Is the Seat Ateca the ideal practical-yet-sporty Dadmobile?
Getting to know a new long-termer
Phill is a freelance motoring journalist who has worked for loads of places, including Autocar, the Daily Telegraph, Evo Middle East and AutoTrader.
Getting to know a car is always an interesting experience, whether it's good or bad. It’s one thing to spend an hour or two in a car, but living with one, day-in, day-out, is a very different thing. It’s why car magazines and websites, since time immemorial, have mixed first drives with long-term reports like this one.
I’m in the early stages of getting to know my long-term Seat Ateca, and have already written about my main area of interest – can you have fun in a car with a 115-horsepower engine? Is it more fun to drive a slow(ish) car fast than a fast(ish) car slow? And on top of that, what’s it like to live with as a family car, a vehicle that needs to serve not only my own, selfish needs as a petrolhead but also the relatively mundane necessities of taking my daughter to nursery, and driving relatively long distances to see relatives?
Flat bottom steering wheel equals sporty
Much of the trouble with running a long termer in these slightly weird times has been that, well, I’m just not driving very much. I work almost exclusively from home and our weekly shopping is delivered. Also, everywhere has been closed for months. It’s not like I’m zipping up and down the country every week to see industry people and drive new things.
But all that said, we (that is, my wife and daughter and I) have been doing fairly regular trips down to the south coast to see my mother-in-law, which is a pretty good test route of dual carriageway, winding country roads and low-speed urban stuff. So, here are my first impressions of the Ateca.
It really is a sporty-feeling thing. You expect that from the upper end of the Ateca range – the 300hp Cupra Ateca is one of my favourite sporty SUVs and the most fun you can have this side of a Porsche Macan. But this has no trace of a Cupra badge on it, and only a little 115-horsepower, 1.0-litre engine under the bonnet. Yet, it’s the little engine that could, with sprightly throttle responses and plenty of punch in the mid-range. I’ve driven plenty of cars with more horsepower than this that don’t feel as willing. The manual gearbox is tidy too, with a slick short throw that’s very satisfying to use.
Fancy script means a classy car, right?
The handling is nimble; it feels alert, willing you to just take that next corner a fraction faster and thread a racing line through a roundabout until your wife tells you off. And while the ride isn’t exactly like wafting on a cushion of air – you’ll really feel it if you hit a pothole – neither my wife or daughter have complained about it. In fact, it seems to send the child to sleep pretty quickly, which is a tremendous feature that, frankly, Seat should include in their marketing.
Having not run an SUV for a while, I’d forgotten how useful it is to have something with a taller ride height. I’ve been a staunch defender of the estate car over the SUV in the past, but having had an Audi A5 Sportback in for a week recently, I found trying to load a toddler in a baby seat into the back to be a massive strain on my back. That’s just not a concern in the Ateca, as the need to bend down is all but removed. Maybe you need to be a dad (or mum) to really appreciate it, but I get it now. I see why people like that. It’s not the commanding driving position, it’s the ease of loading tiny passengers.
On the face of it, I was excited about the prospect of having wireless Apple CarPlay in the Ateca. I’m a long-term proponent of using smartphone apps over often-clunky, inbuilt systems, and CarPlay has worked well for me over several years. Between a podcast app, Spotify and Waze, all my entertainment and directional needs are taken care of.
Adapt. Or DIE
But so far, things in the Ateca have been a bit patchy. Wireless CarPlay through Bluetooth is great, but when I’ve plugged my phone into the USB socket under the dash to charge it, things get a bit confused, and try to run CarPlay through the cable, as well as wirelessly. Glitches result, and several times I’ve been left unable to play any music through the system, as it just won’t respond. I’ve resorted to deleting my phone from the system’s memory, so it’ll only work when it’s plugged in. That’s sorted it, but it seems like a backwards step.
Those USB sockets, by the way, are the more modern type-C format, so I’m using an adapter to fit the regular type-A cables I’ve got. That’ll be less of an issue in the future though.
There’s plenty of space in the back seat for my daughter’s franky massive baby seat, which is considerably bigger than she is. This isn’t a given – a Renault Captur that I had in this month required the front passenger seat to be basically wedged into the airbag to leave enough space for the small child. Lesson one about children – they might be small, but they take up a LOT of space.
Plenty of room for all sorts of child-related nonsense
That’s true in the boot too, and I’m already missing the gargantuan load space in my previous long-termer, the Skoda Superb. But having acquired a less cumbersome buggy for the little one, it’s not really been too much of an issue – luggage for a weekend at Nanna’s will just about fit in.
First impressions then are broadly positive. The Ateca does domestic duties well and also has an edge of fun to it. I think we’re going to get on rather well. I just wish I had more places to drive to.