Just a few years ago, if you were in the market for a practical and economical SUV, a diesel was your best bet. However, with increasingly stringent emission regulations being imposed on manufacturers, the development of smaller, turbocharged engines has been relentless. You can now find them in everything from compact city cars to mid-engined performance machines. But what about SUVs?
Well, until very recently, manufacturers have been tentative to slot small turbocharged engines into their larger models – even VW decided against it for the new Tiguan. The reason? Perception. Sure, a small turbocharged three-cylinder makes sense in something like a VW Up, but a heavy SUV? Surely it wouldn’t be up to the job.
Well, Seat certainly isn’t worried, offering a turbocharged 1.0-litre engine in its new entry-level Ateca. With a peak output of 113bhp at 5000rpm the little three-cylinder manages to match the more expensive 1.6 TDI diesel. And with the Ateca managing to achieve the 0-62mph sprint in 11.0sec, it’s quicker too. Downsizing might not be so bad afterall.
What is the 2016 Seat Ateca SE 1.0 TSI Ecomotive like to drive?
Surprisingly civilised. This engine comes with a six-speed manual gearbox – there's no automatic option – and the ratios are well spaced to make best use of the slightly boosty power delivery. Plant your right foot and just like the majority of small-capacity turbocharged engines there’s a slight hesitation as you wait for the turbo limber up. However, once the motor gets going beyond 2000rpm, power delivery is smooth and progressive.
Around town the engine’s three cylinder thrum is almost imperceptible, making for relaxed day-to-day driving. Push the engine harder and it will emit a distinctive growl, although this settles down to a quiet background hum once you ease off the throttle. Compared with the rather gruff 148bhp 2.0-litre diesel that we tested earlier in the year, the 1.0 TSI would be less tiring for high-mileage drivers.
Dynamically, with a lightweight engine up front, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Ateca has a dynamism and agility not found in the more expensive diesel models. Unfortunately, that’s not really the case. Thanks to its relatively firm suspension, body roll is well contained and turn-in is crisp, but it’s not quite as rewarding as we expected.
Push on, and like most VW Group cars, the Ateca pushes wide, falling into safe and predictable understeer as the front wheels run wide. Of course, this entry-level model isn’t designed for aggressive driving, but it’s still somewhat disappointing considering that the Ateca is pitched as a sportier alternative to the VW Tiguan.
Nevertheless, stay within the Seat’s limits and there is real satisfaction to be found in hustling it down a fast and flowing country road. The Ateca deals with large obstructions well – all the more impressive considering that it doesn’t have the sophisticated multi-link rear suspension set-up of its four-wheel drive counterparts – and the direct steering allows you to place the car exactly where you want.
A busy ride and the odd jolt through the cabin are the only reminders of the fact this entry-level car has a simpler rear suspension set-up than the more expensive models we've tried previously.
What is the 2016 Seat Ateca SE 1.0 TSI Ecomotive like inside?
Up front, the Ateca’s dashboard will be familiar to anyone who’s experienced the current Leon; a design that is now in its fifth year of service. With a mix of hard and soft plastics, it’s certainly not as luxurious as the VW Tiguan, but then again, the Seat is the significantly cheaper SUV.
Our car's optional infotainment system, which includes an 8.0in touchscreen with sat-nav and a DAB radio, helped introduce some flair to the dashboard, and we were impressed with its responsive and intuitive interface.
There’s plenty of head and leg room in the front and rear and, as you’d expect from such a tall car, the door openings are generous, making it easy to get in and out. However, it’s worth noting that the Ateca’s rear seats don’t slide or recline like those in the new Tiguan. It’s not a deal breaker, but if you find yourself transporting particularly long-legged individuals, it is a limitation.
Should I buy one?
If you’re looking for a practical and economical SUV that will be cheap to buy and run, then the 1.0-litre Seat Ateca SE Ecomotive makes a brilliant alternative to the usual selection of diesel models. It’s hard not to be impressed by its flexibility, frugality and hushed tones, and it remains one of our favourite small SUVs even in this lesser guise.
As we’ve found with other vehicles in this class, we predict that the diesel models will sell in higher numbers, but if you’re a private buyer who drives mainly in town, then this entry-level Ateca makes a whole lot of sense.
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Seat Ateca SE 1.0 TSI Ecomotive
Engine size 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol
Price from £19,590
Torque 148lb ft
Top speed 114mph
Fuel economy (official combined) 54.2mpg
CO2/BIK band 119g/km, 23%