► New Seat Tarraco SUV review
► Keith Jones tests big crossover
► Sits above Ateca and Arona
Cast your eyes across the chiselled lines of the new Seat Tarraco. If you’re in the market for a seven-seater SUV, but don’t want to sacrifice sportiness, then the Spanish marque claims the Tarraco is the answer to your needs.
Sounds like an enticing combination that might prevent you from signing on the dotted line for a Hyundai Santa Fe, Kia Sorento or a Peugeot 5008, let alone the Skoda Kodiaq and Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace.
Our guide: the best luxury SUVs
So how’s Seat made the Tarraco sportier than its Skoda and VW cousins?
Good question, and it’s one we put to Andrew Shepherd from Seat’s Technical Center.
His response was that first and foremost the Tarraco had Seat-specific tuning to its handling characteristics, but that it was also styled more sportily than its in-house relations. The third reason? It’s available with on-board Alexa and Shazam connectivity.
As tempting as it is to respond to those points in emoji, we can’t, but if you can imagine a consecutive trio of Thinking Face, Face with Raised Eyebrow and Flushed Face, then you’re on the money.
Well, I wasn’t expecting that! Err, so is the new Tarraco sportier to drive?
So far we’ve only driven the Tarraco on Spanish highways smoother than Leslie Phillips in his 1950s pomp – ding dong. The asphalt was further complemented by the test cars being fitted with Dynamic Chassis Control (adaptive suspension), which helps negate the effect of 20-inch rims and low-profile rubber. How this combination works on Britain’s rough-around-the-edges A-roads will be interesting to say the least – this is a family-focused car overall.
Scepticism aside, there’s something in Shepherd’s claim – is it a sporty car with a septet of seats? No, but it does feel more athletic than many of its mainstream rivals, particularly the Skoda- and VW-badged ones. Whether that difference is as appreciable when the Skoda Kodiaq vRS is unleashed remains to be seen.
Traction’s strong – this one has 4Drive sending power to all four wheels as required – the steering’s sharp and weightier on the TDI diesel than the TSI petrol and bodyroll is tautly controlled.
Despite the 8.0-second 0-62mph time and 187bhp of grunt, the 2.0-litre TDI diesel-engined Tarraco doesn’t feel as quick as the statistics suggest it might. In part it feels leaden due to its DSG transmission: while it swaps cogs readily enough, its initial responsiveness from standing starts is a tad sluggish, with the shortfall made up by the diesel’s low-down torque.
A punchier Tarraco FR is due in 2019 – probably with the same 237bhp twin-turbo unit as the Kodiaq vRS, but a decision on whether there’s scope for a riotous Cupra Tarraco hasn’t been taken.
And what about that sporty styling?
How a car looks is entirely subjective, but given the size of this particular SUV canvas, it’s disappointing how similar it looks to the Skoda and VW alternatives.
Perhaps Dieselgate-related cost-cutting has stymied the design team’s creativity but minus the grille and lighting graphics, the Seat and its cousins could be alternative design proposals for the same car. Shame.
More significant than claims of visual athleticism is that the Tarraco is said to be a styling bridge between the rest of Seat’s current line-up and the all-new Leon set to debut in the 2019 Geneva motor show.
Of particular note is the more imposing, vertically-set grille garnished with a thick chrome frame, flanked by smaller-than-usual headlamps featuring a revamped LED lighting signature. In fact, all of the Tarraco’s lighting is courtesy of LEDs, aside from that red bar linking the tail lamps – it’s nothing more than a unilluminated decorative fillet.
Are you going to pretend the connectivity features are sporty?
No. No, we’re not.
That’s not to say that the connected features aren’t useful – and voice-activation should be safer than prodding the touchscreen – but they don’t enhance the performance.
You’ll doubtless have noticed that the Tarraco’s also ushered-in a new style of dashboard for Seat, although it doesn’t look dissimilar to the one in the upcoming Skoda Scala hatch. Gone is the integrated touchscreen designs of the Arona and Ateca, replaced by a floating-look item. And it is only a look, with the rear of the frame chamfered away out of view, rather than a unit protruding from the dashboard as with the Peugeot 5008.
Trim finishes on our Xcellence-grade test example include plastiwood – if it’s real timber, a remarkable job has been done of making it look and feel fake – along with a twill-type of upholstery, gussied-up with some Alcantara, sueded-effect panels.
If it’s not exactly sporty, does the Tarraco succeed as a seven-seater?
Like its rivals, while there are seven seats (Britain misses out on the five-seat version), the rearmost pair are only really sufficient for kids.
They fold and raise easily within the capacious boot, though, while everything feels sufficiently sturdy for the rigours of family life. As with its VW Group relations, the Tarraco looses out to the 5008 in the middle row as well. Although it’s roomy enough, the Peugeot feels positively palatial by comparison and has the bonus of being fitted with three individually adjustable seats – it’s an MPV by stealth.
It’s rather a telling point that the shuttle vehicles back to the airport following the press launch weren’t Tarracos, but older, spacier and far less fashionable Alhambras…
Seat Tarraco: the verdict
Seat’s definitely got a fine contender on its hands in the seven-seat SUV segment, but we can’t help but feel shortchanged that it’s not gone straight to the top of the class. It doesn’t feel like an improvement over the Kodiaq or Tiguan Allspace, just an alternative to them.
That in itself doesn’t make it bad, just that it lacks any cleverly evolved features or more overt sportiness.
Cookie-cutter cars don’t move the genre on, which ultimately isn’t in consumers’ best interests.
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