Cupra's first dedicated model wasn't one for the purists, but it remains hard to fault on its own terms
By Tony Middlehurst / Sunday, 29 May 2022 / Loading comments
- Available for £28,500
- 2.0-litre four-cyl turbo, all-wheel drive
- Does the 0-60 in the same time as a 427 Cobra
- Handles better than a 427 Cobra
- Carries a lot more stuff than a 427 Cobra
- Shame it’s not a 427 Cobra
Compact five-seat SUVs make a lot of sense. They’ve generally got more than enough interior space for the vast majority of users, they aren’t a pain to manoeuvre in and out of parking spaces, and they provide most of the high driving position that has always been a key selling point for big-ass seven-seater SUVs.
Only trouble being, the higher the vehicle, the more it has traditionally been associated with bad handling. Have you ever had fun in a double-decker bus? On second thoughts, don’t answer that. On a less murky level however, cars like the Porsche Macan have proved beyond all doubt that the words ’SUV’ and ‘fun’ can now be used in the same sentence. Indeed, by the late 2010s the big car mags had started to reflect this welcome trend by adding new ‘Best Sports SUV’ categories in their annual awards ceremonies.
It wasn’t long after the Cupra Ateca was put on sale in early 2019 before it began popping up in those new award listings. Not just because it went like stink, with a 0-62mph time in the low fives, but also because it handled very well, was very practical, and did it all while being considerably cheaper than the Macan, with on the road prices starting at under £36k.
The Cupra Ateca was the vehicle SEAT chose to launch Cupra as an independent sub-brand. The plan was to open 25 Cupra specialist dealers in the UK by the end of the first quarter of 2019, after a 2018 season spent racing 350hp Cupra Leons in the ‘low-cost’ TCR touring car series. Low costs being entirely relative of course. It was £80k for a TCR-ready DSG Leon, or £95k for a sequentially-gearboxed one. Then it was £15k to enter the six UK rounds.
The Cupra Ateca wasn’t as mean looking as the TCR Leon, but it still looked pretty good for an SUV, riding 20mm lower than the normal Ateca on 19-inch wheels and with other stylish external distinguishers such as smoked headlights, black grille detailing and name lettering, diamond-cut alloys and a quad-pipe exhaust. As we all know, the name Cupra is a portmanteau of ‘Cup Racing’ but somebody at SEAT obviously noticed it was also the Latin word for copper because you’ll find a few physical references to that in the Cupra Ateca, from the wheel colour options to the emblems in the grille and steering wheel boss and the stitching in the Alcantara sports seats. Expect to see plenty more in Cupras to come.
Under the Cupra Ateca’s skin was the familiar VW Group EA888 2.0 TSI turbo petrol motor, as popularised in the Golf R. In Ateca guise it put nearly 300hp through a seven-speed DSG transmission and Haldex-type 4Drive all-wheel drive system.
Going back inside, you had a sports leather-wrapped steering wheel, Alcantara Cupra-embossed sport seats in black with the aforementioned copper stitching, an eight-inch touchscreen, aluminium finished pedals, wireless charging and a digital cockpit. Park Assist with front and rear sensors, rear-view camera and 360-degree top view camera, adaptive suspension with Dynamic Chassis Control, dual-zone climate control, radar cruise, Full Link smartphone integration for CarPlay and Android Auto and full LED lights were all standard.
Add that lot to SEAT’s claim that the Cupra Ateca was the highest performing SUV outside of the premium manufacturers and it started to look like jolly good value at £35,900. The response was suitably enthusiastic, with the first 160 UK customers receiving an embossed carbon fibre ‘Member Box’ containing a carbon Cupra key cover and, well, a carbon fibre wristband.
When they were launching Cupra, SEAT laid claim to the values of performance, drivability, usability and sophistication. Most car manufacturers would probably make the same claim about any new car they were coming out with, but if you wanted hot hatch performance, neat handling and the versatility that went with an SUV, Cupra Atecas were an interesting addition to any short list.
They’ve held their value well since going on sale more than three years ago, partly because the Covid effect pumped up not only used but new car values. Showroom prices for base model Cupra Atecas have risen from just under £36k in 2019 to over £39k in 2022. It’s the used ones we’re interested in here. In the course of researching this guide we found that 2019 cars with fewer than 30,000 miles covered started at under £28,500. In the Verdict section at the end of this story you’ll find links to cars for sale on PH Classifieds.
SPECIFICATION | CUPRA ATECA (2019-on)
Engine: 1,984cc four-cyl turbo
Transmission: 7-speed DSG automatic, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): [email protected],300-6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): [email protected],000-5,200rpm
0-62mph (secs): 5.2
Top speed (mph): 153
Weight (kg): 1,540
MPG (official combined): 38.2
CO2 (g/km): 168
Wheels (in): 19
On sale: 2019 – now
Price new: £35,900
Price now: from £28,500
Note for reference: car weight and power data are hard to pin down with absolute certainty. For consistency, we use the same source for all our guides. We hope the data we use is right more often than it’s wrong. Our advice is to treat it as relative rather than definitive.
