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An SUV may not be the best starting point for something genuinely sporty to drive, but there’s plenty of clamour for high-riding cars that look and feel suitably athletic. And that, no doubt, explains Seat’s decision to launch a sporty FR version of its trendy Ateca.
However, it also has quicker steering than regular Atecas to make it feel even more agile, and it's available with a brand new 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine.
2017 Seat Ateca FR on the road
We’ll be getting behind the wheel of the new 2.0-litre petrol in the coming weeks, but here we’re testing the cheapest engine available in newly launched FR trim: the 148bhp 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol.
It’s the same engine that’s been offered in other trims levels since the Ateca was launched last summer, and it remains an absolute gem. Keep the revs above 1500rpm and it pulls willingly in all six gears (a seven-speed automatic gearbox is available for an extra £1380) and it managed a very respectable 0-60mph time of 8.4sec in our tests.
If you’re dead set on a diesel, FR trim can also be matched with 148bhp or 188bhp 2.0-litre diesel engines, both of which have four-wheel drive as standard. However, given the extra cost and that fact the both diesels emit more CO2 than the 1.4 petrol, increasing road tax, we struggle to see why you would.
There are no suspension changes for the FR, but then the Ateca has always been one of the best-handling small SUVs. Let’s not get carried away, it’s no Ford Focus, but it does prove surprisingly good fun to drive down your favourite country road. It’s certainly much more agile than rivals such as the Nissan Qashqai and Peugeot 3008, although the smaller, squatter Audi Q2 is nimbler still.
The FR's standard 'progessive' steering applies steering angle at a faster rate the more you turn the wheel, which means less arm-twirling is needed to get around tight bends. It doesn't affect your ability to judge how much lock to apply, and the steering also builds weight naturally to help you gauge how well the front tyres are gripping the road.
Less impressive is the FR’s firm ride, particularly at low speeds. You see, the stiff suspension needed to keep the Ateca's relatively tall body propped up through corners means you feel more of bumps than you would in the Nissan Qashqai. Mind you, on its standard 18in alloys, the FR still deals with poorly surfaced roads better than the Q2. The optional 19in alloys are best avoided, because they further worsen the ride.
2017 Seat Ateca FR interior
You’ll spot an FR badge on the steering wheel and some shiny aluminum pedals below, but FR's most noticeable addition is the sports seats, which hug you more tightly than those in other Atecas and are better suited to spirited driving. Plus, they're just a comfortable on long journeys.
Elsewhere, the FR is exactly the same inside as any other Ateca. That means the look and feel of the dashboard is similar to that of the smaller Seat Leon; quality isn’t quite up there with the Audi Q2 or Volkswagen Tiguan, but it’s far from a disaster. The dashboard is dense and squidgy and most of the buttons and switches on it have a reassuringly robust action.
There’s loads of room in the front, while in the back, two adults can spread out thanks to the generous head and leg room. It’s just a shame the Ateca does without the sliding and reclining rear seats that feature in the Tiguan.
The boot isn’t quite as big as the Tiguan’s either, although you’ll squeeze more in the Ateca than you would the Qashqai, or most other rivals for that matter. The load bay is usefully square in shape and there are convenient levers to drop the 60/40-split-folding rear seats. When these are folded down, there's a sizable step in the floor of the extended load bay, although £120 gets you a height-adjustable boot floor that amends this.
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