► Seat Arona small-SUV tested
► Flexible and roomy crossover
► Prices start from £18k
Seat’s Arona is a small SUV that arrived so late to the party that most revellers are beyond giddy: Nissan’s Juke had been propping up the bar for six years when the Arona first turned up (and has since been updated), a bender that even Ernest Hemingway might have found taxing.
In the main, the Arona’s party piece won’t stun the DJ into silence, as the ingredients are fairly conventional: decent cabin space within a small vehicle footprint, raised ride height to give the driver a more commanding seating position, and downsized engines for useful fuel economy.
Does using the accomplished mechanical bits from the Ibiza and VW Polo superminis, does that give the Arona a dynamic and quality advantage?
What’s the engine line-up?
The Arona has four engines; a 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol engine with 94 or 113bhp, and a 1.5-litre TSI producing 148bhp and a 1.6-litre diesel. Most buyers will gravitate to that higher-powerer 1.0-litre; rightly so, it feels more nimble and less arduous to steer than the 148bhp four-cylinder, more rapier than the bigger engine’s broadsword.
Acceleration is reasonable, with the 0-62mph sprint completed in 9.8sec as you whip through a close-ratio six-speed manual ‘box, urged on by raucous three-cylinder song. The engine comes on strongly from just over 1500rpm, punching through a strong mid-range. But the loud pedal is an all-too appropriate description: engine noise is pretty intrusive under high throttle load. And cruising at motorway speeds pulling 2400rpm, you’re aware of the engine’s thrummy vibrations and some obvious wind noise that doesn’t affect the Ibiza so markedly.
Rides like a butterfly, steers like a Wii?
That’s a shame because dynamically the strictly front-wheel drive Arona is good stuff. The steering feels light and it mirrors your inputs faithfully, the chassis and tyres engender heaps of grip, and the ride is very good: taut enough so the body feels in control, supple enough to deliver the necessary comfort, refined enough to insulate from bumps. That said, UK roads will provide a sterner test than Barcelona’s silken tarmac.
The body is suspended by McPherson struts up front and a torsion beam rear axle, with the Arona weighing from 1165 to 1210kg, depending on trim and whether you opt for the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox which adds a few kilos.
What’s life like on the inside – penthouse or Pentonville prison?
Occupants will relish the space, if not all the materials: the dashtop and fascia strip sound as hollow as a Michael Gove oath of loyalty, and there are plastic party glasses with a more luxurious feel than the door pulls.
No complaints with the package though: people in excess of six-foot will be happy in the rear, with knees adrift of the front seat backs and an abundance of headroom. And the boot, with two-level floor, can carry 400 litres, or 823 with the 60:40-split rear bench folded.
The Arona offers a decent level of technology, all folded into seven trim levels – there isn’t a single option, as Seat attempts to make life simple for the consumer. Even metallic paint and a different colour roof (if you wish to switch from body colour to orange, black or grey) is baked into the price, which starts at £18,010. That SE model includes 17-inch rims, air-con, automated Front Assist braking, a 6.5-inch colour touchscreen and a ‘Driver Pack’ comprising cruise control, hill holder and a driver tiredness monitor.
We drove the next trim up, the SE Tech. Starting at £18,965 with the 94bhp engine, extra goodies include a pin-sharp 8-inch touchscreen with navigation, ‘Full Link’ to operate your Apple or Android smartphone on the move, wireless charging and a couple of USB ports and SD card slots. Above SE Tech, buyers can either choose a couple of sporty FR trims, or more comfort-biased Xcellence models.
Driving various Aronas on UK roads has given us a lot of reasons to appreciate its ride and handling: light but accurate steering, good bump absorption and a useful but unintrusive amount of feedback from road to driver.
Of the seven spec levels, FR feels best for the Arona: a good amount of equipment, but not tech overkill, and it has its own suspension set-up, adding a degree of firmness that the keen driver will appreciate. The 1.5 Evo engine suits FR well, but if you’re on a tighter budget so does the higher-powered of the two 1.0-litre petrols, available as a six-speed manual or seven-speed DSG. Since it makes only 114bhp, you have to work it reasonably hard to make a rapid getaway (9.8 seconds to 62mph for the manual, dead on 10 for the auto) but that actually adds to the sense of connection with the car (although it can get tiresome on longer journeys).
Seat Arona: verdict
The incessant launch of new small SUVs has provided customers with distinct choices and different virtues. With its handsome, mature design and family ethos, the Arona will naturally appeal beyond Seat’s typically youthful audience, and those customers will get a pretty decent B-SUV to drive.
But newer contenders such as the Ford Puma and Peugeot 2008 are more compelling, the Peugeot if you value design flair and top technology (including electrification), and the Ford if class-leading dynamics are top of your wishlist. One thing's for sure, a decade ago it was pretty much a choice between Nissan Juke or Mini Countryman; now you can pick a B-SUV from every major brand, and plenty of minor ones too.