Is the first solo Cupra model a worthy debut for Seat’s new standalone brand? We’re finding out over five months
Why we’re running it: To assess if Cupra’s first own-branded car feels like the real deal or just a Seat made too sporty for its own good
Life with a Cupra Ateca: Month 2
Gurgles and squeaks have led to a pit stop with a dealer – 3rd April 2019
“This is an amazing engine,” said the technician looking at the Cupra’s 2.0 litres worth of turbocharged four cylinder. “I built one with 600bhp and fitted it to a Volkswagen Caddy. No modifications to the bottom end were needed – they’re really strong.”
On that basis, assuming the Caddy doesn’t blow up after 20,000 miles, there should be no reason to worry about this 296bhp version of the engine getting overstressed.
So why was a technician looking at the Ateca? Because it had been making odd noises. At first, it sounded like gurgling water, rather like a central heating system that needs bleeding. I kept an eye on the temperature gauge, wondering if there was air in the cooling system, but it never strayed. I wondered if a pool of water had got trapped somewhere under the bonnet, or even in the driver’s door, the noise seeming to come from the offside front. I also drove the Ateca with the bonnet open, slowly, in an attempt to hear more clearly, but got no closer to pinpointing the source. And then on a trip to the Lake District, the character of the noise changed, from a gurgle to a squeak. That sounded more like suspension, and the noise wasn’t going away. Time to call a dealer.
The Cupra network isn’t huge. In fact, not every Seat showroom includes the sub-brand, making the garage most convenient to me 23 miles away. But Letchworth Autoway Centre in Hertfordshire couldn’t take the Cupra for a couple of weeks – not quick enough if you think your problem might affect the car’s safety. Instead, they helpfully suggested, call the SeatAssist line.
I did, and within an hour a technician had arrived, and in less than a mile of demonstrating the squeak, he’d told me it was a rubber bush in the MacPherson strut top-mount. There was nothing to see under the open bonnet – the strut bolts were all tight – but this was when he pointed out the amazingness of the Ateca’s engine. Which was good to hear, as was the news that the noise was merely a vocal bush. The Cupra is now booked in for April, and for an overnight stay given that the entire strut assembly will have to come out. Not ideal, but it will be a chance to see what a Cupra showroom looks like.
Meanwhile, the muddy lanes where I live make the Ateca look as if it’s been on an expedition, so grimed has its paint become. There was a time when muddying your four-wheel drive was a mark of adventurous honour in mudless London, but in Hertfordshire the Cupra looks like what it is: a car in need of a bath. A jet-wash awaits.
More miles have also provided several opportunities to make use of the engine’s modest (by Caddy dragster standards) 296bhp. Using the sport mode and sinking the accelerator with commitment produces enough overtaking power that you can start backing off even as you pass the vehicle in question, which in my book is a sign of real potency. It’s a surprise, too, if you’ve merely been using the Ateca for practical and commuting duties, its turn of speed at odds with its crossover character, if not a rather sexy set of alloys.
Passing potency As long as you’re in the right gear, truly swift and effortless overtaking awaits.
Stiff-legged ride Although it’s better than the patter and bounce of a mate’s new C43 AMG Benz cabrio.
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Parking brake perils – 27th March 2019
Click. Thwang. This is the sound of the Cupra’s electronic parking brake button being depressed, followed by the graunchy, resonant twang of the brake shoes or pads (I’m not sure which, yet) freeing off if the Ateca has been parked up for a few (damp) days. They haven’t stayed stuck on yet, but it’s something I’ll be keeping an eye on.
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Potent SUV proves its user-friendliness – providing the gearbox can keep up – 13th March 2019
So I’m rewinding the last 2800-odd miles I’ve now travelled in this car, thinking about the things I most like, and what’s popping up first are the excellence of the Volkswagen Group infotainment system – a model of usability and in stark contrast to the confused controls of the new Toyota Corolla driven recently – and the usefulness of the powered tailgate, which has the handy feature of merely unlatching if you stab its centre console release button briefly. The lid only rises fully if you hold said button down to trigger the lifting mechanism. It’s a good precautionary feature if you’ve reversed into a tight spot.
