Final report - Seat Ateca long-term test
03 July 2017
Author: Guy Bird
|P11D price £21,845 |
|As tested £24,720|
|Official consumption 65.7mpg|
Final report - A+ for the Ateca, B- for the 1.6 TDI
BusinessCar took on Seat's first SUV for six months' assessment for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it had been touted by many as the best compact SUV on the market when it launched last year (and is still winning awards this year), and secondly, because its 1.6 TDI Ecomotive engine was aimed squarely at fleets on account of its 113g/km CO2 rating and 65.7mpg official combined figure.
We liked the Ateca's visual design from the off, in part because of its strong proportions accentuated by crisp lines and also because there are still so few around, compared to the ubiquitous Nissan Qashqai.
The optional front LED headlights got love from both users and observers, making the Ateca feel very upmarket, and seemed like an option worth ticking for £820 (bundled with the exterior floor welcome lights). The Ateca's more functional design also impressed, from its good-sized, wide-aperture 510-litre 'seats up' boot space to 1,174 litres with rear seats folded to the top of the front seats or 1,604 litres to the roof, which we tested.
Its driving position was largely appreciated, although front sensors would improve parking ease for a bonnet that's hard to discern the end of, and although it was good to have the option of Apple CarPlay on the SE model, we tended to prefer the clarity and multi-task ability of the in-house nav and interface. Finally, in the back seats, the crossover's high roofline translated to better headroom than my kids had been used to in my previous Mini Clubman long-termer and made them more content on all journeys.
The 115hp 1.6-litre Ecomotive diesel engine was a little more contentious. In the hands of two experienced testers, across different journeys and driving styles, no single fill-up broke the 50mpg barrier, even if one section of driving did, according to the driver display at least. Our overall real-world 44.6mpg average equates to only 68% of the 65.7mpg official lab figure. Engine refinement wasn't great either, with intrusive noise at idle and also at motorway speeds.
Indeed, experiencing the smoothness and quiet of the 150hp 2.0 VW Group diesel - albeit in the bigger Skoda Kodiaq sister product - at a similar time, brought this Ateca's lack of refinement into sharp focus. But as the Ateca can also be specified with the same larger engine (with four-wheel drive) for not much more money (£25,235, 56.5mpg, 128g/km CO2 and 27% BIK) it might be worth consideration.
The only technical fault while in our hands was a front passenger electric window that failed to go up automatically via 'one-touch', but it was quickly and professionally resolved by Camberley Service Centre. The only other drama encountered was a vandal keying one side, which Seat UK resolved in-house. Annoying as it was, the incident could be seen as a signal of how far the Spanish marque has come.
Cars like the Ateca seem to be creating brand envy in some, but for the bigger majority, a positive desire to own a Seat, which should aid residual values. According to KwikCarcost, our version of the Ateca will retain 44.7% of its value over three years and/or 60,000 miles, well ahead of the Nissan Qashqai's 35.2%. The Kia Sportage pips the Ateca with 45.4%, but for a new entrant to the market, this is still a great result for Seat and, slight engine issues aside, makes the Ateca a cracking choice for business.
Our average consumption 44.6mpg
9th report - Not so easy to place
In the wonderful world of motoring journalist clichés, the ease with which a car can be 'placed on the road' is perhaps a lesser-known one, but it's still a goodie. The archetypal 'easy-to-place' car is the Porsche 911, on account of headlights embedded into its raised front wings on each side that are higher than the lower bonnet area in-between, making it easier for the driver to see the front corners of the vehicle, and thus understand where his or her vehicle is in relation to that fast right-hander/apex/car in front.
This racing-functional design detail is less relevant for a family-oriented Seat Ateca compact SUV but there are times - especially in tight parking spots - when it would be good to have more visual information on where the car starts and finishes.
The driver's more elevated SUV seating position is generally a good thing in terms of seeing other road users but the high dashboard, in combination with the slightly sloping front bonnet and grille conspire to make it hard, from this driver's seating position at least, to estimate how much room there is to spare between the Ateca and any car parked nearby.
This is compounded by the fact that Seat doesn't offer front parking sensors within any trim level of the Ateca. SE spec adds rear parking sensors and Xcellence trim a rear parking camera, but if you want extra help for the front you have to delve into the options list.
