Seat Tarraco long-term test: nothing left untouched

Published: 03 April 2020

► We live with a Seat Tarraco
► It's the new range-topping SUV
► Long-term test, regular updates 

Month 5 living with a Seat Tarraco: in bits

The gearbox
The manual over-ride is getting a lot of use. Considering what a torquey engine this is, it's odd how frequently it struggles. There's an emissions-minded hesitancy about it at low revs, and a tendency to be in too high a gear. So to overcome it you change gear yourself.

Tarraco gearbox

The cruise control
It's fine. Except these days anything that doesn't 
co-ordinate sat-nav and cruise control seems like half a job. I've been spoilt by fancy Mercs that know I'm about to turn left, and encourage appropriate deceleration. It's not the car, it's me. I've changed.

Tarraco cruise

The sat-nav
I like to think I 'get' VW Group GPS, but I've just returned from a particularly irksome journey to Birmingham in which I was anything but attuned to the Tarraco's sat-nav. It kept on telling me where I was, but only at the last moment telling me where to go. Infuriating.

Tarraco satnav

The typography
The Seat Alhambra is a rarity: a surviving MPV that feels as though it belongs in 2020. One of the many things I admire about it is the typography on the Alhambra badge. The first two As curve one way; the third curves the other. The Tarraco does much the same. Lovely.

By Colin Overland

Price £38,055 
Performance 1968cc turbodiesel four-cyl, 188bhp, 8.0sec 0-62mph, 130mph 
Efficiency 37.2-38.2mpg (official), 37.8mpg (tested), 147g/km CO2 
Energy cost 15.7p per mile 
Miles this month 1187
Total miles 6177

Month 4 living with a Seat Tarraco: proper platform

You can learn a lot about a car when you're looking the other way. More specifically, when you're using a familiar car as a support vehicle on a supercar photo shoot, you discover previously hidden qualities. Or rather, your colleague Adam Binnie does.

Here's what he said after an intense couple of days chasing the McLaren GT, Ferrari Portofino and Honda NSX around Wales: 'It was super comfy on the drive up and surprisingly capable on that Bala road too when I was driving behind the fast stuff.

'It was a stable and large enough platform for photographer John Wycherley, but able to catch up or accelerate out of the way too. It's just a pity about the noisy wipers.'

By Colin Overland

Price £38,055 
Performance 1968cc turbodiesel four-cyl, 188bhp, 8.0sec 0-62mph, 130mph 
Efficiency 37.2-38.2mpg (official), 39.6mpg (tested), 147g/km CO2 
Energy cost 15.4p per mile 
Miles this month 1197
Total miles 4990

Month 3 living with a Seat Tarraco: spot the difference

Tarraco Tiguan faceoff

Time for me to shut up about this being merely a Seat-badged generic VW Group product. When you actually put two of them together, the differences loom much larger than the similarities. Comparing my Tarraco with a VW Tiguan Allspace was highly illuminating.

The comparison isn’t quite like for like. Although both are 2.0-litre diesels with all-wheel drive and a DSG gearbox, mine is 40bhp more powerful. And my Tarraco is Seat’s top spec, whereas the VW is the lowest Allspace spec. But the price, performance and equipment lists are pretty similar.

And yet they feel quite distinct. Fine tuning of the control weights and suspension settings gives a markedly different feel. The firmer-riding Seat feeds back more about the road surface and involves you more in the driving process. 

All down to that 40bhp difference? That must come into it. But I’m more inclined to believe that the Seat team have done a very good job within very tight constraints.

By Colin Overland

Price £38,055 
Performance 1968cc turbodiesel four-cyl, 188bhp, 8.0sec 0-62mph, 130mph 
Efficiency 37.2-38.2mpg (official), 39.6mpg (tested), 147g/km CO2 
Energy cost 15.4p per mile 
Miles this month 1152
Total miles 3793

Month 2 living with a Seat Tarraco: no place like home

'Generic' gets a bad press. But surely something being typical of its type is only a bad thing if that type is a bad thing. And that doesn't apply to VW Group crossovers, which are all somewhere on a spectrum that runs from good to excellent.

