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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 £27,000*
Available from 2019-present

The Cupra Ateca combines the practicality of a family SUV with some truly storming performance

Volkswagen T-Roc R 2.0 TSI 300 4MotionList price when new £38,450
Price today £28,000*
Available from 2020-present

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

Prices are based on a 2020 model with average mileage and a full service history and are correct at the time of writing

Many years ago, motorists on a modest budget looking for a bit of sizzle and a lot of performance would buy a hot hatch. The recipe was simple: you took a family hatchback, put a more powerful engine in it, sharpened up the suspension and sexed up the looks. 

Times move on, though, and for many, the SUV is now the plat de jour. Well, the good news is the same methods can be applied to one of those too, with equally pleasurable results - the sports SUV is now very much a thing, with many manufacturers either dolling up their existing SUVs or designing brand-new ones from the ground up. 

The only problem is that to buy some of these costs a small fortune. Enter, stage left, the Cupra Ateca and the Volkswagen T-Roc R, both of which are not only reasonably priced bought new but also conspicuous bargains when bought at two years old, as we're testing them here. 

Cupra Ateca front

Both issue from the same VW Group parent company, so it's perhaps not surprising that they both use the same 296bhp 2.0-litre turbo engine, seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox and four-wheel-drive system. Both retain the practicality of the regular SUVs on which they're based, while offering up suitably impressive performance. 

So, which one to buy at this age? 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 Cupra Ateca lets in more wind noise and the VW T-Roc more road noise, but it’s the latter that becomes more wearing on a long drive.