There are lots of questions we hope to answer over the coming miles and months with our new Cupra Ateca SUV.
Firstly, can it justify its basic £35,900 price? Secondly, is SEAT right to have separated its performance arm into a standalone brand (the car is badged and marketed as a Cupra, not a SEAT)? Thirdly, will it maintain the regular Ateca’s everyday appeal and practicality with a hot engine and pumped-up suspension? And finally, can it genuinely be considered as something like a cut-price Porsche Macan as the folks at Cupra would have us believe?
So far I’ve done just under 1,000 miles in our car and, so far, it’s achieved a mixed bag of results, if I’m honest. Some things it does very well, such as going hard in a straight line, handling sweetly on or near the limit (especially for an SUV) and swallowing passengers and their luggage with ease. Its standard sat-nav and infotainment, with twin screens and switchable digital instruments, is also excellent in everyday use.
But in other respects the Cupra has already disappointed. Its appetite for unleaded, for example, is pretty fierce. Its fuel economy of 27.9mpg so far means its real-world range is also pretty poor, at not a lot more than 300 miles. Its cabin quality is also a letdown, with some of the switches – specifically the air-con controls – feeling surprisingly cheap.
Maybe I need to give our Cupra more time to express its inner Porsche, but at the moment, I’d say it’s no match for the real thing on pure build quality, even though it is extremely quick and, on the right road, unusually good fun to drive, SUV or not.
The car we’re running is the most expensive version, with an on-the-road price of £41,175. That puts it within five grand of its less powerful but fundamentally similar Porsche rival. This Comfort and Sound and Design model comes with a higher-spec beats stereo and an electric tailgate (you can add just these features for £1,930 over a standard Cupra Ateca). In addition, our car offers sportier seats and a few other bits and bobs inside, but no mechanical upgrades as such.
The big-hitting part of our top-spec Ateca, though, is the Design Pack. This adds £3,345 over the Comfort and Sound model and brings uprated Brembo brakes, a Black Styling pack plus a set of copper-coloured 19-inch wheels, which may or may not float your boat aesthetically. For me these are a bit over the top, frankly. Then again, I’ve been quizzed twice now in supermarket car parks about what a Cupra is, whether it’s any good and asked: “Are those gorgeous wheels standard, mate, and how much did they cost?”
You pay your money, so you make your choice, I guess. But there’s one thing about the Cupra Ateca that comes as standard, like it or not, and I’m struggling with it at the moment; and that’s the driving position. I’m not a big fan of the high-set seat arrangement in SUVs in the first place, but that’s not the problem here, because you sit unusually low in the Ateca for an SUV, and it feels pretty sporting from behind the wheel as a result.
No, the problem is the height of the brake pedal relative to the accelerator; the brake is several centimetres nearer to you than the accelerator, so when you go from throttle to brake you need to lift your right foot up and away then down on to the middle pedal, which makes it hard to brake smoothly when you’re slowing lightly. That drives me mad.
I’ll get used to it in time, I’m sure, and I’m already experimenting with all sorts of weird different driving positions to try to ease the issue, but it’s a strange discovery that wasn’t as bad on the left-hand-drive Atecas I drove at the launch last year.
On a more positive note, the Cupra’s performance and handling are pretty sensational. The Spanish brand claims a 0-62mph time of 5.2 seconds, but if anything it feels quicker than that to me.
The Ateca also goes round corners rather well, with its big Pirelli tyres generating lots of grip in all conditions, thanks also to the car’s all-wheel-drive system, no doubt. Even the ride is just about okay in Comfort mode, although Cupra mode is well beyond firm.
But more on that in later reports. For the time being it’s four stars out of five for our Cupra Ateca and, hopefully, this will rise as I get more used to the idea of a fast 40 grand SUV that isn’t a Porsche, but wants to be.
*Insurance quote from AA (0800 107 0680) for a 42-year-old in Banbury, Oxon, with three points.