What Car? says...
The Seat Ateca broke new ground when it was launched; until that point, the Spanish brand had built as many SUVs as it had spaceships – it hadn’t built any spaceships, just to be clear. So Seat was more than fashionably late to the SUV party, but it turned up with an absolute belter.
Along with its Volkswagen Group cousin, the Skoda Karoq, the Seat Ateca owes much of its success to solid foundations. How so? Well, it's built on the same underpinnings as the more expensive Volkswagen Tiguan and, as a result, shares most of that car's important oily bits.
That said, the Ateca is far from a Tiguan with a different badge, which is both good and bad, as we'll explain in this review. The general gist, though, is that it follows the Seat brand’s ethos of being a bit sportier than many of its key rivals, including the Karoq and Tiguan. You can also throw into that mix the Nissan Qashqai and Peugeot 3008.
It’s been around for a few years, now, but it hasn’t stood still in the face of the evermore skilful competition. It was updated partway through its life and now sports more muscular styling than the original. The engines were also improved, it gained some new tech and the interior was upgraded, including getting more equipment.
Does it deserve a space on your family SUV shortlist? Over the next few pages, we’ll tell you how the Seat Ateca compares with its key rivals, which engines are worth looking at and the trim level that makes the most sense.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
The Seat Ateca's entry-level 108bhp 1.0-litre petrol engine (badged 1.0 TSI 110) delivers fine performance if you spend most of your time in town. Once you’re on the motorway, keeping up with faster traffic requires liberal use of your right foot and plenty of revs – especially with a loaded-up car – and its ultimate pace is 0-62mph in a fairly leisurely 11.4sec.
So it’s the mid-range 148bhp 1.5-litre turbo petrol engine (1.5 TSI EVO 150) that we think makes the most sense for most buyers. This builds power smoothly and progressively, allowing you to make swifter progress over any type of road and 0-62mph takes 9.3sec. It also has more low-end grunt than the equivalent Nissan Qashqai. If you want even more power, the 2.0 TSI 190 petrol, which comes as standard with four-wheel drive and a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, can crack 0-62mph in just 7.1sec. It’s very expensive, though. There's also the performance-focused 300bhp Cupra Ateca, which we've reviewed separately.
If you cover a lot of miles or tow you might be thinking about diesel power. There are a couple of choices: the 113bhp 2.0 TDI 115 is flexible enough but a little weedy flat-out, so we’d go for the extra grunt of the 148bhp 2.0 TDI 150 if you can. It'll tow a caravan with relative ease, and it’s also available with four-wheel drive and the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox.
Suspension and ride comfort
Family SUVs have a tough brief: despite their raised stance, they're expected to corner without leaning too much while still offering decent ride comfort. Fortunately, the Ateca strikes a reasonable balance.
True, it's firmer than some rivals, including the Nissan Qashqai and Skoda Karoq. That means it can feel slightly harsher, mainly at lower speeds, over sharp-edged ridges and potholes. However, because its body stays well controlled over larger disturbances, such as sleeping policemen, the Ateca doesn’t continue to bounce and jostle you about long after the bump has been and gone – something the Qashqai is more prone to doing.
As is often the case, you’ll find that smaller wheels deliver the best ride. If that's important to you, avoid the larger 19in wheels fitted to the FR Sport and Xperience Lux trims. And it's worth noting that the lighter petrol models are generally more forgiving than the heavier 2.0-litre diesels.
Tall SUVs don't handle as well as low-to-the-ground hatchbacks, so the Ateca's never going to be quite the handling champion that the Seat Leon is. But the Ateca does prove surprisingly good fun to drive down your favourite stretch of road. It’s certainly well ahead of most direct rivals, including the Qashqai and Peugeot 3008, and pips its mechanically similar but softer rival, the Karoq.
