New Nissan Qashqai vs Seat Ateca vs Skoda Karoq

It’s been a while since the Nissan Qashqai was the pick of the family SUV crop, but now there’s a brand new one. Can it beat tough rivals from Seat and Skoda?...

Nissan Qashqai vs Seat Ateca vs Skoda Karoq fronts

The contenders

NEW Nissan Qashqai 1.3 DIG-T 158 Tekna

List price £31,565
Target Price £28,788

The all-new Qashqai’s sharp styling cuts a dash. It promises an upgrade in quality and greater sportiness, while retaining its typically squishy ride


Seat Ateca 1.5 TSI Evo 150 Xperience Lux

List price £31,070
Target Price £27,373

The Ateca was facelifted recently, with some mild visual tweaks inside and out, along with an updated infotainment package from the current Leon hatchback. We’re testing it in its flashiest trim


Skoda Karoq 1.5 TSI 150 SportLine

List price £29,695
Target Price £27,678

The Karoq isn’t due for an upgrade until later in the year, but that might not be an issue because, until now, its brilliant blend of attributes has made it our favourite sub-£30k family SUV


If you can answer the odd question on University Challenge, you might know this already: ‘Qashqai’ isn’t a made-up name. It’s the people of a nomadic group of tribes based in Iran. And collectively their numbers are between 300,000 and 800,000, depending on who’s counting. So, way more examples of the Nissan Qashqai have been sold (five million worldwide) than there are Qashqais, if that makes sense? Amazing.

In this test, we’re talking about the all-new third generation version of Nissan’s ubiquitous family SUV, and as those sales figures suggest, it’s a big deal. What’s new? Well, the styling, for a start. It looks sharper and more modern, so that’s a tick. It promises to be roomier than before, too, especially in the back seats. And it’s aiming to build on the previous car’s comfort credentials while adding a sportier twist.

Nissan Qashqai 2021 rear

To act as a yardstick, we’ve got the latest Seat Ateca. It’s a car we know very well from previous encounters, but this is the first time the facelifted model has gone up against its rivals. Not a huge amount has changed underneath, but it’s had some trim adjustments and styling tweaks.

Little has changed with our third entrant, the Skoda Karoq, but it has the most to lose. Why? Well, it’s our favourite family SUV for less than £30,000, thanks to a wholesome blend of practicality, driving pleasure, comfort and more. Will it remain so?

All the cars are turbocharged petrols with around 150bhp and manual gearboxes and are represented in their higher-end trims – and highest trim, in the case of the Ateca.

Seat Ateca 2021 rear

Driving

Performance, ride, handling, refinement

When the heavens open, it’s never easy to get representative performance figures, because (a) trying to launch a car in anger on a wet test track inevitably leads to wheelspin and (b) the road surface isn’t necessarily delivering consistent grip for all three cars. Still, that didn’t stop us from trying on a miserable day. Ah, the Great British summer.

The Ateca was the easiest to get off the line and produced the fastest 0-60mph time: the only one to dip below nine seconds. The Karoq was the next quickest, but its traction control system, which you can’t turn off, kept thwarting every getaway. The Qashqai was slowest to 60mph, but only because it had the least traction on the slippery surface.

Skoda Karoq 2021 rear

The Qashqai was slightly quicker than its rivals in the in-gear acceleration tests, mainly because its narrower band of gear ratios (the difference in the gearing from first through to sixth) makes life easier for the engine. The other two have wider-spaced gears that make their engines work harder – a bit like jumping from first to third on your bicycle.

However, the Qashqai’s 1.3-litre engine feels really languid below 1500rpm in any gear. This lack of low-end oomph compared with its 1.5-litre rivals is palpable and makes second-gear getaways nigh on impossible. Even when rolling, you need to drop a gear to accelerate with any verve if the revs are in this zone.

It’s the quietest engine of the three by some margin, though; rev it hard and it still doesn’t create a din. The engines in the Ateca and Karoq aren’t exactly coarse, but they are undeniably rowdier.

Nissan Qashqai 2021 nose

In our chosen trims, all the cars come with large, 19in alloy wheels, which generate more tyre roar at 70mph than you’d hear in, for example, a Range Rover Evoque. So, even the Qashqai, which suffers the least road noise, isn’t super-quiet, with the Ateca whipping up the most rumble. Mild wind noise is present in all three, and the Qashqai had an irritating gearbox whine – hopefully something unique to our car.

Our contenders all have good stopping power and brake consistently and smoothly to a standstill. The Ateca and Karoq have an easy-to-judge clutch pedal, too, while the Qashqai’s is somewhat vague. Along with its shortage of low-end grunt, this makes it the easiest to stall.

Historically, the Qashqai has had relatively soft suspension, and that’s still the case. As aresult, it takes the edge off bigger and sharper bumps better than its two rivals. However, it has the most fidget and side-to-side sway, so it’s not the smoothest-riding SUV.

Seat Ateca 2021 nose

Overall, we prefer the better-controlled Karoq. It’s soft enough not to jar over the rougher stuff and maintains its composure over smaller imperfections. That said, this Ateca was actually the most comfortable of our trio but, sadly, not representative: it was fitted with adaptive suspension, which you can’t order in the UK.

We know from previous experience that Atecas on UK-spec suspension are quite stiff, so it’s not the ideal car for anyone after a cushioning ride, although we expect all three cars to ride better on smaller-diameter wheels.

Why is the Ateca’s ride deliberately firmer? To sharpen up its handling. It works, too. If you want a family SUV that’s ‘underneath’ you, dynamically speaking, then this is the one. It’s the most fun to hustle along, with accurate, well-weighted steering and great body control and balance – elements that are apparent on versions with the regular suspension, too.

Skoda Karoq 2021 nose

On the wet surface of our test track, the Karoq edged the Ateca for cornering grip (likely due to its different brand of tyres), but only just. However, while the former steers almost as nicely, it isn’t as keen to dart into corners, and there’s a tad more body lean.

As for the Qashqai, it's one of those cars that handles effectively but not enjoyably. Its steering is too light to begin with, then it weights up suddenly and excessively as you turn the wheel. It also has the most body lean and the least composure if there’s a mid-bend bump. Mind you, that doesn’t stop it from gripping gamely and carrying good speed through turns.