Final report: Seat Tarraco long-term test
06 February 2020
Author: Pete Tullin
The Seat Tarraco hardly put a foot wrong during its six-month stint with us.
|Seat Tarraco Xcellence 2.0 TDI 4Drive 190 DSG|
|P11D price:|| £35,745|
|As tested £35,745|
|Official consumption:|| 37.2mpg |
|Our average consumption:|| 40.9mpg|
Final Report: Capable all-rounder returns home
After more than six months and over 8,000 miles in residence, our Seat Tarraco has departed the Business Car fleet and headed off to pastures new.
Now I know that, for the most part, modern motors are incredibly hardy tools and are built to withstand all kinds of abuse from less than sympathetic drivers, but when it comes to looking after cars I am still pretty old-school, especially throughout the winter months. Consequently, I regularly carry out tyre pressure checks and windscreen washer fluid top-ups, and I also keep an old rag handy just to give the lights a quick once-over now and again. This seems like a small price to pay considering the six months of trouble-free motoring I have experienced with the Tarraco.
Other than topping up the Adblue tank and a couple of cursory glances under the bonnet to check the dipstick for any excessive oil consumption (there wasn't any), the only times I got my hands dirty was when untwisting the fuel filler cap and gingerly picking up a slimy diesel fuel hose.
I know a lot of garages provide plastic gloves, but just as many don't and I do not know of any that provide plastic overshoes. No, I haven't gone all OCD, I just take exception to sliding around on a slippery forecourt and whenever the soles of my brogues got contaminated, the offending fuel inevitably ended up turning the Tarraco's pedal rubbers to lard, while the remainder of the fluid seeped into carpets, with the associated fumes hanging around, well, like a bad smell.
You have probably already guessed, but the reason I am ranting about First World problems, is, I haven't got a lot of negatives to report.
Yes, even when it is pristinely clean I do think the Tarraco's dark blue colour scheme still looks rather dowdy, and a couple of dissenting passengers raised an eyebrow when first confronted with the grey military blanket and brown moleskin seat fabric and door trim combo. Personally, I like the look of it, and the build quality and robustness of all the fixtures and fittings proved exemplary, without some much as a hint of a squeak or a rattle.
Except for a couple of frozen incidents, which were quickly rectified with a turn off and back-on procedure, the Seat's infotainment touchscreen worked pretty flawlessly too, and because the majority of the screen's icons are big and bold, it is an easy system to interact with while driving.
The smartphone connectivity worked well with my Waze route planning app, helping me avoid no end of snarled- up traffic, and I found the reversing camera and parking sensors to be an absolute godsend when squeezing the Tarraco's lengthy steelwork into tighter parking bays.
Certainly, the Tarraco is a big old fella, but the 190hp, 2.0-litre diesel engine rarely felt less than man enough for the job, while a mixture of mainly B-road and motorway use generally returned around 40mpg. That said, despite its undoubted brawn, the powertrain is not the most cultured device, emitting a fair bit of obvious combustion rattle, especially when cold, and it does suffer from a rather laboured initial pick-up response when pulling away from the mark.
Of course, the Tarraco's school bus dimensions and seven-seat layout meant it was always the first choice when it came to ferrying friends and family to social events. Most of the time I left the rearmost seats folded to maximise boot space for my golf bats and trolley, but on those occasions when I needed to carry a full complement, releasing the seats from their prone position simply by pulling a couple of fabric tabs and sharing out legroom democratically by sliding the middle row back or forth kept squabbling about who should travel in the smaller rearmost seats to a minimum. The bonus of the four-zone climate control with its rear adjusters also helped keep certain fiery individuals' temperature under control.
There is no denying the Tarraco feels more at ease when it has got a load on board. Driving solo, the suspension feels a bit too stiff, something I never really came to terms with. That said, I did enjoy the excellent body control associated with its less compliant settings, while the weight and precision of the steering and strong braking performance meant I could spirit along less populated routes at a decent lick with plenty of confidence.
Overall then, if you asked me to sum up the Tarraco in a few words, I would say it is a vehicle with many strengths and very few weaknesses. If you have almost as many family responsibilities as work commitments, then it should certainly be on your list of considerations.
5th Report: A welcome intervention
I have always been a bit wary of authority figures, but that is nothing compared to the issues I have with technology that tries to tell me what I can and cannot do.
I will openly admit that the first thing I do when firing up our Tarraco is deselect the lane-keep assist system, because I cannot abide the amount of interference it induces into the steering when it mistakenly thinks I am about to tear across the central white line and career into oncoming traffic.
Of course, that is always providing the cameras actually pick up on the white lines in the first place, which I reckon is about 50% of the time.
So much for the future of autonomous driving. I appreciate a lot of safety tech is fitted because of EuroNCAP's quest to keep the less attentive of us safe, but I still find it frustrating that there isn't a hard switch that would allow me to take responsibility for my actions, and cancel it once and for all
There are certain aspects of electronic intervention that I am less opposed to, however. For instance, when a recent message popped up on the Tarraco's dashboard telling me to refill the Adblue tank I was happy to oblige, especially as I knew that, if I didn't, the tank would eventually run dry and the electronics would then prohibit me from starting the engine.