A 'top-view' camera (£475) displays 360º visibility in the centre screen and adds dynamic lines to guide you into spaces and can be teamed with a rear parking camera for £650. Or you could let the car park itself via Park Assist. At £330 it includes, front and rear parking sensors, but I'm personally not a fan of such systems, and don't think I'm alone in that feeling. Maybe Seat UK should consider an options list tweak?
Our average consumption 46.5mpg
8th report - Eeking out Eco mode benefits
In my head I didn't really have the Seat Ateca compact SUV down as the sort of model that might require a 'driving mode' selector - you know the ones you increasingly find in go-faster vehicles - but I stumbled upon it the other day, nestling next to the electric park brake atop the central transmission tunnel. So I decided to give it a go.
The Ateca's options are typical of this type of gadget species, offering Eco, Normal, Sport and Individual modes of driving. It turns out I'd had the car in Normal mode since it arrived in my care, and it had felt just that to drive. Individual seemed a bit too complicated and nebulous to discover, given I wouldn't be holding on to the car for too long, so that left Sport and Eco, those ideologically and diametrically opposed notions and modes.
For a long journey with three other members of the family in tow on mixed road types (and speeds permissible), I thought I'd give Eco the lion's share of the time. It paid off a pretty good dividend, hitting the heady heights of 51.2mpg for some time on one steady stretch of dual-carriageway and light motorway work and then settling to a 47.2mpg on average, over nearly 400 miles.
That's nowhere near the official combined consumption figure of 65.7mpg, but still a 'not too bad' 72% of it. That latter average also included another long solo journey that included a section in Sport mode. Seat's PR says twisting the knob in that direction unlocks quicker gear shifts and throttle responses plus firmer steering to boot, but I was far from blown away by the subtle changes. With a go-faster Ateca FR due in July maybe Seat's keeping its powder dry? Meanwhile, I've switched back to Eco. Every little helps.
Our average consumption 47.2mpg
7th report - Apple CarPlay not child's play
As a long-standing Apple products advocate in my wider work and personal life - first with its iMac computers in the late '90s and later through various generations of iPhone - I was super excited about the prospect of linking my data and phone more effectively via Apple CarPlay. But truth be told, even though it's now becoming more commonplace on new cars' kit lists - it's standard on the mid-range SE trim Ateca I'm driving - I don't use Apple CarPlay half as much as I thought I would in my iDreams.
On the plus side, it's great to have a familiar screen in front of you when you first plug in (and you do have to, so keep a spare Apple cable handy). And Apple's Siri system works way better than most car makers' built-in voice-control systems, especially for answering text messages, as long as you avoid names of unusually pronounced people or places in your replies.
It's sort of okay for music too, although the lack of a split screen, so you can also see mapping at the same time, can be frustrating and the screen itself lacks the pleasing sharpness of Seat's own version. Which is why I tend to use the Ateca's sat-nav mapping and music info. I also like the car's infotainment system's physical buttons that allow me to flip between map and media easily.
The Seat app that pops up on screen when in Apple CarPlay mode on the Ateca is a touch superfluous. It seems to offer little more than car maker branding, leading to a QR code - which seems very 2012 - and which I have not scanned. This could either be seen as a missed opportunity on Seat's part or, for the conspiracy theorists among you, a sneaky way of the brand leading you back to its own in-house system by not adding enough extra functionality or general usefulness to its rival Apple's system. Either way, Seat's system gets my vote.
Our average consumption 42.7mpg
6th report - Flash lights
Sharp. It's not an adjective most would have seriously applied to a Seat car five years ago. But the Ateca crossover really is a flag-waver for the newly confident image of the Spanish brand. Take the sharply angular headlights.
I'd spotted their smart shape without the indicator lights flashing when the car first arrived, but it wasn't until one evening that I caught them in the reflection of another nearby car's window flashing in that distinctive warm-yellow against piercing white main beam that I truly realised how advanced they are.
Look deeper into the lamp unit itself - maybe when the neighbours aren't about or you might get a few funny glances of your own - and you'll discover a three-dimensional mini work of art. This level of detail used to be reserved for top-end cars from sister brand Audi only. But Seat? How times change.
It should be noted that these full LED headlights are a £820 option on this SE trim car, but with that you get 'surprise and delight' puddle floor lights that appear outside both front doors thrown in (pictured, right).
