What are you driving?
This is the SEAT Tarraco and it's the third of the Volkswagen Group's medium-to-large seven-seat family SUVs, sitting alongside as it does the VW Tiguan Allspace and the Skoda Kodiaq. The Tarraco is off to a good start as, to my eyes anyway, it's the best looking of all three. The Tiguan, in Allspace form, suffers a bit from distended rear-end syndrome, while the Skoda is handsome, but rather quietly so. The Tarraco beats these two by having a neatly finished overall silhouette, topped off with a distinctive and very attractive front end. As we've seen similar front styling treatment on the (SEAT-but-not-SEAT) Cupra Formentor, presumably this is going to be the new family 'face' of SEAT's cars, so perhaps it will lose some of its handsomeness with familiarity. For now, though, it looks sharp.
Our test car came in Xcellence trim, which is the highest spec in which you can get a Tarraco. On top of which, SEAT Ireland told us that it had gone "above and beyond the norm to ensure you have the opportunity to test all the latest SEAT technology," which basically means that this one has been driven through the options warehouse while covered in superglue. So, on top of the Xcellence trim's 19-inch wheels, leather trim, park assist, adaptive cruise, LED lights etc, our test car came with a top-view parking camera, dynamic chassis control, 20-inch wheels, a Beats Audi stereo with DAB, an uprated navigation system and premium metallic paint. That explains the bloated price tag of near-as-dammit €60,000, but the good news is that Tarraco prices start at a much more reasonable €34,700, and you can get a basic (but still really very well-equipped) SE model for €339 a month on a PCP deal, which adds up to rather a lot of family car for the money.
Name its best bits
I should probably say at this point that my family has some SEAT history. In fact, between me and my dad we've owned four - an Ibiza, a Toledo and two Leons - and they've been uniformly excellent, as well as faultlessly reliable. The Tarraco looks set to uphold that legacy, as it feels impressively well-built the moment you slide behind the wheel. The Tarraco, not surprisingly, uses a lot of the same interior bits and bobs as the smaller SEAT Ateca SUV (still one of our favourites in the segment), but it manages to carve its own interior aesthetic by using a free-standing central infotainment screen, which looks fresh and more interesting than that of the Ateca. There's also a big TFT digital screen for the instruments, which looks good and is simple to modify and, if the rest of the cabin is familiar, then that's perhaps not much of a criticism.
It's also hugely spacious, and very comfortable indeed. Miles and miles just glide effortlessly by when you're perched up in the command chair of a Tarraco, and I suspect that would hold as true for a more basic model as for this top-spec version. It's also moderately engaging to drive. SEAT's engineers have long had the canny ability to extract more feel and feedback from VW's parts-bin electrically assisted steering setup than either the HQ team in Wolfsburg or Skoda's lads down in Mladá Boleslav and so too it proves here. The Tarraco is no-one's idea of a GTI masquerading as an SUV, but it's enjoyable to drive, feels more agile than you'd expect of a large family wagon and generally won't leave you feeling as if you've given up your youth to purchase a sensible family seven-seater.
Seeing as we've mentioned sensibility, though, it's hard to beat the Tarraco for space. There's stretch-out room in the middle row of seats and, if you leave the third row folded flat then there's a whopping 700 litres to play with. Impressive.
Obviously, you'd also want your family car to be as safe as it is practical, and here the Tarraco really scores. In fact, according to the independent safety experts at EuroNCAP, there's only one family SUV that's technically safer and that's the (more expensive) Volvo XC60. Even then, the super-safe Swede only pulls out a single percentage point over the SEAT in terms of its adult occupant safety score, which is impressive for a car as affordable as the SEAT is in its basic form.
Anything that bugs you?
Speaking of affordability, there's a wrinkle. For a start, SEAT asks you for an extra €1,000 if you want to have seven seats in your Tarraco. That's in line with the Skoda and the VW, but one major rival - the Peugeot 5008 - comes with seven seats as standard, and costs less in basic form. Mind you, the SEAT is better equipped, something that gives it a leg-up over the Skoda Kodiaq, which is also a little cheaper in standard form, but that model is basically a loss-leader entry version.
There's also an issue with the SEAT's engine and the way it combines with the optional seven-speed DSG transmission. It's something we've seen in other VW Group cars using this 2.0-litre TDI engine (here in 190hp form) and it's noticeable, in general, in most post-WLTP emissions test diesel cars. The issue is low-speed response and step-off acceleration. When you're driving the Tarraco around town, and especially when you have the driving mode selector switched to Eco, the engine is staggeringly sluggish at low speeds. It's not merely turbo lag, it's also engine management lag, most likely a result of retuning the engine management system to score better urban CO2 emissions. The problem with this is when you're trying to merge with fast-flowing traffic, either pulling out of a T-junction, or getting onto a roundabout. Then, the combination of lag, and the slow pickup in first of the DSG gearbox, means that you can often be left hanging for an uncomfortable amount of time before the Tarraco starts to pick up proper pace, making it difficult to nip into a gap in the traffic. SEAT isn't the only car maker guilty of this (we've especially noticed it in some Audi models too), but the effect seems heightened in the Tarraco. Go for a manual gearbox, instead of the DSG, would be our advice.
And why have you given it this rating?
Aside from that engine issue, the Tarraco is all-round impressive. It looks smart, has a roomy, high-quality interior and drives sufficiently well that you'll not lack for entertainment behind the wheel. Yes, it's A.N. Other seven-seat family SUV in a market fast-becoming saturated with such cars, but it's a very impressive one.
What do the rest of the team think?
The Tarraco is possibly my favourite of the seven-seat Volkswagen Group SUVs, partly because it looks fresh with SEAT's new front-end appearance and joined rear lights and partly because it proves to be rather good to drive. Admittedly, that's when the car is fitted with the adaptive damping and I agree with Neil on the transmission issue - go for a manual gearbox.
Shane O'Donoghue - Editor
The Tarraco continues the ever-improving SEAT as a brand to consider more seriously. Its interior on this high-spec model is well-finished and for the most part it's good to drive, but I would prefer a more responsive engine and transmission.
Dave Humphreys - Road Test Editor