I can see the sense in this, as it compels us to keep our vehicles running as cleanly as possible, which can only be a good thing given the latest climate change and air quality predictions.
Environmental considerations aside, the Tarraco continues to provide sterling service. Despite its substantial dimensions and considerable kerb weight. it never feels underpowered, even when loaded to the gunwales.
The combination of the swift-shifting DSG box and the 2.0-litre diesel engine's strong mid-range shove ensure I can make light work of any brisk overtaking requirements.
Most of all though, the Tarraco is a brilliant family car, something that was brought into sharp focus on a recent jaunt to the seaside with my daughter's two toddlers.
While the mammoth boot doubled as a changing room to dust off half of West Wittering's beach, the elevated seating and large side windows provided the perfect viewing platform for a few rounds of I spy. Happy days.
4th Report: Cheating the 50m test
You only get one chance to make a first impression. This is certainly true in the covert world of motor vehicle development, where there is an evaluation known as the 50-metre feel test.
This test aims to emulate exactly what a prospective customer experiences when pulling out of a showroom on an initial test drive.
It's a fleeting test and one that strikes me as somewhat futile, as I'm sure within a short distance, most folk will have become so wrapped up in their unfamiliar surroundings while trying to pilot an unfamiliar vehicle through prevailing traffic conditions, any observations regarding a tough ride or a lack of steering connection will simply merge into the background hubbub.
It's only once you've signed on the dotted line and your new charge arrives that you truly become aware of its idiosyncrasies.
Thankfully, thus far, shortcomings in our Seat Tarraco have been few, and maybe that's why I'm now becoming more sensitive to what at first seemed like insignificant niggles.
Things like operating the rear windscreen wiper without drenching the rear window in screen wash, when it's already bucketing with rain, requires the touch of a brain surgeon.
Granted, this is nit-picking in the extreme but I'm less inclined to gloss over the schizophrenic nature of powered tailgate, which depending what sort of mood it is in, will sometime respond to directions from the key fob and at other times stubbornly refuses to budge.
The infotainment system has also refused to play ball on a couple of occasions, staring blankly back at me when I've attempted to hook up my iPhone via the USB port.
Like almost every other electronic interface ever created though, the time-honoured remedy of switching it off on has been sufficient to establish comms.
Once plugged back in, and flicking through my Spotify beat combo menu, I've also noticed that one of the lower frequency speakers has developed an annoying buzz every time a killer bass line kicks in but other than these glitches the Tarraco continues to impress with its sturdy driving manners and plush interior appointment.
3rd Report: Pros and cons of diesel
Although I'm a big fan of the strong pulling power generated by our Tarraco's 2.0-litre diesel engine, I'm not quite so enthusiastic about its mechanical refinement.
It is especially rattly on start-up and even when it is warmed through it remains a bit of a chatter-box.
Consequently, I was intrigued to find out that Seat is readying a plug-in hybrid powertrain for its big SUV.
Having driven a PHEV version of the Volkswagen Passat, which employs a similar 1.4-litre petrol engine and electric motor to that proposed for the Taracco and thoroughly enjoyed the near-silent low-speed running and genuine 30-mile all-electric range, I'll be intrigued to see how the electrified Seat stacks up when it hits these shores early next year.
With a combined output of 245hp, the hybrid certainly looks to have the beans to cope with the Tarraco's substantial mass, which tips the scales at the fat end of two tonnes but that's not to say I ever felt short-changed by the performance delivered from the Tarraco's 190hp diesel engine.
My boy racer days may be long gone but I still appreciate having sufficient beans to zip past slower-moving traffic, in particular, that happy breed of campers who think it is perfectly acceptable to give it the 'hurry-up' just as you pull out to pass them.
Of course, real-world fuel returns in petrol plug-in hybrids are dependent on remembering to plug them in and specific driving environments. They tend to be very efficient when pottering around town but a lot thirstier than a diesel equivalent when pounding the motorway miles.
It's a far more straight forward affair with our diesel Tarraco as no matter how I drive it, it tends to return around 40mpg. Fuel tank sizes may not be the most riveting subject but because I bang in a fair few miles, the bigger the better, works for me.
While the Tarraco's 60-litre tank isn't exactly massive it does gives me around 500-miles between fill-ups, which helps me avoid the blatant profiteering of motorway service stations whenever I head up North.
Can anyone explain to me why diesel sold by M1 services stations cost 20p per-litre more than at my local supermarket? Thought not.
2nd Report: Living the high life
I have to admit, my enduring passion for driving dynamics always makes me question the current obsession with SUVs.
It seems we have entered a period where size really does matter and the desire to be seen swanning around in a butch set of wheels far outweighs how those wheels actually drive.
Granted, there are SUVs that do their utmost to counter the laws of physics and I include our Seat Tarraco in that group.