ENGINE & GEARBOX
The Cupra Ateca was, and still is, fast. Its official 0-62mph time was 5.2 seconds, but if you’re old school enough to remember when acceleration was measured on the 0-60mph stretch you’ll surely be impressed by the 4.9sec times that have been achieved over that measure by reputable testers. That’s the same as an original non-s/c AC Cobra 427.
The Cupra’s in-gear thrust was impressive too, the 30-70mph lunge being dispensed with in a more than respectable eight seconds, but to do that you had to be in the right mode in the sometimes-sleepy DSG transmission. Driving modes were Comfort, Sport, Individual (tailoring all the variables), Snow, Off-Road and CUPRA, which delivered the most obvious sharpening up of sound, steering, gearshifts, damping and throttle response. Comfort mode was fine as long as you were happy to prioritise a smooth ride over the occasional inability of the drivetrain to sort out what your right foot might have meant by that sudden and surely mistaken demand for instant acceleration. The DSG brain went kind of muzzy under those circumstances.
Sport and of course Cupra modes sped operations up somewhat, but only at the price of reduced comfort through the enstiffened ride. One mode choice recommended by a respected road tester was Individual with the steering in Sport, the suspension in Comfort and the mechanicals turned up to max Cupra. Launch control was included and the torque quotient between front and back axles was divvied up in the mode-appropriate manner.
Despite the four pipes, as opposed to the two Popes, the Cupra Ateca was more refined than rorty. It must have been difficult for SEAT to decide on what kind of aural edge to give this car. Who was it aimed at, family folk or enthusiasts? Well, both ideally, but that kind of blanket approach inevitably brings compromises and you could end up suiting nobody.
Running costs? In mixed real-world use you could expect mpg figures in the low- to mid-thirties. On servicing, the Cupra specialists we referred to earlier will charge you £209 for a 10k/12-month interim (oil change, oil and pollen filters, diagnostic check and reflashes as required, wash and brush-up and a Cupra stamp in your service book (woo!). A 20k/24-month major service would add an air filter and spark plugs, a checkover of the drive belts and HVAC system, and a wheels-off check of the brakes.
As hinted at in the previous section, the Cupra Ateca’s standard suspension – adaptive dampers with Dynamic Chassis Control – was set up with more of an eye on handling than comfort. It worked well on millpond smooth Euro-roads, where Cupra mode could be used to generate flat cornering without much if any noticeable penalty in passenger comfort, but bumpier UK roads could quickly uncover a fair-sized portion of suspension noise and the downside of stiff springing and 40-profile tyres. Whether you accepted that in an SUV would be down to your personal views on what SUVs were supposed to bring to your motoring life. The need to deliver acceptable body control plus the characteristics of all-wheel drive meant that the Cupra Ateca, when pressed, would ultimately default to understeer.
Mysterious squeakings from the front end were usually traceable to a sub-optimal bush in a strut top mount, or possibly a wonky damper dust cover. the mending of which required extraction of the strut assembly. It didn’t matter really because SEAT accepted that whatever was causing the squeaking was as an actual thing and did whatever work was necessary on an FOC basis when you took the car in for a service, of before if you wanted. One big advantage of signing up to a new ‘brand’ is that they want to look after you.
There was plenty of braking power via the standard 340mm/310mm discs, even if for some drivers the brake pedal sat a little too high in relation to the throttle. Bigger ventilated Brembo discs were available in the optional Design Pack. SEAT’s PR dept was claiming these Brembo discs were 18-inchers, but they looked way smaller than the copper-coloured 19-inch wheels they sat behind, so we’ll put that down to a bit of over excitement when the release was being written. Whatever, the premium for the Design pack was a hefty £3,345. It’s better to have it on a used Ateca than shelling out big money for it in the showroom.
Some owners noticed unpleasant seizing-caliper type noises when the electronic parking brake was released after a few days’ inactivity. Non-releasing parking brakes have been a problem with earlier (non-Cupra) Atecas.
A mixed bag. Along with the hatful of nice gear mentioned in the Overview, including the Cupra Ateca’s Nav System Plus, which provided 3D mapping, you got two USB and Aux ports up front and two more USB ports in the back, and the instrumentation generally was a treat for the eyes. Which was just as well as the rest of the cabin was quite gloomy and uninspiring. You couldn’t call it claustrophobic though as there was loads of space, not just in width and length but also internal depth.
Although the perforated leather steering wheel felt good, the quality of some of the plastics showed you at least in part how SEAT managed to keep the hot Ateca’s introductory price as low as they did. Still, there were nice touches like illuminated front door sills with Cupra lettering and ‘Cupra’ projections from the puddle lights. The regular sports seats were perhaps slightly lacking in thigh support. If you’re buying used, you’ll be quite lucky to find a car with the apparently much better £1,600 bucket seat option as they don’t appear to have enjoyed a big take-up.
