Take a look at the Cupra Ateca’s DNA, and there are no surprises. It’s built on VW Group’s widely used MQB architecture, has a Haldex clutch-type four-wheel drive system, a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox and is powered by an engine that’s used in everything.
The VW Golf GTI, VW Golf R, Skoda Octavia vRS, Audi S3, Audi TT and Seat’s own Leon Cupra all use the EA888 inline-four. You can even have it in the VW Arteon, for Pete’s sake.
However, despite the Cupra Ateca being built from this box of oh-so-familiar bits and pieces, it is in a way quite unique. At the moment it has no direct rivals, which means if you want to test it against something like-minded, you need to go more premium - hence the Mamba Green Porsche Macan S you see here.
This may seem like we’re being a bit unfair on the Ateca, but stick with us. The whole point of the newly separated Cupra brand, Seat says, is to appeal to people who’d normally have a problem with big ‘S’ that’d otherwise be on the grille. That’ll supposedly allow Cupra to take on posher, more expensive stuff.
More expensive the Macan certainly is: the price of this one with options is a whopping £23k more than ‘our’ fully-loaded Cupra Ateca longtermer. However, get the Porsche on a PCP and be a little more sensible with the spec (you don’t, for instance, need the £2690 Macan Turbo wheels), and it’s not going to be a much more a month.
That’s a real problem, as I’ve just gently wafted down in the Macan to a shoot location where I’ll be meeting the Cupra, and it’s been thoroughly lovely. The Macan S rides unbelievably smoothly, is almost deathly quiet, and has a cabin I’m really struggling to pick fault with.
Everything in it feels solid and upscale, with the silly giant buttons it used to have nicely downsized in this facelifted version. The new 12.3-inch screen - also used in the Panamera and the updated Cayenne - is generally very good, too.
Switching to the Cupra, and oh dear. Immediately, the interior feels low rent in comparison. None of the materials feel anything like as nice, the overall design isn’t as good, and the infotainment screen is much smaller. And much worse. Then there’s the ‘carbon’ fabric Seat has used in here, which looks like it belongs on that lovely Rattan garden furniture set you were eying up in B&Q the other day.
It’s less refined, and the ride is very brittle - particularly in ‘Cupra’ mode. But put your foot down, and the Cupra feels much more eager than the Porsche. The Macan S has the power bragging rights with its 355bhp turbocharged V6 eclipsing the 296bhp offered up by the Ateca’s inline-four, but that doesn’t matter. It has around 200kg more car to move around, so it’s only a tenth quicker to 62mph. And that’s with the optional Sport Chrono pack knocking 0.2sec off.
It’s not just the lower weight figure that helps the Cupra Ateca feel more enthusiastic under acceleration - its smaller engine is noticeably more boosty in the mid-range. The automatic transmission - despite an irritating hesitation upon getaway - is almost a match for the Porsche’s PDK ‘box, and that’s high praise indeed.
The steering is much too light, but I appreciate how quick it is off-centre. Particularly as the chassis can - just about - keep up. It’s keen to be chucked around, despite its unwieldy size. Traction from the four-wheel drive system is decent, but step over the line, and all you’ll get is understeer. It is possible to play around with the rear axle with a well-timed brake-dab, though.
Back in the Macan, it seems strangely subdued. Despite having an extra couple of cylinders, it actually sounds less exciting, so muted is the 3.0-litre engine’s tune. There’s a nicely linear delivery and it’s a slightly more responsive unit, but it’s just a bit joyless.
Things get more interesting in the corners. The Macan S is similarly resistant to body-roll, but unlike the Ateca, it can actually give a little kick at the rear under power. That’s the benefit of having a proper all-wheel drive system. Plus, the steering’s far sweeter, with better weighting and a more natural feel to it.
It’s the better car to drive overall, even if the Cupra runs it closer than you might expect. The Ateca has held its own commendably well, but it does seem as though - even if you’re stumping up the cash price for one of these - you do get what you pay for, and then some.