However, before getting too excited, maybe the fleet cost implications should be considered? Apart from potentially impressing clients as you turn into their car park and making your driver feel more special and confident in their everyday missions, is there any residual value (RV) benefit?
According to no-nonsense RV veteran and CAP consultant Martin Ward, the short and paraphrased answer is "not yet", citing the problem of potential used buyers tending to look at cars in the daytime and also some salesmen not knowing the kit is on the car. But he also says as hi-tech lighting becomes more commonplace "and people get used to having it, they'll want it on their next car too", so it will help sell the car at least. Sound advice and a reason to spec it, I reckon.
Our average consumption 42.8mpg
5th report - Standing out - for good and bad
Taking over a long-termer part-way through a six-month stint is always interesting for the different viewpoints it creates compared to the previous owner. For this new driver the Ateca is fascinating from a number of perspectives: for one, it's the first Seat I've ever had as a long-termer in nearly 20 years of business vehicle testing, and so a reflection of how far Seat has come as a fleet-relevant brand.
Also, because the Ateca in particular seems to be the right product at the right time for the Spanish brand, pitched firmly in the sweet spot of the compact crossover market, one of the fastest-growing sales segments, but one full of worthy rivals.
First impressions are that the car looks and feels right. Its similarity to the class-leading, trailblazing Nissan Qashqai - the original family crossover really is striking, although the Ateca is more angular around the wheel arches and bonnet and more sawn off at the rear (although only ceding 14mm in overall length to the Nissan).
However, the Ateca also benefits from the rarity factor compared to the super-popular Qashqai, although this may change when the revised Nissan arrives later this year. It stands out from its rival and others because it's only been on sale for half a year in the UK and Seat's never done a crossover before.
The bright orange metallic paintwork is also gaining attention - in a positive sense, from my 12-year old daughter who mentions it high up among her likes along with the rear headroom, compared to our previous long-term Mini Clubman - but also, and unfortunately, from at least one hater, who has decided to key both driver-side doors within the last month. Standing out clearly has its downsides too. We'll report back on how we fix that in the next report.
Our average consumption 43.9mpg
4th report - The wrong engine?
The Seat Ateca's fuel consumption has been amazingly consistent throughout the 7,000 miles I've been running it. Unfortunately, there's no avoiding the fact that it's been consistently poor. No matter how I drive the car, what drive mode it's in, or the type of road, it delivers mid-40s mpg.
This car's claimed official figure is 65.7mpg, making our average of 44.9mpg more than 30% under the on-paper stat. Usually I'm within 20% of the official figure. And the best I've seen hasn't even broken the 50mpg barrier.
We chose the 1.6 diesel version because, according to official figures, it's the most tax- and fuel-efficient so should be the business choice in the Ateca range. When we picked the 1.6 diesel our concern wasn't about the fuel consumption, but about whether the 115hp engine would provide enough oomph.
As it turns out, this isn't an issue and it's rare that the car ever feels underpowered. Even when fully loaded with a roofbox at Christmas, the car could easily keep up with motorway traffic, although, as we've mentioned before, the 1.6 is an intrusively noisy engine at 70mph.
Interestingly, I recently tested the top-spec Ateca with the much more refined 190hp 2.0-litre diesel engine, four-wheel drive and an automatic gearbox. Over 1,000 miles we achieved 41mpg. It's official figure is 53.3mpg, making us just 23% out.
In reality this shows that for every car there is a 'right' size and power of engine for the best fuel economy and that simply opting for the most efficient on-paper may not always be the best solution.
3rd report - Room to move
With Christmas now an increasingly distant memory, I can positively report that the Seat Ateca is impressively roomy.
Why Christmas? Because we spent the festive period away with relatives, which meant packing not only myself, my wife and our two kids into the Ateca, but also our three dogs and the cat. We then had to include all the luggage and, what seemed to be, far too many Christmas presents.
Now obviously you can't get all of that in any small SUV, so we did use a Thule roofbox for extra storage. However, we did learn a lot about the room in the Ateca. First special mention must go to the split-level load floor in the boot. When in its upmost position, not only is the load floor flat with the bumper making it easy for the dogs to leap in and out, but it hides a seriously useful space beneath, which we used mostly to hide the kids' presents in.
