► First drive in Cupra’s launch model
► Seat badge ditched – is it worth its own one?
► Or is it actually just a sporty Seat?
It’s quite telling that the first car to launch under Seat's standalone brand - the new Cupra Ateca - is a family SUV moulded into a hot hatch on stilts. Everyone wants an SUV, but not everyone actually needs one. But there’s no denying that people are buying SUVs, and there isn’t really another car on the market like this one, unless you want to spend an extra £15,000 and get yourself a slightly faster Audi SQ5.
Seat (sorry, Cupra), has managed to carve out a niche which is good going considering how many different types of SUV you can buy currently.
Bear in mind this is the Cupra Ateca, not a Seat Ateca Cupra. Whatever you decide to call it, it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue unless you combine the two and opt for 'Cuprateca' or 'Atecupra.'
What is a Cupra?
Going forwards, you won’t be able to buy a Cupra version of a new Seat. They’ll fall under the Cupra brand, which is now an official offshoot of the main company.
You may recognise the Cupra name from hardcore hot hatches from the last couple of decades – think Leon and Ibiza. While the current Leon heads towards the end of its life, it’s the only Seat-badged Cupra model you can buy, and it’ll be the last. In years to come, you will simply buy a Cupra Ateca, Cupra Leon, etc.
Naturally, all manner of buzzwords have been used to describe what Cupra buyers will expect from their new car – think sophistication, uniqueness and performance and you’ll be along the right lines. This is what Cupra has splashed all over its marketing material, pledging an exclusive experience for buyers.
So, there will be a Cupra Corner of Seat showrooms, and you’ll be sold a car by a Cupra Master. You get the idea.
More news, specs and pics of the Cupra Ateca
The range has kicked off with the Ateca because of the SUV’s popularity. Not only the Ateca specifically, but the style of car. And Cupra reckons it’s got this area of the market sewn up. It deliberately sits beneath premium (and more expensive) fast 4x4s and above humdrum crossovers with slow diesel engines.
There’s plenty of hope for the future too, with Cupra promising seven Cupra-badged models by 2021 – so they’ve got the balls to run with it.
What’s the new Cupra Ateca all about?
Aside from the slightly Halfords-esque bodykit, which turns out to be very spec-sensitive when there are copper alloy wheels and that new badge slapped on the front and back of it, things aren’t hugely bespoke on the face of it. Murdered-out all-black? Looks the business. Alternative colour that really shows off the new logo? Hmm… not so much.
We’re not even sure what the logo is supposed to be, but there’s a whiff of unknown-superhero/unbranded-car-from-a-slightly-violent-car-game-you-might-play-at-the-weekend about it.
The Ateca is 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 adding bits all over the car. Some may love it, whereas others will find it overly fussy.
A dark colour tones it down and makes it look suitably aggressive, but we’re not sure if all those copper bits are necessary, nor especially appealing parked on a UK high street.
But does the drive match the styling?
The reality is the Cupra Ateca performs exactly how you’d expect a powerful SUV with all-wheel drive to. That’s to say that it’s very capable, but not especially thrilling.
It’s secure and composed, but in a non-threatening kind of way. Whether that’s down to the wild looks promising a lot more danger than you actually get is one thing, but it may well be that it’s just a very capable and predictable machine. Unsurprisingly accomplished in the same way a Leon ST Cupra or Golf R is. Who would have thought?
You can thank the same 2.0-litre TSI petrol engine producing 296bhp and 295lb/ft of torque for that, matched to a seven-speed DSG auto gearbox and 4Drive all-wheel drive keeping things in check.
There’s no faulting the way this thing builds pace – sometimes quicker than you realise – but the lack of aural drama (apart from fairly ferocious upchanges from the seven-speed DSG and exhaust parps and bangs), but it feels like the car just does it all for you.
That may well be how a potential buyer wants it – fast in a straight line and without feeling like it’s going to throw you into a ditch at the next bend, but there are few occasions on a twisty road that this feels genuinely thrilling.
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.
Obviously, there’s more movement in the body compared with an equivalent hot hatch or estate, but traction and grip levels are very impressive and optional Brembo brakes reassuringly effective. But all of this capability means it feels like it’s lacking something. That fizz. That buzz.
What’s the Cupra like inside?
The issue with a lack of excitement could come down to the interior. It really is just an Ateca inside with a different steering wheel and fancy (and very good) Alcantara-clad bucket seats (which you don’t get in the UK).
It’s no bad thing that it’s a pleasant interior to be in - you’ve got to remind yourself that this started life as a sensible family car, and it retains all of the regular Ateca’s abilities in this sense – but a few extra niceties wouldn’t go amiss.
It’s still spacious, it’s still high quality and you can still fit the family and their luggage in, the difference is that you’ll get to your destination quicker than in a 1.6 TDI.
Does the Ateca work as a Cupra model in its own right? In all honesty, this could well get away with still having a Seat badge on the front, and with Cupra logos dotted about like they are currently.
It doesn’t feel different enough to drive than an outgoing Leon ST Cupra, while the styling feels a little too over the top, promising more than the drive delivers in some regards.
That could be damning it with faint praise though – the brand was never going to launch with a bespoke car, and the Ateca is a seriously capable machine at getting from A to B, while still fulfilling the brief as a practical family SUV.
The Cupra brand has to start somewhere with the existing Seat line-up, and the Ateca is a solid effort, and the company itself certainly has the confidence up the momentum for future models.
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