The suspension is firm enough to ensure that you don’t get too much body lean when cornering, helping the Ateca's agility. Meanwhile, there's plenty of grip and the steering is precise with decent feedback (it's much more involving than the Qashqai's steering), making it easy to place the nose just where you want it. The steering's well-weighted, too, with a drive-mode profile selector that means you can alter its weight on demand.
Put simply, if you like driving and want to buy a family SUV in this price bracket, the Ateca should be at the top of your list. The direct rival that comes closest is the Toyota C-HR, but that's available only with a weedy hybrid engine.
Noise and vibration
The Ateca is pretty quiet if you choose a petrol engine. The 1.0 TSI 110 chirps away but is never uncouth and it settles quickly to a background thrum at motorway speeds. The 1.5 TSI EVO 150 is smoother but not as distant under hard acceleration as the Qashqai's 1.3 DiG-T 158 petrol.
The 2.0 TDI diesels sound a bit gruff at idle and slightly boomy above 3000rpm. There’s enough poke that you’re unlikely to venture that high up the rev range too often, though, and you feel fewer vibrations through the controls than you will in the equivalent Kia Sportage.
Gearbox options are a six-speed manual or a seven-speed automatic. The manual is a delight to use with a smooth action, while the automatic option slips easily through its gears. Just be aware that it can be a little jerky at parking speeds. Whichever engine you choose, road and wind noise are fairly well contained, but the Qashqai and 3008 tend to be quieter on the motorway.
The interior layout, fit and finish
Driving position and dashboard
In addition to being great to drive, the Seat Ateca has a good driver environment. The Nissan Qashqai offers a slightly wider range of steering wheel height and reach extension, but all Atecas come with driver's seat height and lumbar adjustment as standard. The FR Sport trim also has an electric driver’s seat included. The pedals, seat and steering wheel are well aligned, helping to keep you comfortable on longer trips.
In keeping with the sporty theme, the seats have more side support than those in many rivals – particularly FR and Xperience Lux sports seats. As a result, you don’t find yourself hanging onto the steering wheel to prevent yourself from sliding around through bends. FR Sport and Xperience Lux also come with a 10.3in customisable screen in place of analogue instruments, putting the most useful information – including a sat-nav map – directly in front of you.
We also like the use of physical buttons for all the major dashboard features, which makes life easy when you're changing any settings on the move.
Visibility, parking sensors and cameras
Thanks to its relatively high-set driver's seat, the Ateca gives you a great view down the road and its windscreen pillars aren’t so thick that pulling out of junctions becomes an act of faith. However, we wish its over-the-shoulder visibility was a little better – the Skoda Karoq’s larger rear-quarter windows make it less compromised in this respect – but the Ateca has better overall visibility than the Qashqai.
Fortunately, all models come with front and rear sensors to help with parking, while Xperience models also have a rear-view camera. The range-topping Xcellence Lux even has a bird’s eye view camera, which makes it easier to see how close you are to obstacles and kerbs. It's a shame this isn't available as an option on the cheaper trims.
Full LED headlights and tail lights are standard-fit, as are LED front fog lamps. FR models have rear indicators that scroll in the direction you’re turning.
Sat nav and infotainment
Entry-level SE trim has an 8.3in touchscreen infotainment system, as well as two USB-C ports front and rear, Bluetooth, a DAB radio, wireless Apple CarPlay/ Android Auto smartphone mirroring and steering wheel controls.
Go for the SE Technology trim and the screen grows to 9.2in and includes sat-nav, online traffic information and voice control. Seat’s system is snazzy to look at but, like so many touchscreen-based systems, it includes small icons which can be hard to use on the move. At least there are touch-sensitive shortcuts on the side of the screen to help, but overall we prefer the physical rotary controller you get in the BMW X1 and Mazda CX-30. It makes those systems less distracting to use while you're driving along.
All trim levels have the same eight-speaker sound system, which is decent enough but there's no option to upgrade it if you're an audiophile.
