Kia Sportage 2.0 CRDi 134 KX-3
List price £27,250
Target Price £25,623
We're trying the 134bhp 2.0-litre diesel model, which gets four-wheel drive as standard
Nissan Qashqai 1.6 CRDi 130 Tekna
List price £27,885
Target Price £25,059
One of our class favourites, but you have to stick with front-wheel drive to keep the price competitive
Seat Ateca 2.0 TDI 150 4Drive Xcellence
List price £27,960
Target Price £27,960
The Ateca has the most powerful engine, and the version here we've lined here up has four-wheel drive
The Nissan Qashqai is a former What Car? Car of the Year and still one of our favourite small SUVs. It's the benchmark to beat for any new competitor entering this market.
So, this attempt from Seat seems wildly optimistic, not least because the Spanish brand has about as much experience of building SUVs as it does making spaceships. Then again, the new Ateca does share most of its oily bits with the latest VW Tiguan, a car we already know to be highly talented. Better still, the Ateca is almost £4000 cheaper than its Volkswagen cousin, which means you can have a range-topping four-wheel drive version for only fractionally more than an equivalent two-wheel drive Qashqai.
Our third contender is the Kia Sportage. We’ve already concluded it isn’t good enough to challenge for class honours in cheaper 1.7-litre diesel form, but can the gutsier 2.0-litre version complete any better?
What are they like to drive?
The Seat Ateca’s extra power gives it a healthy performance advantage over both rivals. Let its engine rev before changing up through the gears and the Nissan Qashqai and Kia Sportage will soon be small spots in your rear-view mirror. However, if you try to accelerate from low revs in the higher gears it’s actually the Sportage that will whisk you up to speed fastest. That’s useful when you’re feeling lazy because it means you don’t need to keep changing gear to keep up with the ebb and flow of traffic.
The Qashqai might have the smallest engine and the least grunt, but relatively short gearing means it never feels sluggish. It’s just a shame the engine gets rather raucous and you feel a few too many tremors coursing through the soles of your feet whenever you accelerate. The Ateca and Sportage have smoother and quieter engines, with the Seat isolating you from noise and vibration even better than its Korean rival.
Small SUVs don’t usually offer much in the way of driving thrills, but the Ateca is something of a revelation. Let’s not go overboard; it’s no sports car, but it grips really well and doesn’t sway about anywhere near as much as you might expect through corners. The steering is quick and precise, too, and there’s enough feedback streaming to your fingertips to make country roads surprisingly good fun.
Although less willing to change direction quickly, the Qashqai remains a pleasant thing to drive in most situations. Its slightly heavier steering provides plenty of reassurance when cornering at speed, although that extra resistance is less welcome when parking. Meanwhile, the Sportage keeps its body fairly upright through bends but it isn’t much fun to drive at all The blame lies squarely with the steering, which feels decidedly artificial in the way it weights up and tells you barely anything about what the front wheels are doing.
'The Ateca is surprisingly good fun on country roads'
The Ateca and Qashqai have slicker gearshifts and more progressive brakes than the Sportage, too, although again it’s the Ateca that impresses most in these respects.
Crucially, too, the Ateca has the most comfortable ride. It stays marginally more settled than the Qashqai over scruffy surfaces and potholes, yet is similarly supple and composed along fast A-roads and motorways. You're not going to mistake it for a luxury limousine, but the Ateca is definitely the most comfortable SUV in this price bracket.
Relatively stiff suspension keeps the Sportage’s body neatly tied down over dips and crests, so your passengers aren’t likely to feel nauseous. Unfortunately, the payoff is a decidedly firm ride at all speeds; you’re jostled around continually – even along relatively smooth stretches of Tarmac – and sharp-edged bumps send jolts through the car.
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