will. Of course, with its pricetag starting at around $30000, it might be a bit expensive for new drivers. This cost, however, might be recouped further down the road.
So let's pretend there's no Ateca. Let's have a look at the Tarraco, the only SUV that Seat has.
The Friendly 4x4
After the first few meters, it becomes obvious that the Tarraco really likes its driver and passengers. There's plenty of enough space for five people, seven if you get creative, and the back seats have tables that can be folded down. Much like in an airplane. And much like an airplane, the Tarraco wants to make your ride as comfortable as possible. As a driver, you're sitting behind a wide windshield and a slanted hood that you can't see the end of. But there's two cameras as well as a sensor array that will help you when parking or manoeuvering.
The only thing marring the view in front is the massive A-pillar. For people in the know about Seats, this is an ongoing thing. From the Altea to the Ateca to the Tarraco, the A-pillar is massive. Sure, there's an airbag in there, which I appreciate, but the A-pillar is wide enough so that a kid or two could hide behind it. So despite all the comfort and ease of use that the Tarraco offers, you absolutely must remain vigilant when driving in city traffic due to the A-pillar. Remember to move your head.
Driving backwards in the classic sense is a bit difficult due to the fact that the rear window is quite far away as the Tarraco is amazingly spacious. At first, I thought that the SUV was bigger on the inside. But the rear view camera displays a high resolution image onto the 8-inch touch screen in the middle of the dashboard. It adds helpful lines to see where the manoeuvre will get you. Despite its massive size, the combination of the sensors and aides make the Tarraco surprisingly nimble and agile. Still: do not rely on the screen alone. Always turn your head and check the reality of the situation.
Driving on roads is a friendly ordeal, all in all. The Tarraco is amazingly forgiving. If you hit the gas pedal, there's a very noticeable lag between you issuing the command to the car and the car executing it. It goes far beyond the normal lag that an internal combustion engine needs to get the power required by the driver built up in the engine and then unload it via the wheels, putting it into the road. This can be frustrating because the 190 hp Diesel engine should be able to produce more «Oomph». But the Tarraco creates a really nice and forgiving atmosphere. You can make mistakes and fix them before you get yourself in trouble. Especially in city traffic and traffic jams, this makes for a very relaxed drive.
All this shouldn't mean that the Tarraco craps out at higher speeds. On the highways it does a splendid job and even at speeds of 120 km/h (75mph for those who calculate speeds in megafreedoms per democracy), the SUV never seems like it has to actually be bothered or excited with its automatic seven gears. I am mentioning this because at the beginning of the test phase, there was a slight worry that it wouldn't perform due to the lag between pushing the pedal and the car actually putting it out.
However: The entire comfortable driving experience can be a bit too comfortable. The automatic occasionally decides to be a bit too comfortable and without noticing, it suddenly goes from 50 km/h to 40 (30 to 25 mph if you calculate speeds in medium rare steaks per Starbucks). Either you use cruise control or you stay vigilant. Which you should do anyway. After all, you're still driving a car.
Smart, but Not Smart Enough
Far more exciting than driving the Tarraco that I am sure has been designed to be as comfy and uneventful as possible by Seat's engineers are the on-board computer systems. Because Seat has its very own, fully featured software suite, I assume it to be some kind of Linux distribution for cars.
There's a navigation system with its own maps. The voice output speaks beautiful British English and only occasionally sounds like a robot. It also speaks a variety of other languages equally well. Even though the accuracy and helpfulness of the GPS isn't quite up to par with a separate GPS device such as the Garmin Overlander, it's a lot better than anything Apple Car Play or Android Auto puts out. it becomes obvious that Seat hasn't saved on time and effort putting this into the Tarraco. Again, this makes for a very comfortable ride.
The adaptive cruise control is something that turns driving on highways from something you need to pay attention to into something that is just a matter of patience. Especially when you combine it with the lane keeping assistant. Because that system isn't just warning you when you leave the lane, but automatically corrects course. It even is able to drive a few curves by itself, especially on highways.
