► Cupra’s first model facelifted
► It’s now got more rivals than ever
► Worth getting one over all others like it?
Cupra has now built a foundation for itself as a standalone brand, to the point it’s even started developing bespoke. So does the car it all started with, the Cupra Ateca, still make sense in this brave new world of Formentors and so forth – especially now this performance SUV is now more beset by rivals than ever before?
First launched in 2018, the Cupra Ateca has since been facelifted and updated in an effort to keep up with the new guard. Hot SUVs are where the money’s at (even if there’s still a debate as to whether they’re worth it) so, along with Cupra, Group compadres Volkswagen, Skoda and Audi even have multiple performance crossovers to choose from. Hyundai’s at it with the Kona N, too.
So what’s changed with the facelift?
The regular Seat Ateca was already one of the sharper-looking SUVs out there, but we’re not quite sure what happened in the switch to becoming a Cupra model. Someone seems to have gone a little bit mad sticking extra stuff all over the car. Some may love it, whereas others will find it overly fussy.
The facelift brings a mild tweak to the Ateca’s face (that’s also applied to the Seat version), new wheel designs and a plethora of copper-coloured accents. The latter probably won’t do much to convince any of the existing nay-sayers but do at least help the Cupra stand out.
Inside, the changes are more distinct. There’s a widescreen centre display with a new infotainment system (depressingly dreadful, as most VW Group efforts currently are), revised seats with new upholstery choices and a new steering wheel with ‘satellite buttons’ for the top-spec VZ3 variant. Seemingly stolen from an Audi R8 and hastily copper-tinted, these function as the drive mode and starter switches, though to be honest the twisty dial on the centre console is an easier way of adjusting the former.
The engine hasn’t been altered, so it still makes 296bhp sent to all four wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch auto.
It is, of course, still an Ateca as well. And while we might sneer about it being a rebadged car, the donor vehicle has always been a solid family motor. So there are loads of storage cubbies, the driving position is tall but you don’t feel perched on the car, space in the rear seats is plentiful. And the boot’s pretty big.
But does the drive match the styling?
The reality is the Cupra Ateca performs exactly how you’d expect of a powerful SUV with all-wheel drive built by the Volkswagen Group. That’s to say it’s very capable, but not especially thrilling.
As such, it’s secure and composed, but in a non-threatening kind of way. If the wild looks promise a sense of edgy danger, they’re writing a cheque the dynamics can’t cash. If you remember cheques. This is a very capable and predictable machine, but it doesn’t pull you out of the door on a mission to simply go for a drive. Rather, it dispatches you from A to B with, dare we say say it, a kind of Germanic efficiency that impresses but rarely inspires.
Interestingly, the very similar Tiguan R has some additional sharpness and aggression that Cupra seems to have tuned out of the Ateca – so if that’s where your preferences lie, then the VW may be a better option. But if you just want to go fast with no fuss then the Cupra may be just the job.
Certainly, there’s no faulting the way this thing builds pace – sometimes quicker than you realise – but the lack of aural drama (apart from some faintly ferocious up-changes from the seven-speed DSG, even the exhaust lacks any real sense of occasion) makes it feel like the car just does it all for you. And to get any sense of involvement from the chassis you really have to be very aggressive; even then the steering and front-end lack the bite you’d anticipate from a proper hot hatch.
Still, body control is good and it manages its size well. Let’s not forget this is a high-riding crossover, so it’s impressive that you don’t fall out of the seats more often than you do. Standard fit adaptive suspension allows you to tailor the ride to an extent, with only the most aggressive Cupra setting really at risk of becoming a source of tension with your passengers.
Unsurprisingly, there’s remains more movement in the body compared with an equivalent conventional pocket rocket, but traction and grip levels are very reassuring and the Brembo brakes fitted to the VZ3 are massively effective. Shame that all of this capability means it feels like it’s lacking something. That fizz. That buzz.
Cupra Ateca: verdict
Cupra had to start somewhere three years ago, huh? Even a few years and a facelift on, the Ateca’s still a totally sound performance SUV. Loads of grip, quick and practical. It’s a good few grand cheaper than a Tiguan R, despite being about 95 per cent the same car. Which isn’t to be sniffed at.
But that other five per cent matters – the Cupra has plenty of performance on tap but rarely manages to wow you. Cupra’s own Formentor makes the Ateca seem little tragic, too – it’s not much more expensive, looks even wilder and manages to make similar ingredients feel more exciting.