The Ateca's interior quality is on par with family SUV rivals like the Kia Sportage, but it's not the best. There are some scratchy plastics on all the lower surfaces and some of the other trims – like the spray-painted matt grey highlights, for example – look a tad cheap. On the plus side, there’s some squidgy plastics on the top of its dashboard and doors.
Most of the buttons and switches are borrowed from the previous-generation Seat Leon and feel suitably solid. The rival Karoq, despite being a very similar car underneath, looks and feels plusher overall, as does the Qashqai, but if you want a really classy interior in your family SUV, you'll need to fork out for a BMW X1 or Volvo XC40.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
It’s unlikely that anyone will get into the Seat Ateca and find there isn't enough room in the front. It’s possible to slide the seat back a good amount to accommodate longer legs, and if you're long in the body, the driver’s seat drops low enough to provide good head room.
As for width, you certainly won’t be clashing elbows with your passenger. It’s a nice touch that all models come with a height-adjustable armrest, too, so you have somewhere to rest your elbow. Storage is also good: there's a cubby under the front armrest, two large door pockets and a big glovebox.
The Ateca’s rear doors are a good size and open wide enough to make access easy. There’s plenty of leg room once you’re inside – even tall adults won’t find their knees pressed up against the seat in front – and no shortage of head room, either. It's very similar to the Skoda Karoq in this respect and just pips the Nissan Qashqai’s rear accommodation.
There is a high central floor tunnel for the middle passenger to straddle but even so, the Ateca is better at squeezing three in the back than many of its rivals, including the Qashqai and Toyota C-HR.
Seat folding and flexibility
The Ateca doesn't have the Volkswagen Tiguan’s clever sliding and reclining rear seats – a feature that's also standard in the Kia Sportage and some versions of the Skoda Karoq. In fact, the Karoq's VarioFlex rear seats can even be removed completely to create a van-like load bay.
In the Ateca you also have to make do with 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks, instead of the more flexible 40/20/40 arrangement that some rivals offer. However, you'll find handy release levers just inside the tailgate opening that make it easy to drop the rear seats while you're loading. There's also a ski hatch for longer, thinner loads.
This is another area where the Ateca pips the Qashqai and Sportage – although not by much. Its boot is a nice, square shape with a wide aperture for loading broad items and it fits up to eight carry-on cases below the load cover. The Karoq's boot fits nine of those cases, mind.
The rear seats lie at a slight angle when folded, but it’s not acute enough to be a nuisance when you’re loading longer items inside. However, it's a pity that the Ateca is not available with a height-adjustable boot floor, which is a useful facility that the Qashqai has.
If you’re considering a four-wheel-drive model, it’s worth remembering that this addition reduces the boot space by about 5%.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Costs, insurance groups, MPG and CO2
You can get a really large SUV, like the MG HS, for less money than the Seat Ateca, but among its obvious rivals, the Ateca represents good value for money. The only car that tends to undercut it on list price is the Skoda Karoq, but not by a huge amount. The Nissan Qashqai and Peugeot 3008 are both slightly pricier alternatives and it also competes favourably against the Kia Sportage.
If you’re looking at leasing or buying on PCP finance, again, the Ateca is usually a bit more expensive than the rival Karoq, but not by much. The Ateca should hold onto its value relatively well, too, and it’s one of the cheapest cars in the class to service.
Official CO2 emissions are comparatively high next to the Qashqai. It's still reasonable for benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax, but it's worth bearing in mind there are more affordable company car options. The best of these are plug-in hybrids, but there isn't one of those in the Ateca range. We have yet to put the latest Ateca through our True MPG tests, but on a mixed test route, the 1.5-litre petrol returned a reasonable 37mpg average.
Equipment, options and extras
Entry-level SE trim is great value for money because it's so well equipped for the price – so much so that it's our pick. It has luxuries including cruise control, keyless entry, power-folding door mirrors, metallic paint and dual-zone climate control, plus the 8.3in- touchscreen infotainment system and wireless phone charging we mentioned earlier. That's more than the entry-level trims of most rivals.