The only thing that could have improved this would have been if the tyre inflation kit was more efficiently packaged and stored in a different location, say, a side pocket of the boot. The amount of polystyrene used to pack the kit seems excessive and wastes space. Move the kit to the side and there would be more room and a more useful shape to pack.
While I'm making suggested improvements, my personal preference is for a soft, retractable, boot cover. The fixed hard cover in the Ateca had to be removed and left at home because the dogs don't like being in the dark, but that meant when we were out and about on holiday we couldn't cover up, for security, any belongings left in the boot.
But to end on a positive, not only is the boot big for the class, the rear seat legroom is also good, and seating four adults is no problem at all.
2nd report - A window on the dealer network
This may only be the second report for the Seat Ateca, but we've already had a chance to test the dealer network. As mentioned in the first report, the Ateca arrived with a faulty front passenger power window.
The window went down fine, but the auto-up didn't work - the window went halfway, gave up and returned to the down position. The solution was to nudge the window button a little at a time and it eventually closed.
So a quick look on the dealer locator on the Seat.co.uk website revealed my closest service centre was SMC Seat Woking in Surrey. A quick phone call revealed they didn't have time to see the car for two weeks, and more if I wanted a courtesy car.
The next nearest (and slightly easier to get to for me) was Camberley Service Centre, who were able to book the car in for the work in less than a week and could provide a courtesy car (if I hadn't needed the courtesy car I could have booked the car in just 48 hours later). Excellent.
On the day of the booking I dropped the Ateca off in the morning, used the courtesy car to get to a couple of meetings, and just after lunch I had a message saying the car was fixed and I could collect it.
So everything was sorted within a day. First-rate service.
The problem, according to the service centre, was that the runner for the window hadn't been attached properly.
That was all of 1,000 miles or so ago and the window has, thankfully, been working perfectly ever since. Let's hope I don't have to visit the dealer network again, even though the experience was a good one.
First report - Bright future for Seat?
Seat has never really been as strong in fleet as it deserves to be. The products have almost always been just as good to drive and use as class-leading rivals and often come with better equipment levels and keener pricing.
Yet the fleet sales have never really materialised. Now with the Ateca arriving in the booming mid-size SUV sector, are Seat's fortunes about to change?
We've taken the most efficient version, the 1.6 TDI Ecomotive in SE trim level, onto the BusinessCar fleet for the next six months to see how it performs.
The 1.6 TDI SE is not only the most efficient, but it's also expected to be the most popular model in the corporate sector.
The 115hp 1.6-litre is the fleet choice because it emits just 113g/km of CO2, so qualifying for the 22% benefit-in-kind tax band, which means a monthly tax payment of either £80 or £161 depending on your PAYE banding.
While this figure isn't quite class-leading - the Nissan Qashqai and Renault Kadjar both come in at 99g/km - it is good in the class. And the same applies to the official fuel figure of 65.7mpg, although for fleets the real-world figure is of more interest.
On that note, the first three fill-ups have produced a slightly disappointing 46.1mpg average, which is 30% below the claimed figure.
Sticking with the engine, it's also surprisingly noisy at a 70mph motorway cruise with a pronounced buzzy drone. The car only has 3,000 miles on the clock so far, so hopefully a few more miles will both smooth things out and see an improvement in fuel figures.
Where the Seat wins back points, particularly against rivals, is with the equipment offered. Going for SE trim means that standard kit includes alloy wheels, two-zone climate control, Bluetooth, cruise control, rear parking sensors, two USB sockets and an eight-inch colour touchscreen.
On top of this collection, our car has been optioned with navigation and DAB radio (£525), the convenience pack (£170) that includes auto wipers and lights, LED headlights (£820 and includes puddle lights), dark-tinted rear windows (£180), 17-inch bi-colour alloys (£340), something called 'advanced interior light' (£150), and a double boot floor divider (£115).
So far, aside from the noisy engine, we're loving the driving experience and the surprising amount of rear legroom. What we're not loving is the fact that the car has arrived with a fault.
The front passenger electric window isn't working properly. It goes down fine, but the auto-up doesn't work - the window gets halfway, gives up and returns to the down position. The solution is to nudge the window button a little at a time and it will eventually close. That's far from ideal so we'll book it in to be looked at as soon as possible.