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Used test: Volkswagen T-Roc R vs Cupra Ateca

These sports SUVs both produce almost 300bhp and blast from 0-60mph in less than five seconds, but which is the better used buy?...

Volkswagen T-Roc R vs Cupra Ateca

The Contenders

Cupra Ateca 2.0 TSI 300 4Drive

List price when new £36,695
Price today £31,356*
Available from 2019-present

A previous Sports SUV of the Year winner that's enjoyable to drive, practical and well equipped

Volkswagen T-Roc R 2.0 TSI 300 4Motion

List price when new £38,450
Price today £33,905*
Available from 2020-present

Uses the same mechanicals as the Ateca, but the T-Roc R is lighter and more agile

Prices are based on a 2020 model with average mileage and a full service history using the What Car? Valuation tool, and are correct at time of writing

Lots of dishes rely on the same basic ingredients, but taste very different. And similarly, the sports SUVs that we have here use the same 296bhp 2.0-litre turbo engine, seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox and four-wheel-drive system, yet have their own distinct characters.  

Cupra Ateca front

First up is the Cupra Ateca, a car that's fun to drive even in its regular Seat Ateca form, let alone when it has the motoring equivalent of a Scotch bonnet chilli pepper under its, er, bonnet. What's more, it comes with trick adjustable suspension that allows you to tailor the car for different conditions.

The Ateca is so good, in fact, that it won its class at the What Car? Awards a couple of years ago. However, it was narrowly beaten the following year by our other contender, the Volkswagen T-Roc R. Is that still the better choice when you're buying used, or do the tables turn? Let's find out.


Performance, ride, handling, refinement 

Given that these two cars produce the same amount of power, it’s no surprise that their 0-60mph times are separated by the slimmest of margins, with the heavier Ateca falling just 0.1sec short of the T-Roc’s scintillating time of 4.7sec.

LT Volkswagen T-Roc R nose

On the road, the difference is not even noticeable. After a small pause while the turbocharger spins up, each SUV accelerates with the kind of ferocity that would put many a two-seater sports car to shame.

Maximum pull is available from 2000rpm all the way through to 5200rpm so their gearboxes don’t even have to shift up or down that often for you to make rapid progress. True, the T-Roc sounds much more exciting when building speed, parping theatrically. However, we suspect that's largely down to the optional Akrapovic sports exhaust fitted to the car we tested.

The T-Roc has a more decisive advantage when it comes to handling. From its quicker reacting, more precise steering to its vice-like grip on the road, it feels more like a hot hatch than an SUV. What’s more, that grip is spread evenly front to rear, and you can really feel the power being sent to the back wheels when exiting corners, helping to prevent the nose from running wide.

Cupra Ateca rear

Our car had optional adaptive dampers, which allow you to stiffen or soften the suspension on demand. No matter which mode you’re in, you get less body lean than you do in the Ateca.

Don’t go thinking that the Ateca is a sloppy barge because it absolutely isn’t. It’s just that its limits are quite a bit lower, both in terms of front-end grip and because its rear end is less controlled. It skips slightly through fast, sweeping bends and slides less predictably if you lift off the accelerator to adjust your line mid corner.

The Ateca also thumps a bit more than the T-Roc over bigger bumps, even when its standard adaptive suspension is in the softest setting. That's less annoying than the constant patter you feel in the T-Roc, though, so the Ateca is the more comfortable car overall, whether you’re pottering around town or cruising at higher speeds.

LT Volkswagen T-Roc R rear

Similarly, the Ateca lets in more wind noise and the T-Roc more road noise, but it’s the latter that becomes more wearing on a long drive.

Next: What are they like inside? >>

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