First Drive: Cupra Ateca 2022 Review
The Ateca is the car with which Cupra decided to launch as a standalone brand, back in 2018. It was a confusing move for a semi-independent performance brand, to start out with a version of the familiar Seat family crossover. Still, if you’re trying to stand out, doing so with the winds against you somewhat is even more impressive if you pull it off.
You know what, it sort of did. This was a new badge on a familiar face, with aggressive stylings over an already handsome car, with proven EA888 power under the bonnet. That it gave dads that had to sell their sportscars for a crossover a chance to still share glances with those that know answers much about the reasoning of this move, and the appeal of the brand. Obviously, it’s far from the Alpine rival a standalone brand like this could be capable of, but there is that ‘AMGs in the ‘80s’ underground feel, minus the gargling V8s. The question is, now Cupra does have a car all of its own in the Formentor, itself a family crossover, is there any room left for the Ateca?
- Fast enough
We don't like
- Not the most thrilling drive
- A bit pricey
The direction of Seat/Cupra design over the last few years has been positive. So, while this facelift can be filed under ‘unremarkable’, it’s still a great-looking car and a much-needed update, given the outgoing car’s out-of-date corporate schnoz. Next to the Formentor, the Ateca looks rather traditional, upright and sturdy – a good or a bad thing depending on your taste. Its silhouette is far more honest about its shared underpinnings – not a good thing – but there’s nothing wrong with the way it looks. The Ateca was always sharp. Those signature ‘Cupra’ bronze highlights again give an underground vibe, like the smoked rear lamps on a Novitec Ferrari.
Performance and Handling
In full ‘Cupra’ mode the suspension is oddly rigid and devoid of movement, though the steering is inoffensive in its speediness. Understeer is abated surprisingly well in spite of its height and all-wheel-drive. ‘Individual’ settings with everything bar the suspension in ‘Cupra’ specs is the right move for when you’re pressing on, for a more natural dynamic feel. The EA888 2.0-litre TSI engine is somewhat muffled, and its 300PS (220kW) feels a touch challenged by the Ateca’s 1,626kg kerb-rated mass and bulky aero profile, but it’s fast enough. Slightly awkward too on occasion is the seven-speed DSG transmission, though for the most part it’s as quick-witted as you’d hope.
We wish there was something amazing that the Cupra Ateca had to reveal to us about what is possible with sporty crossover dynamics. Typically, it’s a positively capable but not overly charming device with which to dispatch a stretch of road. That was fine when the Ateca got the jump on this hopped-up crossover market back in 2018, but now there are cars like the Ford Puma ST to contend with. Happily, at its price point, the Cupra sits almost alone – a bargain compared to a fast Macan or Audi RS Q3, but more grown-up and bigger than the aforementioned Ford.
On the inside, the Ateca’s advancing years work partially in its favour, depending on how you feel about the Volkswagen Group’s recent push for haptic touch-sensitive controls. It also retains the in-built format for new 9.2-inch central touch-screen and more traditional driver display, rather than the protrusions offered in the Formentor and Leon. Aesthetically it’s inoffensive, but it could be considered a bit last-gen.
The bronze highlighting around the cabin and in the UI is cool, though it brings back memories of customisable themes on late-2000s “smartphones”. The Cupra supersports steering wheel is standard fit on this VZ3 spec car, which incorporates an Audi R8-style protruding starter and driving mode buttons. The Petrol Blue leather bucket seats are excellent and come standard on VZ2 spec cars. Most of what you touch feels nice – clicky buttons and soft leather – but tinny plastics and ghosts of dieselgate cost-cutting aren’t ever far away. An advantage of the Ateca’s more upright stance is a bit more room inside, both for luggage and passengers, with the latter getting a decent view out of the taller glasshouse.
Technology and Features
The digital systems and UI show the age of the Ateca somewhat, but we found them no less functional than the more up-to-date software in the Formentor and Leon. Wireless Android Auto and CarPlay work (and glitch out) in the Ateca as they would anywhere else, and the screen itself is crisp and responsive. The difference is the dials for the climate controls and media, which you twist physically rather than caress, hoping that something will happen. Maybe we’re just old fashioned, but the tactility and functionality of physical stuff very much appeals. The stereo system doesn’t exactly shout ‘premium’ but it does the job.
The Cupra Ateca is a fine and capable performance-flavoured crossover SUV. It looks good, goes well and is a quality product on the whole. Its significance for the development of the brand can’t be overstated. By the same token, there is a sense that it’s somewhat vestigial of the days when Cupra was a trim and not a brand of its own. The landscape for this sort of car has changed, at the hands of Cupra itself and many rivals that have joined the fray. Sporty crossovers and SUVs feel like less of a sacrifice these days and as such, the Ateca has to some extent been left behind. From a reviewer’s perspective that's a mark down. For many buyers, it’ll still hit the spot.
2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder
300PS (220kW) @ 5,300-6,500rpm
400Nm (259lb ft) @ 2,000-5,200rpm
Seven-speed dual-clutch, all-wheel-drive
From £41,070 (£46,585 as tested)
Photography by Jordan Smith.
Reviewed by Ethan Jupp