I hate new SUVs.
To me, they’re a symbol of what’s wrong with the car world; an amalgamation of what works for everyone’s interests; a symbol of ‘giving up’ on owning interesting cars and having fun – both behind the wheel and with life in general.
I’m so disinterested in this genre of car, I even had to Google what an ‘Ateca’ was when I heard I’d be receiving one as a long-term press car.
That said, I was getting excited while first inspecting the Cupra on delivery day. My eyes were instantly drawn to the huge Brembos and drilled disks, then the strange Cupra branding (just don’t call it a Seat), then to the quad-tip exhaust.
Everything about it indicated aggression and performance, and I was almost beginning to understand why someone would be tempted to buy a car like this.
I grabbed the door-handle, and the car automatically unlocked, turning on the DRLs and kicking the LCD displays on. I sat in the driver’s seat.
The Alacantra seats had just the right amount of bolster. The wheel and shifter felt quality. The buttons felt well-laid out, and nothing looked out-of-place. Everything felt good, until I looked up and realised my seating position. Despite all of the well-placed gauges, nice materials, and handy gadgets, I just couldn’t get over the fact that I was sitting way-up-high in an SUV.
In order to long-term test something that I fundamentally disagreed with, I decided I’d put the Ateca through a series of driving tasks ranging from hauling car parts to track driving to being a crew car to see how it fared.
It was time for the Cupra’s first mission: to haul my new Mk3 VW Golf’s set of wheels to get some tyres fitted. This was a good opportunity to test out some of the features of the car, and I was thankful to have a larger vehicle to do the job.
It does have decent carrying capacity with the rear seats folded down, and the hands-free boot assist is extremely useful when both hands are full. This was my first attempt at using the sat nav, which proved to be one of the better systems I’ve used.
This task also marked the first experience I would have of the odd amount of attention this car would draw in the months to come. Pulling up to the tyre shop resulted in three or four techs walking out to look around the car until one of them called out to the others, “Yeah, it’s a Seat.”
The next trial would be how the car behaved on long journeys. I had about a 350 mile round trip to do, so I loaded the Cupra up with luggage, and took the car for a weekend away towards the west coast of England.
The journey was mostly motorway miles, mixed in with some extremely narrow and twisty turns towards the destination. The suspension on this car, even in comfort mode, is decidedly firm. This is irritating on ‘normal’ roads, but less of an issue on motorways, where the car does cruise in a reasonably comfortable way. Adaptive cruise control is always nice to have, too.
One part of my job is to go out to video shoots from time to time. The Ateca’s first gig was to help out with a YouTube video being filmed about our RX-8 project car. The car had the task of hauling camera crew to on and off-road locations as well as being a camera car to film from. The off-road sessions weren’t anything too intense, but the car did handle the bumps, mud, and rocky terrain without any issues.
As a camera car, it’s pretty good. The boot opened up nicely, something our cameramen appreciated, but, again, the somewhat bouncy suspension made it difficult to always get a smooth shot.
By the end of the day, the Ateca had camera gear in and out of it countless times, was covered in dust and mud, and had proven its utility once again.
Between filming, I’ve had a few opportunities to throw the Cupra through some bends. When you turn the dial to Cupra Mode, the car noticeably wakes up and shows its true colours. The exhaust note perks up, the suspension stiffens, and the throttle response becomes much more violent.
Seat has even thrown in a pop-and-bang or two on overrun and downshifts which adds to the experience. It corners and grips well for something of its size, and, from the inside, it’s easy to believe you’re in something smaller - a sort of lifted hot hatch.
So it’s decent to drive, but how about tackling normal stuff? Well, it’s pretty good at that too.
The camera system allows you to see all the way around the car with ease, the fuel economy isn’t too bad and it’s comfortable to sit in for long periods of time. The interior of the car feels like the perfect blend of ‘sporty’ and ‘nice’, although there are a few cheap-looking minor parts.
The car does have some other annoying aspects to it, however, my biggest gripe being the puddle lights, which always come across as a pretentious gimmick. I’ve also had issues with the proximity sensors going off when they’re not supposed to, and the blind spot indicators are sometimes set off by sunlight.
Within the first 3000 miles, we’ve also noticed that one of the window seals is already catching the glass the wrong way, causing a juddering sound while rolling the window up.
To wrap it all up, I have to amend my initial statement. I can no longer say I hate all modern SUVs, because five months and over 3000 miles later, the Cupra Ateca has gained some hard-earned respect from me as a versatile, functional, and even fun vehicle. This type of car is never going to be the fastest around the track, haul the most gear, or have the smoothest ride, because it does what crossovers do: it ticks as many boxes as possible.
It’s a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none, but as an all-rounder, it takes some beating.