Neither of these items has anything to do with the fact that this Ateca is not a Seat but a Cupra, and therefore comes with 296bhp and the potential to harpoon 60mph from rest in only 4.9sec, although there are many moments when this car doesn’t remotely feel like one with that much power to unleash. As mentioned in the car’s introduction, an indolent seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission does much to blunt its performance, with its inability to select a gear, any gear, when you mash the throttle being a source of some frustration. It’s particularly an issue when you want to overtake or need a bursting surge to blend with the traffic on a busy roundabout. The pause can be that long that you sometimes have to abort.
So the transmission, the tailgate and the sat-nav have all stood out so far, as has the continued interest in the Cupra from others. A fellow Ateca owner encountered at a vehicle dismantlers asked what it was like with nearly 300bhp. The answer is, if you’re in the right gear, startlingly swift and pleasingly smooth with it. The Cupra also feels stable and secure enough to handle the power with ease, although I have yet to drive it hard in rain.
Years ago, magazines ran long-term test cars knowing there was a fair to good chance that the vehicles would develop paragraph-generating faults. That’s rare today and so it proves with the Ateca, which had been fault-free until a week ago, when it generated a couple of sentences. I reached inside to pull the bonnet release, which did its job before coming off in my hand.
In its defence I tugged at the lever, which lives on the passenger side, from behind the wheel, and the angle perhaps caused it to come adrift. Nothing seems broken, and I’ve clipped the lever back on. The bonnet was being opened not to investigate trouble but to access the battery to jump-start another car (a long-dormant Seat Mii, as it happens).
The improving weather will doubtless yield more opportunities to enjoy those 296 horses, which run a lot more willingly if you knock the gearlever rearwards for Sport mode, or paddle the paddles. Using these techniques, it looks highly likely that this Cupra will be able to consume roads at quite some pace. The same may also apply to unleaded, which has improved from the 29mpg or so of the first few miles to more than 33mpg now. But I suspect this figure will take quite a tumble when the throttle dips deep.
Such numbers are easily gleaned from the display tucked between speedo and rev counter, with a combination of a large rocker button and a small rotary drum on the steering wheel enabling you to shuttle between different trip logs as well as the navigation map, your radio station and so on. Details like this provide light entertainment on duller roads, while radar-controlled cruise shares the load of traffic-snarled motorway slogs.
So it’s an easy car to live with, and one whose power is well hidden – although that’s an arrangement not without appeal, the character of the car changing substantially when you work it hard. It’s now due a wash, although at least for now it has an authentically rugged look.
Impressive interface Volkswagen Group infotainment is an object lesson in ergonomic clarity. It makes you wonder how others make such a mess of it.
Tardy transmission DSG auto ’box is often a real impediment to swift progress, taking too long to translate a sunk throttle into action.
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Life with a Cupra Ateca: Month 1
Our new Cupra already has its fans but will we be among them in six months’ time? – 27th February 2019
“Who makes this car?” asked the lad at a hand car wash the other day, the strange copper-coloured badge and ‘Cupra’ lettering across an air intake providing him with insufficient clues. I explained. “Is it the first? Will there be more?”
Yes and yes: the new Cupra Ateca (don’t forget to forget the ‘Seat’) is the first of several that will include a Cupra Leon and, in time, the Formentor – an entire car bespoke to Cupra rather than derivatives of Seats.
Of course, the Cupra name is far from unknown, especially among enthusiasts, who have bought more than 60,000 cars badged thus in 40 countries over two decades. Seat’s broad aim with this brand is to give itself the freedom to develop more specialised and expensive sports models without their price being limited by the value-for-money aura of the parent marque. The relationship is similar to the Fiat and Abarth linkage and the man behind the rebirth of Abarth and birth of Cupra is the same: Seat boss Luca de Meo, formerly a Fiat marketing whizz.
That de Meo might be on to something was borne out by the first long-distance drive in this white four wheel-drive 300bhp machine. KY68 ZXZ triggered much excitement on a slow-moving section of the M6. I was asleep at the time, leaving my wife to wonder why the occupants of an Ibiza Cupra, also white, were almost leaping up and down at the thrill of seeing this latest Cupra beastie. That said, the girl in the passenger seat found her movement restricted by the box of beer on her lap, reported my wife. In fact, much of the space not taken by the Ibiza’s three occupants appeared to be filled with boxes of alcohol. Which might explain their excitement at the big-booted Ateca.
