SEAT updates one of our favourite C-segment crossovers, the Ateca, with a new look, improved technology and subtly enhanced drivetrains, as well as a revised trim specification line-up. The net result is that the 2021 Ateca remains among the leading lights in this hotly contested class.
In the metal
You can spot the difference with the updated SEAT Ateca as opposed to the old one, as this is a facelift that, well, actually is a facelift. As in, the Ateca now has front-end treatment that more closely ties it in with the styling of its newer, bigger Tarraco brother and the recently launched Leon Mk4. That means there's a hexagonal radiator grille instead of a trapezoid item as before, reshaped headlamp clusters with a narrower daytime running light signature and a revised bumper/airdam to accommodate the alterations around the nose. At the back of the Ateca, it's a more discreet update, with LED lamp clusters being hard to notice and the different bumper being somewhat more standout - so allow your eyes to be drawn lower down the crossover and you'll notice an unusual omission. SEAT claims Ateca customers no longer wanted to have their car's exhaust pipes on display (really, people?), so the company has accommodated that with a smoothed-off, fully symmetrical lower valance area. You might further take stock of the italic script for the 'Ateca' nameplate, another prevailing fad within the halls of SEAT in 2020.
Our test car was also an XPerience, a badge that references the old Leon crossover estate and one that replaces SEAT's previous top ranking of XCellence. To that end, the XPerience Atecas look like they are geared more for the countryside than the city, with black plastic cladding over their wheelarches and aluminium-effect flashes in all of the front and rear valances, and the side skirts too. The XPerience also gains its own design of 18-inch alloy wheel, so whether you like the rugged look or not will determine whether you go FR or XP come ordering time.
Inside, not much has changed, although the improved connectivity of the aptly named SEAT Connect is most welcome, as is upgraded infotainment with crisper graphics and faster response times. The FR models also gain the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, but the SE and XPerience cars do not, so it is analogue dials with a central display screen instead for these cars; this is a cabin style that is starting to look dated in the Volkswagen Group world these days, although the quality and ergonomic correctness of everything in the Ateca's cabin cannot be faulted. Space remains one of its key strengths: there's loads of room in the cabin for rear-seat passengers and the boot is a 510-litre whopper with all seats in play.
Broadly the same line-up of turbocharged diesel and petrol engines are available in the Ateca as before. Although, the now-115hp three-cylinder 1.0-litre TSI isn't confirmed as yet, nor are any of the TDI diesel engines that are all 2.0-litre affairs. SEAT has made strides to ensure that more of the Ateca's drivetrains meet the latest RDE2 emissions regulations, with this 150hp TSI being one such powerplant that fits the eco-bill.
Tested here with the added benefit of a seven-speed DSG auto, but without the 4Drive all-wheel-drive system, this motive force feels about the perfect match for the Ateca's requirements. Having briefly sampled a 115hp version as well, which was acceptably sweet but a little underdone in the performance regard, the 150hp unit gives the Ateca enough pep and verve to make the most of its excellent chassis. For whatever reason, be it damper settings or just a psychological trompe-l'oeil, SEATs always come across as a bit keener and more rewarding to drive than equivalent Volkswagens, Skodas and Audis with exactly the same drivetrains and exactly the same chassis.
And so it continues to prove with the Ateca. Everything about it, such as the steering, the brakes, the damping and the gearbox, contrives to put a smile on your face if you decide to stop driving this sensible family crossover as if it were a sensible family crossover and instead re-imagine it as some kind of jacked-up warm hatch. It turns in smartly, it holds a cornering line beautifully well (and you can easily adjust said line on the supremely well-judged throttle), it resists excessive amounts of any of understeer or body lean, and it generally feels playful and energised, rather than stolid and pudding-y.
Whether such vivacious kinematic characteristics are needed in a 150hp upright vehicle like this is somewhat more of a contentious issue, but thankfully the Ateca XPerience doesn't sacrifice day-to-day civility at the altar of unnecessarily talented driving dynamics. Both its ride comfort and its suppression of exterior noise contributors are quite simply excellent. It's an incredibly easy and relaxing car to drive when all you're doing is going with regular traffic flow, while the 1.5-litre engine is a little jewel. It revs smoothly and freely, without ever becoming massively coarse nor vocal while doing so, but it has enough low-down flexibility to mean you can let the automatic gearbox shuffle up into higher ratios at the earliest opportunity without the fear of the car becoming bogged down in a torque hole if you suddenly need faster acceleration. It uses cylinder deactivation technology to save fuel, but the only way you'll ever discern it is running on a pair of cylinders is if you strain your ears to listen hard to the engine on a trailing throttle, or - more straightforwardly - you merely glance at the central display and see it telling you the car is in Eco or two-cylinder mode; the changeover between all pistons firing or not is indiscernible. Therefore the Ateca is, in short, just as good as it ever was. Which means it is very good indeed.
What you get for your money
SEAT has tidied up the trim hierarchy, so that it's a little simpler to understand. There are three main specifications, which are SE, FR and XPerience, and then there are 'Plus' versions of all of them that chuck in some additional equipment for a nominal uplift in purchase price - bringing the total spec choices to six, ranging from an SE at €32,505 to an XPerience Plus at €37,985. Although XPerience models are a little more expensive than FR versions, it's best to think of the Ateca range as a wine-glass structure, with SE at the bottom and then FR and XPerience as the two sides of the glass, one being sporty (FR) and the other off-road-esque (XPerience).
All Ateca models, even base-spec SEs, come with (at least) electrically folding, adjustable and heated door mirrors with puddle lights, Dynamic LED headlights and front foglamps with a cornering function, Wireless Full Link smartphone integration with wireless charging, a leather steering wheel and gear knob, cruise control with a speed limiter, dual-zone climate control, front and rear parking sensors, keyless entry, Front Assist including Autonomous Emergency Braking, a tiredness recognition system, a tyre-pressure monitoring set-up, 17-inch alloy wheels and an 8.25-inch touchscreen media array complete with four type C USB outlets, DAB radio, eight speakers and Bluetooth connectivity. That's a generous bundle by anyone's measure but it only takes a step up to SE Plus to gain the 9.2-inch infotainment display, and an XPerience like our test car has further standard luxuries on it such as micro-suede upholstery, LED rear lights with dynamic indicators, a heated windscreen, a reversing camera, and the Safe & Driving Pack including adaptive cruise control. These lists are by no means exhaustive of what is actually fitted to each and every facelifted Ateca, by the way.
Bear in mind that pricing is likely to change across the board come 1 January 2021.
No dramatic changes to the driving experience afforded by the updated SEAT Ateca but then, as it was one of the more shiningly talented things in its class anyway, it didn't need them. Instead, considered but worthwhile detail amendments render a four-year-old design as feeling fresh enough and strong enough to keep challenging right at the front of this lucrative market segment. You want a quality, likeable family car at an affordable price? The SEAT Ateca ought to be one of the first things on your shortlist of five vehicles. You could even go so far as to say a 'shortlist of three'.