SE Technology adds a few more features, including 18in alloys and the larger 9.2in infotainment screen. FR trim offers you a sportier look, both inside and out. It's not a silly price and adds privacy glass, body-coloured wheel arches, suede seat trim, ambient lighting, auto lights and wipers and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror.
From then on the prices get heftier but still not stupid, so the really well-equipped versions are also worth considering, especially if you're chasing a certain feature – as we said above, you cannot add individual options.
Middle of the road is the best way to describe the Seat's performance in the 2021 What Car? Reliability Survey. It finished in 17th place out of 31 manufacturers, which was behind Hyundai, Mazda, Skoda and Toyota. It still beat Ford and Volkswagen, while Nissan finished very far down the list.
A three-year warranty, limited to 60,000 miles, comes as standard with every Seat. That’s typical of most car makers but not as good as Hyundai’s five years' cover or Kia’s seven-year deal.
Safety and security
All versions come with automatic emergency braking (AEB) and e-Call emergency response. However, you cannot add individual safety options and lane-keeping assistance, traffic-sign recognition and blind-spot monitoring are available only on Xperience versions, which are pretty pricey.
The Ateca was awarded five stars by Euro NCAP for safety, with good scores in the individual categories. It's important to note that this was back in 2016 and standards have since improved. However, we can tell you the adult occupant crash protection was found to be almost identical to that of the Karoq, while child protection was shown to be slightly better.
As for security, an alarm and engine immobiliser come as standard on all versions.
For all the latest reviews, advice and new car deals, sign up to the What Car? newsletter here
The Seat Ateca was ranked 18th out of 28 family SUV models in our 2021 What Car? Reliability Survey, which is not a great result. Seat’s position in the brand rankings tells a similar story: it came 17th out of 30 car makers. The Ateca comes with a three-year/60,000-mile warranty. Most manufacturers offer similar cover, but Hyundai and Kia warranties are much longer. Read more here
The Ateca is not available as an electric car, but you can get it with very mild hybrid assistance, which offers very marginal efficiency gains. The Ateca’s petrol and diesel engines are relatively efficient in the real world, but if you’re committed to electric savings, rival family SUVs from Hyundai, Kia and Peugeot are more likely to appeal. Read more here
The Ateca’s 1.5 TSI EVO engine provides the best blend of performance and economy in our opinion, building speed from low revs in any gear, but still officially returning around 45mpg. We recommend sticking with the entry-level SE trim level. It offers great value for money, with highlights including cruise control, dual-zone climate control and 17in alloy wheels. Read more here
The Seat Ateca SE is the entry-level model – and also our favourite because it offers a strong amount of kit for an appealing price. Highlights include metallic paint and 17in alloy wheels, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and four USB-C sockets. FR is designed to look sportier inside and out, and includes privacy glass, body-coloured wheel arches and more. Read more here
The Ateca did very well in its Euro NCAP safety appraisal, scoring five stars overall. However, that was in 2016, and standards have become tougher since then, so it’s hard to directly compare it with newer rivals. If you want to make sure your Ateca has the latest safety kit, you’ll have to go for the high-end Xperience trim level, because you can’t spec safety features separately. Read more here
The Seat Ateca’s 510-litre boot (or 485 litres if you have four-wheel drive) is marginally bigger than the Nissan Qashqai and Kia Sportage boots. Perhaps more importantly, it’s a good square shape, with a wide aperture for loading broader items, although you can’t have a height-adjustable floor, as you can in some rivals. We managed to fit eight carry-on suitcases into the Ateca’s boot, while the Skoda Karoq managed nine. Read more here
|RRP price range
|£28,385 - £37,110
|Number of trims (see all)
|Number of engines (see all)
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)
|MPG range across all versions
|41.5 - 46.3
|Available doors options
|3 years / 60000 miles
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)
|£1,741 / £2,476
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)
|£3,481 / £4,952