How do you get a grunting teenage son to babble like he won’t shut up? If he’s into his cars it’s easy: you turn up at the house after work with something rather exciting to test drive.
A couple of years ago it was a Nissan GT-R on loan for a week. Within a matter of hours, I became the coolest dad in town. Knowing grins and requests for a spin round the block followed me around like lost puppies.
I wasn’t expecting the same result though with my latest subject, a car that on passing glance is just an SUV on steroids. A car that, from its logo at least, is difficult to place.
You can read the quizzical looks on passers-by. That badge is a little unfamiliar. Those are fruity looking exhausts, and don’t those gold alloys look fancy? Did you see the way it just took off? Err, what the hell is it?
All except my son, that is. I had underestimated the many hours locked away in his bedroom devouring online car reviews. At least I assumed they were car reviews.
As I came gliding down the driveway, he emerged from the front door, a broad grin spread from ear to ear before excitedly pronouncing: “you know it’s got the same engine as a Golf R, It does 0-60 in under 5-seconds and has a top speed of over 150mph?…”
Yep hello Harry. Had a good day ?
He leapt into the driving seat squeezing past me, barely waiting for me to vacate.
Within seconds he’d worked his way through the touchscreen infotainment system, tweaking the various driving modes – Comfort, Sport and an ominous looking Cupra.
I offered him a test drive as he emerged from the car backwards, reversing round to the passenger seat, smartphone aloft instagramming all the way. He was going to enjoy this.
Earlier that day, I’d slogged through London, barely getting above 10 miles an hour. I had mixed feelings. To drive, it seemed more than able. Stop-start engine and gentle easing from brake to accelerator, I crawled along effortlessly.
Occasionally a quick punch on the throttle lurched me through the traffic lights as they flowed from red to green to red again in typical London fashion. My assumption: the car was punchy when needed.
With all the seats flat and laden with work baggage, I’d also noticed it was practical. It had no problem fitting the DriveTribe banners and pop-up stands that I was ferrying to and from the London Motor Show.
My one gripe was the sat-nav. On more than one occasion, it seemed to be playing games. So much so that I resorted to Google Maps, plugging my mobile phone into the car’s Apple CarPlay to save me from waywardness.
All was forgiven however, when I later emerged from the city limits onto the M23 motorway. It was about the first time I’d managed to free myself from traffic and with a BMW up my backside desperate to get past, I wasn’t feeling in an especially helpful mood.
Has to be said, I also wasn’t expecting what happened next. As the Beemer seared up behind I stamped on the throttle and suddenly found myself “Nissan GTR-like” hurtling away from the shiny-suited juvenile.
Beemer-guy also seemed somewhat shocked, either that or he was trying to catch up to see what kind of innocuous looking SUV had just made him look decidedly ordinary.
My sensibility got the better of me – borrowing a press car there is always a certain edge of fear that telematics could get the better of me; I didn’t want that awkward conversation with SEAT’s press department on Monday. So, I eased off and made the most of a car barely registering any effort at motorway speeds.
Needless to say, as I arrived home in leafy West Sussex, I was relaxed but hugely curious to see what this car could do. Let’s just say, neither I nor my son, was disappointed. It goes like the proverbial, with smooth torque-y effortless constant acceleration.
Sharp in the corners with a gentle sense of body-roll in tight bends – its height less of an advantage compared to Golf siblings carrying the same engine. Powerful Brembo brakes. A huge amount of fun.
While driving in “Cupra” mode unlocked a perceptible increase in sharpness of the throttle response and a firmer ride, it was perhaps an option for rare occasions. There was more than enough driving experience to be had in the other modes, without vaporising my petrol tank.
More to the point, at one-point driving in Cupra I even thought I had a puncture, the car gently riding the camber on the South West corner of the M25, where the Tarmac is - for some reason only known to transport officials - replaced by hardened furrows designed to induce mild panic and tyre pressure paranoia.
A performance car for all seasons?
So, who would it suit and who would it appeal to? Two main groups perhaps. Firstly, those who want the best of all worlds; blistering performance, space and a high-up driving position.
Perhaps a young family, who have reluctantly given up the hot hatch as baby number one or two comes along. A car that will lug it down to the South of France on a family holiday, laden with kit but eating up the miles. A car whose AWD provides that extra bit of comfort when the snow bites.
Secondly, it’s the type of person who needs the practicality of an SUV but puts a high priority on performance. Someone who places less of an emphasis on social climbing and identifies with “in-the-know” badge respect. Someone who isn’t looking to compete with Porsche Macan owners at the school gates, but still gets a sense of worth, knowing they have something a little different and on-par with performance.
While motoring journalists may scoff at the slight body roll as you enter a corner, unleashing nearly all 296 horses, the fact is its barely noticeable and you get a great “family friendly” driving position.
If you’re after space, practicality and performance and are happy to eschew the premium badge and boy-racer label, this is a car worth a look.