Yes, something as workmanlike as a Volkswagen Passat would leave it for dead on a twisty back road, but at least the Tarraco suspension and smoothly weighted steering do their utmost to get the fat end of 2t of metal around a corner without bumping my passengers against the side windows.
Naturally, the boy racer in me would prefer to sit closer to the ground but even I would admit the Tarraco's large glass quota and lofty driving perch provide a great view of the road ahead.
What is more, because I am able to sit with my hips higher than my knees, I can pound in some serious mileage before my ageing lumbar areas begin to protest.
No matter how you dress it up though, the Tarraco is still a big bus and I am reminded of this every time I suck in my solar plexus, cross my fingers and endeavour to slot it into a parking bay originally designed to accommodate a Ford Sierra.
Thank goodness, therefore, for the Tarraco's high definition reversing camera and all-round parking sensors - and the fact that I'm leaner than a glass of Slimfast. Another downside to owning such a mammoth vehicle are the mercy phone calls that come my way from my MX-5-owning daughter.
The inevitable outcome? A torturous drive to IKEA to pick up a two-metre tallboy, a red-faced heave-ho up three flights of stairs, followed by four hours of head-scratching, knuckle-grazing and copious amounts of cursing.
OK, so it is a labour of love, and the fact that the Tarraco's seats can be flipped down in an instant to create such a long, flat cargo compartment do help out. My daughter and my chiropractor certainly appreciate it.
1st Report: Tarraco joins our fleet
Ask any advertising bod what the biggest determining factor is when it comes to selling anything and they will tell you it is sex.
Now before outraged of Tunbridge Wells dusts off the Basildon Bond and fires up the Montblanc, let's think about this for a moment.
We know that in recent years sales of SUVs have run riot, taking huge swathes out of the traditional family/business car sector and effectively rendering boxy MPVs all but redundant.
So why is it that cars like the Seat Tarraco are now such a common sight on our roads? Well, according to some psychologists it is all to do with our wiah to stay young and desirable.
Apparently, even if we are happily ensconced in a solid, long-term relationship and would never dream of any sort of philandering, the last thing we want to be telling the world, via the car that we drive, is that we are off the market and have all but given up on life.
So, SUVs are sexy - and when they are designed like the Tarraco they are also eminently practical. For a start, it is a seven-seater.
Granted, it is no Ford Galaxy, so the rearmost pair of seats are probably best reserved for children, but unless you regularly take a bunch of rugby players on a stag weekend, then the third row of pews will easily cope with most circumstances that crop up.
The Tarraco also has more storage solutions than a DIY outlet store, with deep door pockets, a large storage tray under the front seat and various cubbies dotted around the cabin.
It also has a burrowed-out trench in the rear of the boot floor to accommodate the roller blind-style luggage cover when all seven seats are in use.
Personally, I will probably just leave the rearmost seats folded and take advantage of the additional boot space that provides.
Knowing me, it won't be long before the boot resembles the contents of an under-stairs cupboard.
Of course, the items that are sure to win rave reviews from younger occupants are the seat back trays.
That is because, a bit like abandoning that shiny Christmas gift in favour of the box it came in, the fascination of the seatback tray and the near limitless imaginings they provide are boundless.
A godsend to any parent prepared to endure the slings and arrows of continuous thuds and flippings - and the need for industrial cleaning after every impromptu spready cheese, Kit-Kat and Ribena picnic - these basic plastic appendages will keep fractious toddlers in deliriously high spirits for many a long mile.
Our Tarraco's interior trim is definitely a bit of a Marmite job. I like it, but I can see how the combination of moleskin brown insets set against the grey military blanket seat and door card trim might polarise opinion.
As for the running gear, so far it is a tale of two halves. On the positive side it is nice to have a super-strong 190hp 2.0-litre diesel engine, and the convenience of a DSG twin-clutch automatic gearbox and selectable four-wheel drive, especially for the odd occasion when I venture down the road less-travelled, but it is not all sweetness and light.
Maybe it is pure coincidence but it seems to me that all VW Group cars have suffered to a greater or lesser extent from the carnage brought about by the much-publicised diesel emissions scandal.
By this I mean that in a quest to lean-burn these latest diesel engines and to maximise WLTP figures, they seem to be altogether less driveable than their predecessors.
In the Tarraco this is most evident when trying to accelerate away from the mark onto a busy roundabout or when pulling out of a T-junction, when all too often there is a distinct delay between toe-in and wheel motivation causing a bout of heart palpitations.
As for the ride quality, it is hardly surprising that things are a wee bit on the firm side because, as with any seven-seater, the suspension will have been signed off with the caveat that it has to support the rolling and swaying mass of seven adults.
In truth, the Tarraco is already more compliant than it was when it first arrived. This is partially due to the fact that now it has a thousand miles under its wheels the dampers have shaken out some of their initial stiction.
On closer inspection, I also found that the tyre pressures were overinflated by a few PSI; a quick hiss and things now seem far more palatable.
Other than these initial minor gripes everything seems tickety-boo, and I am really looking forward to piling on the miles and putting the Tarraco through its extended test regime. In the process, I will promise to try to not look too sexy.