For an extra £1,930 the Comfort & Sound pack added an excellent Beats audio system, electric tailgate, traffic sign recognition, lane assist, high beam assist, spacesaver spare and heated front seats, or the Winter pack as SEAT termed those. The passenger-side cabin bonnet release lever has a tendency to unclip itself if you pull it at an angle from the driver’s seat.
There were six standard metallic paints available: Energy Blue, Velvet Red, Brilliant Silver, Rhodium Grey, Magic Black and Nevada White. None of these really made up for the ordinariness of the Cupra Ateca’s exterior styling. Nobody would expect or even want a lairy bodykit on something like this as it could easily turn into a case of mutton dressed as lamb, but a bit more lambiness might have more closely aligned the look of the car with the serious performance available.
For £1,040 you could have a panoramic sunroof with multicolour interior ambient lights and an LED-illuminated glovebox, clearly something we all needed. With the back seats in place there was a decent 485 litres of boot space. The electronic tailgate worked well, with a release-but-don’t-open-all-the-way option on the plipper that could save your paintwork in low multistorey parks. Some owners have complained that the design of the Ateca’s rear doors allowed too much crud to invade the frame area.
There’s gold, or copper at least, in them there names if this first product to emerge from the evolution of the established Cupra name into a separate faux-manufacturer brand is anything to go by.
The geezer who pulled off this sub-branding stroke for SEAT, Luca de Meo, was also responsible for Abarth’s rebirth at Fiat. Creating a halo brand is a smart piece of marketing that can haul up the image of the main brand’s products too as long as the vehicles that are charged with carrying the sub-brand forward are worthy of the name. The Cupra Ateca did a reasonable job of hitting that mark, even if some of its cabin quality did remind you of SEAT’s original positioning in the VW firmament.
You can understand quality taking a back seat to the more instant sales appeal of technology as manufacturers seek to reduce their costs in these difficult times, but as Mercedes will tell you, toning down the quality is a risky path to tread. There again, it’s not just SEAT, some VW-badged cars have been drifting down the premium-osity scale of late, and the long-term risk of reputational damage caused by cheaper cabin materials is surely greater for VW than it is for SEAT. SEAT/Cupra could well benefit in the long run from narrowing the perception gap between it and VW, but this Ateca doesn’t really advance that particular cause.
There are higher quality and more charismatic cars about for the money, albeit not that many in this still-nascent ‘sporty SUV’ category, but if nothing else you have to give SEAT/Cupra credit for doing something Abarth has yet to do, i.e., creating a sporting SUV. That’s a tricky ask that could easily have gone wrong for SEAT. Sorry, Cupra.
If you’re looking for a one-car-does-it-all transportation solution and you’ll never have more than four people to carry besides yourself, you could do a lot worse than a Cupra Ateca. We’ve had a bit of fun comparing the car’s acceleration times to those of a famous sporting beast from the ‘60s but there’s no doubt which of the two, Ateca or Cobra, would provide more drama in the course of achieving those times. The Ateca probably won’t feel as quick as you might expect, but you could describe that as a compliment to the ability of the all-wheel drive chassis to de-dramatise the performance process. The fact that there is a little safe sporting fun to be had is a bonus and reminds us how lucky we are to have moved on from the Zafira VXR. Which we know was an MPV rather than an SUV, but you know what we mean.
One advantage of the Cupra Ateca going on sale three years after the regular Ateca appeared in 2016 should be its relative immunity to most of the problems that typically occur in the first years of a car’s life. Quite a number of these blighted the non-Cupra Atecas, including but not necessarily restricted to failing power tailgates, fritzing indicators, shattering rear wheel bearing housings, cracked frames in both front and rear seats, missing safety pins in the centre rear headrest, poorly aimed headlights, non-functioning USB ports, misaligned steering wheels, self-opening glove box lids, brake assist coming on even with no other vehicles nearby, random central locking activations, dying batteries, imperfect airbag operation and interior trim pieces falling off. You’d like to think that with three years to sort these niggles out, none of them should apply to the Cupra model.
There’s a decent selection of Cupra Atecas on PH Classifieds. The most affordable at the time of writing was this 12,000-mile damaged/repaired 2020 car in Velvet Red at £26,995. The cheapest undamaged one was this 2019 example in Rhodium Grey with 24,000 miles at £28,850.
£31,000 seems like a pretty fair price for this 8,000-mile 2019 car in white with the Comfort & Sound pack. Near the top of the price range is this 2020 car in Energy Blue with 21,000 miles. It does have £5,300 worth of option packs to justify the £34k being asked, but of course you never get your money back on extras – so it would certainly be worth testing out your haggling skills on that.
Search for a used Cupra Ateca here
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