Besides a decently scaled luggage bay and some copper badging, what else does this ultimate version of the Ateca provide for £35,900? Primarily go, and plenty of it. The 2.0 TSI turbo petrol engine produces 296bhp in an SUV weighing 1540kg and all-wheel drive enables it to erupt to 62mph in a rapid 5.2sec. Our road test team recorded a 0-60mph time of 4.9sec, in fact. The power and a solid 295lb ft are channelled through a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox with paddle shifts. The Ateca tops out at 153mph, which should be fast enough for most.
The Cupra’s performance package also includes adaptive dampers. Their mode is selected via a rotary knob in the centre console that alters a variety of parameters to deliver comfort, sport, individually adjustable, snow, off-road and high-performance modes, the last of these labelled Cupra.
Given that this car was only just run-in when it arrived, at 1029 miles, and that its first journey was mostly motorway, there’s been little chance to explore these six settings, although the incentive to leave it in comfort for the country lanes where I live is strong because the ride is quite firm, even in that mode. More positively, however, the car feels tautly constructed and the suspension is quiet and consistently damped over bumps that are more rounded off than absorbed.
You get a subtle hint of the Ateca’s intent in that comfort setting, then, but not much from the transmission, whose ambition in the normal mode is to score the highest ratio possible. There’s not too much wrong with that, given this will save you fuel, but it’s more of an issue when you want instant, opportunistic acceleration, the gearbox momentarily paralysed while its brain attempts to decode what you might want or, more specifically, which of the seven ratios might best deliver it.
By the time that has happened, the chance may have passed, or you surge off with absurd zeal, having pressed the accelerator still harder to provoke a response. An occasional momentary lull before the turbo charges can lengthen the pause. Choosing the sport mode helps, or you can pull on a paddle. Urgently.
But enough of these minor carpings. There’s plenty else to be pleased about when surveying this Cupra’s cabin, ranging from a virtual instrument display that can place a navigation map right in front of you to a wireless phone-charger bay in the centre console, a decently sized infotainment screen using the Volkswagen Group’s excellent control logic, suede seat facings and, rather absurdly, a carbonfibre-weave vinyl material for other parts of the seats and the steering wheel boss.
The wheel itself is a pleasant thing to clasp, and the driving position is good, but as noted in our road test, the standard seats lack thigh support and are rather tamely shaped given this car’s dynamic ambitions. There will be a bucket seat option but, at £1600, that’s an expensive solution.
This particular car has other options, though, all of them bundled within the £1930 Advance Comfort and Driving pack, which provides traffic sign recognition, lane assist, high-beam assist, a space-saver spare wheel, an electric tailgate, a Beats audio system (very good) and heated front seats to create a reasonably well-equipped carry-all delivering excitingly assertive acceleration.
Over the next six months, we’ll find out whether this, the electronically damped all-wheel-drive chassis, some styling tweaks and a fair haul of kit are enough to warrant those Seat Ibiza Cupra warriors bouncing about excitedly in their bottle-filled car.
One thing the Cupra Ateca seemed to me to lack, back when we road tested it, was proper separate-entity design distinctiveness. I’ll be interested to find out if Richard feels the same way after an extended relationship, especially as his car does without the optional Design pack, which, adding copper-coloured alloy wheels and a bit more interior decoration, might have addressed that issue. I’m also keen to know if the ride wears itself in a bit. It’d be irritatingly firm and fussy for me in a daily driver.
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Cupra Ateca specification
Specs: Price New £35,900 Price as tested £37,830 OptionsAdvance Comfort and Driving pack, including traffic sign recognition, lane assist, high-beam assist, space-saver spare wheel, electric tailgate, Beats audio and heated front seats £1930
Test Data: Engine 1984cc, 4cyls inline, turbocharged petrol Power 296bhp at 5300-6500rpm Torque 295lb ft at 2000-5200rpm Kerb weight 1615kg Top speed 153mph 0-62mph 5.2sec Fuel economy 31.7mpg CO2 201g/km Faults None Expenses None
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