Combining these two systems make for something really close to an autopilot. An example: On the highway underneath the Swiss city of St. Gallen, there's construction going on right now. Well, there's always construction going on, but that's neither here nor there for this review. I am driving the Tarraco on the left lane. To my left, there's a concrete wall, sectioning off the construction site. To my right, there's a lorry. I have my cruise control set to 80km/h (50 mph if you do speeds in diet cokes per supersized burger meal) and the lorry is going 70. I don't like it. It's a very narrow and highly annoying situation. Me, being a fleshy human being, I wouldn't have taken the gap between the lorry and the wall. The Tarraco and all its sensors and cameras, however, knows exactly how much space there is and how wide it is and where it has to be in order to not slam into the wall or be crushed by the lorry.
The Seat Tarraco goes for it.
Me, being made of wet and squishy bits with a slew of imperfections, I am scared. Seriously, the car has gone completely mad. But a few seconds later, the manoeuvre is complete and it has been executed beautifully. The only issue was the human behind the wheel who saw himself crushed by lorry or smashed against a wall.
These are the situations where the entire comfortableness of the Tarraco becmomes somewhat treacherous. If I hadn't experienced situations that gave me logical reason to believe that the Tarraco would handle this wall/lorry-situation well, I would have slammed the brakes and created a dangerous situation for myself and others. This almost-autopilot requires trust that I am unwilling to just give a car by default. Although the Tarraco has proven that it deserves that trust from me, I am still hesitant to just always go «You do you, Tarraco, I'm just along for the ride».
How to Smarten Up the Seat Tarraco
After my review phase, there's this lingering feeling that the Seat Tarraco could be smarter. Because even if the SUV basically drives itself on highways, it has a tendency to be really, really stupid. An example: The cruise control is set to 60 km/h (37 mph in donuts per Sunday school), the GPS tells me there's a sharp turn coming up.
The Tarraco goes for it. At 60. No mercy. No hesitation.
The curve is far to sharp to be taken at 60, no matter how comfortable the ride and how good the on-board computers. I slam the brakes. I am never in any danger, but as a car reviewer and tech enthusiast, I am asking myself questions. There's not just the almost-autopilot that the software suite by Seat offers, but also things such as the GPS software. This software package is so good that Apple Car Play and Android Auto, while fully supported, don't offer any significant improvements over Seat's own systems. Amazing.
But: If the almost-autopilot would be communicating with the navigation system, then the car would know about the upcoming curve. The GPS could provide a semi-accurate picture of the surroundings and the on-board sensors would confirm the situation in a more accurate fashion. The car could then slow down and continue its comfortable ride. Because the car's sensors can accurately determine where you are in relation to pretty much anything else out there within view. It proves that over and over again. So why not think a step further and link up the car's systems?
Sure, this wouldn't make for a complete autopilot, but the adaptive cruise control would be a bit smarter and a tad more adaptive.
Why Novices and Utilitarians?
The combination of all these factors make the Tarraco a very friendly and very attentive car that takes good care of its passengers. So if you're new behind the wheel or just don't want to be behind the wheel, then the Tarraco is a really good ride for you.
The SUV offers comfort, ease of use and a lot of space. The flipside is that you have to remind yourself to be attentive in traffic. Because the Tarraco itself only warns when it thinks that you've removed your hands from the steering wheel. An additional warning when the lane keeping assistant has lost its plot would be nice, though.
However, the Tarraco is very nice to your wallet. With a range of about 700km (around 430 miles in gun laws per school shootings) per gas tank, it's surprisingly economic for its size and weight while still putting out plenty of power.
The entire package called Seat Tarraco is more than solid. It might not be as exciting as a BMW 320d or as strong as a Ford F-150 or as spectacular as a Ford Mustang but it is a reliable partner in everyday life with surprisingly strong software support.