Having driven a lot of VW Group crossovers (starting way before they were called crossovers) I know how to set them up in a way that suits me: which drive mode to use, when to turn to the paddleshifters, how the sat-nav works, and the audio.

The details change over the years and between makes and models, but the logic stays the same. It's the stuff your fingers know better than your brain: twiddling this knob that way will zoom in on the nav, how many folder icons you need to click to work your way back to the Media menu, that sort of thing.

And my favourite: the shortcut to deactivate lane assist. It takes forever to find it and deactivate it via the central touchscreen, but if you're in the know you can do it in two clicks, hands still on the wheel.

By Colin Overland

The best seven-seater SUVs

Price £38,055 
Performance 1968cc turbodiesel four-cyl, 188bhp, 8.0sec 0-62mph, 130mph 
Efficiency 37.2-38.2mpg (official), 38.6mpg (tested), 147g/km CO2 
Energy cost 16.4p per mile 
Miles this month 1283 
Total miles 1659

Month 1 living with a Seat Tarraco: hello and welcome

Seat Tarraco front tracking

When our heirs look back to 2019 from their hoverboard-and-monorail future, they’ll surely take a moment to reflect on the magnificence of one car in particular. It’s the least sexy, least pretentious but most fit-for-purpose car on sale today: the Nissan X-Trail.

I mention that here because, having recently renewed my acquaintance with the X-Trail and been reminded of its low-key brilliance, I’m very clear in my mind about what I want to find out in my time with the Seat Tarraco: is it as good as the X-Trail? Beloved of rugbymums and equestrian dads, building-site supervisors and mobile hairdressers alike, it may not be the car Seat had in mind as the key rival, but buyers should be making the comparison.

Other members of the CAR team drove the Tarraco before I did, and largely raved about it, much as they’d raved about its Skoda Kodiaq cousin before it (but not the VW equivalent, the Tiguan Allspace, for some reason). So my expectations were high – and the scope for disappointment huge – but when I first drove it I too was very impressed. Yes, it’s generic VW Group to a very large extent – but that’s a good thing. Lovely clean, modern, European design (done at Seat HQ in Martorell). Well built (in Wolfsburg). Nice font for ‘Tarraco’ on the bootlid. Lots of equipment, all of it easy to operate. More modern and techy than the Nissan.

Ours is the top-spec Xcellence Lux version, which includes pretty much the full suite of safety, comfort and convenience features. Ours has no extras. In that context, it’s well priced next to the Nissan.

Our engine is the most powerful of the diesels (there’s also a choice of petrols, with a plug-in hybrid due next year). It has a DSG paddleshift auto and four-wheel drive (below). The numbers are good. But it’s let down by a very laggy throttle, and not just in Eco mode. That’s got to be something to do with keeping the fuel consumption and CO2 emissions down, a bit of a preoccupation within the VW Group these days. Needless to say, the Nissan isn’t blighted in this way.

Seat Tarraco all-wheel drive

That aside, the Tarraco is a joy to drive. It’s a big car with lots of room for the row-two passengers (although the Nissan has more luggage space), but on the road its size disappears. The ride is on the firm side, whereas the X-Trail is on the soft side; call that one a draw.

There’s lots to explore: many driving modes, including proper off-road potential; that third row of seats; doubtless more safety and connectivity than I’ve so far discovered; and perhaps a magic combination of modes and preferences that will sort out that throttle lag.

But given the stiff competition it’s up against – not to mention my own rigid prejudices – this is looking like a very distinguished addition to an overcrowded field.

By Colin Overland

The best seven-seater SUVs

Price £38,055
Performance 1968cc turbodiesel four-cyl, 188bhp, 8.0sec 0-62mph, 130mph
Efficiency 37.2-38.2mpg (official), 38.6mpg (tested), 147g/km CO2
Energy cost 16.4p per mile
Miles this month 1283
Total miles 1659

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