New Cupra Ateca 2018 review

The new 296bhp Cupra Ateca SUV offers an impressive blend of performance and practicalityVerdict4The new Cupra Ateca is an interesting vehicle. For a first-time effort from a supposed first-time car brand, it is surprisingly well resolved. It’s quick, good to drive, nicely built and extremely well equipped for the money – and as a result, is likely to appeal to a wide and varied new audience. Much like an AMG is still a hot Mercedes, the Cupra is still a SEAT at heart. Even so, it deserves to succeed.

The powers that be behind the new Cupra car company, insist that the Cupra Ateca is a first for them: an all-new car from an all-new brand.

But whatever the logic behind the separation of the high-performance brand from SEAT itself, the fact remains that the fettled Ateca is not without appeal. In fact, it’s really rather good.

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Based on the front wheel-drive SEAT Ateca, this Cupra model has a four-wheel drive chassis and a limited-slip differential at the back. Up front, you’ll find the 296bhp 2.0-litre turbo engine and seven-speed DSG gearbox from the hottest Leon Cupra. So it’s a properly sporting SUV, then, and one that boasts genuine hot hatch handling characteristics, claims Cupra.

Inside the Cupra Ateca, you get a lot more kit than in the regular SEAT version, with a fully digital dashboard including a touchscreen sat-nav and infotainment system, switchable instrument displays, plus pumped up seats with Cupra branding. A new leather steering wheel completes the look. 

It feels like a committed effort inside; a proper sporting car rather than just an SUV with some frills. And because the ride height is some 10mm lower, you sit that much lower, too. Quite how the traditional SUV audience will view this particular aspect of the car is hard to tell, given that a high driving position has long been core to this segment’s appeal. But that’s a problem for another day, as they say. 

Of course, the Cupra still boasts all the inherent practicalities of the regular Ateca. Well, almost. The boot is a touch smaller because of the all-wheel-drive gubbins – but only by a few insignificant litres.

What’s not in much doubt is the way the Cupra Ateca accelerates. With 296bhp and 400Nm on offer between 2,000-5,200rpm, performance is strong for a vehicle that’s also this practical. Cupra claims it’ll do 0-62mph in 5.2 seconds, with a top speed of 153mph. And if you get the 2.0-litre turbo engine working in its optimum band (between 3,500 and 6,000rpm) it feels every bit as quick as those numbers suggest. 

Curiously, though, it doesn’t feel as strong going from 0-62mph as it does going from 40-70mph – and that’s down to two things. The first is the way it sounds, which, despite a new sports exhaust, is a touch anodyne. Secondly, it’s the basic weight, which at 1,632kg isn’t exactly light. Inevitably this hampers the Cupra when moving off the line, but matters less once you’re up and running. 

It handles, rides and steers pretty tidily once you select the right drive mode for the right road. There are five settings in total, with Cupra mode being the most aggressive. In this mode the ride is pretty firm for road use, but the extra hit of response you get from the throttle, gearbox and steering almost makes the compromise acceptable. Plus it does handle more sharply in Cupra mode, with less roll, crisper damping and more bite from both ends. And in any case, you can tailor everything separately by placing the car in its Individual mode, meaning you can dial in some ride comfort while still keeping the fruitiest engine and transmission settings.

There are just two versions available. The base version costs £35,900, while the Sport Pack costs another £3,345 – adding bigger Brembo brakes, even more pumped up seats and 19-inch alloy wheels. Inevitably it was the Sport version we tried, with those brakes proving their worth after a particularly challenging section of Spanish back road. 

At this money and with this much spec, the Cupra Ateca undercuts premium sporting SUVs like Porsche Macan and Audi SQ5 by a huge chunk. Understandably, not many buyers would put those three on the same wish list, yet in its own right, the Cupra Ateca is just as impressive. 

Until more realistic rivals – such as the Volkswagen T-Roc R and Audi’s new SQ2 – eventually appear sometime in 2019, the Ateca is out on its own. Maybe the creatives behind this new brand are on to something after all?

Key specs

  • Model: Cupra Ateca
  • Price: £35,900
  • Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl turbo
  • Power/torque: 296bhp/400Nm
  • Transmission: Seven-speed auto, four-wheel drive
  • 0-62mph: 5.2 seconds
  • Top speed: 153mph
  • Economy/CO2: 38.1mpg/168g/km (TBC)
  • On sale: Now

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