ANALYSIS - Can the new Ateca SUV make SEAT self-funding?

By Glenn Brooks | 29 November 2016

Prices range from £17,990-£29,990 before options

Prices range from £17,990-£29,990 before options

Profitable at last, could SEAT one day become self-funding? That's what it has to do but to get there, higher-margin models are needed. The new Ateca is the first of these.

How big is it?

This 4,363mm long SUV was announced to the media in February. The idea behind it has a long history: a three-door concept first premiered nine years ago at the Frankfurt motor show. The IBX was the next design study, debuting at March 2011's Geneva motor show. Then came the peculiarly named 20V20 at the 2015 edition of the Swiss event.

Finally, the Ateca had its public debut at the Geneva motor show in March. Deliveries of LHD cars began in August, with both front- and all-wheel drive variants available. Sales in Spain have been especially strong, with the overall market there so far having its best year since 2008. 

SEAT might become number one again in Spain

Spanish registrations were up by 11% in the first ten months to 963,092 and SEAT became not only the number two brand, but was fewer than 300 units behind Renault, though Opel leads for the year to date. A scrappage scheme has just ended so things will inevitably slow somewhat from now on.

The León is Spain's best selling model and should stay in that position thanks to a facelifted range which is about to go on sale. The Qashqai is the country's number one SUV, followed by the Renault Captur, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage and Peugeot 2008. After two months on the market, the Ateca managed to outsell the 2008, grabbing 17th place and closing on the Sportage. For a brand with no SUV heritage this is significant.

The Germans also like their SEATs

Germany is an even larger market for SEAT and the brand has also had a good year there, holding 10th position with 79,358 deliveries well ahead of Fiat (67,118), Nissan (62,130) and Toyota (58,103). The León is responsible for 39,061 of those sales, while the Ateca has already notched up 3,370 registrations and outsold the similarly sized Kia Sportage. 

Outselling Citroën in the UK

In Britain, SEAT deliveries surged by 51% in October to 3,528 cars, overtaking Citroën (3,515) as that brand suffers ahead of the first deliveries of the new C3 reaching dealerships. The Ateca is most of the reason for SEAT's leap and having spent a week with the car, I can see why it is having so much appeal to buyers across the European region.

First of all, this has the most premium looking and feeling interior of any SEAT yet. Sure, there's a lot of grey plastic but you could say the same of what greets the eyes when the door of a Golf is opened. Volkswagen has been careful not to make things as appealing as what you'll find in a VW but the inside of an Ateca is every bit as nice as the Škoda Octavia and Superb. If you want a cool and colourful digital instrument panel you're out of luck though: Audi had that first, now the Golf is getting it but the cheaper brands have to wait a while yet.

Given that the Ateca is short for its class, it's almost remarkable how much lounging room you get. The boot is also well shaped and especially voluminous, with a capacity of 510 litres in standard configuration or 485 litres in versions with all-wheel drive.

Turbocharging for every engine

Engines in the launch range are as follows:

The press test model had the 150 horsepower diesel and this returned 48mpg. The official Combined average is 55.4mpg, CO2 is 129g/km and the VED band is D. Acceleration is pretty good, with 0-62mph taking nine seconds exactly and the top speed is said to be 122mph. Weights vary quite a bit, the base 1.0-litre petrol manual being quoted as 1,280kg (Kerb, with driver) and the top-spec 2.0-litre diesel DSG twin clutch automatic weighing in at 1,589kg.

Not many Atecas will be 4x4

In the UK, all-wheel drive variants are expected to comprise only 15 per cent of sales, which is why what SEAT calls 4Drive (fifth generation Haldex coupling) is available only for the 2.0-litre diesel cars. These have three 4x4 settings: Snow, Off Road and Hill Decent Control.

The Spanish SUV made by the Czechs

The Ateca is built on the MQB A matrix and manufactured at Kvasiny in Czechia by Škoda. SEAT is careful not to name any other Volkswagen Group models as competitors, though had the Yeti stayed in production it would have been one. The Kodiaq is a larger model than the Ateca, with SEAT stating that the main rivals are the Kadjar, Kuga, Sportage, Tucson and of course the Qashqai.

Grip was never an issue during my time with this vehicle, and the 340Nm of torque didn't upset the front axle. Whether or not this would be an issue with the 400Nm of the 190PS 2.0-litre diesel I don't know. 

The £30,000 SEAT

Real world performance even with a few people on board felt brisk but the higher power engine could be worth the extra money if acceleration matters to you, its 0-62mph time being just 7.5 seconds. The additional 40 horsepower and 60Nm don't cost much at the pumps either, with the Combined number being 53.3mpg. CO2 rises to 135g/km.

You can spend GBP30,000 or more for an Ateca, which is less than what the equivalent Volkswagen, the Tiguan, will cost. The tested car is listed at GBP27,425 and with various options (metallic paint, sound system upgrade, XCellence Pack - reversing and top-view cameras plus park assist - and big alloys), it came in at GBP30,030. 

At 1,601mm high, the Ateca isn't as tall as some in its class and that shows when you drive it. SEAT wants to be thought of a sporty brand and its compact SUV pretty much lives up to the marketing spin. You won't make your passengers feel queasy on country roads and the ride is also nice and flat. The steering gives minimal kickback and has a good weighting to it. You can tell that the people who engineered the Leon were also the ones who honed this car's chassis. 

What's ahead in 2017?

The X-Perience variant will soon be added to the range, this more rugged looking Ateca having had its public debut at the Paris motor show in September. After that comes the high performance Cupra which will probably be revealed at Geneva in March. That one will have lowered suspension, bespoke bumpers, quad exhausts, big wheels and Brembo brakes. It should also be the priced at an ambitious GBP32,000 or more, which is, to be fair, what SEAT needs to be doing more of. 

Now that the Ateca is on sale and with the range set to expanded over the coming six months, SEAT looks like having a strong 2017. There's the facelifted Leon too, a new Ibiza, plus the arrival of the Arona in the fourth quarter, which will be the brand's first B segment crossover. Will there be an SUV that's larger than the Ateca? That's fairly likely and in fact there be a couple of them, though not for a while. The new Kodiaq could be rebodied and give SEAT a model in the 4.7-4.8m class, but Škoda has neither the spare capacity at Kvasiny nor the inclination to allow an internal challenger to its not yet launched SUV. Perhaps in 2018 or 2019 then. And there could also theoretically be an even bigger model based on the next VW Touareg but again, as Škoda makes a lot more money than SEAT, that tends to be the deciding factor when Volkswagen approves any division's plan for an additional vehicle.

In 2015, SEAT saw its sales climb above 400,000 units. This was the highest level since 2008 and in 2016, the 400,000 mark will again be eclipsed. Next year should see the brand reaching perhaps 450,000-475,000 and with the help of the Arona, half a million looks to be within reach during 2018. So by 2019, the Volkswagen Group's former underachiever may be pulling in a tidy profit and repaying the faith of its masters in Wolfsburg, who have set aside some three billion euro for new models. 

For an in-depth look at the brand's current and future model range, see just-auto's global analysis of SEAT.