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Large 7-seater SUVs are selling like hot cakes and us Kiwis are spoilt for choice when shopping for one… and this is where the latest 7-seater from the Volkswagen Group is a bit of an enigma. When the SEAT Tarraco launched in New Zealand last year, it certainly got noticed by us motoring writer types when our friends at Autocar praised it as the safest 7-seater ever made and the folks at Stuff went all out naming it the best large SUV on the market… and whilst I’m sure I’m supposed to disagree with the competition, I just can’t, so why aren’t we seeing more of them out in the wild?

Enter the all-new SEAT Tarraco FR

Red and grey SEAT Tarraco FR. Press photo.
The new SEAT Tarraco FR is actually quite stunning. Photo: SEAT, S.A.

SEAT fans of old will remember the FR trims as a bit sportier than the norm, but these days it’s a cosmetic affair. Look at the Xcellence and the FR on paper and they are identical, just like with the Tarraco’s smaller 5-seater sibling SEAT Ateca, but put them side-by-side and you’ll start seeing some differences.

Starting from the rear, the new Tarraco FR gains a sportier rear spoiler and SEAT has made good on their missed trick with the Xcellence and added a true coast-to-coast LED rear light. You’ll also notice the FR exclusive rear diffuser and they’ve changed the Tarraco badge into a handwritten font, which looks really cool.

SEAT Tarraco welcome light
Welcome light has changed from a Tarraco silhouette to a friendly Hola!

The FR’s side profile loses the black plastic bottom trim we saw in the Style and Xcellence variants and the wheels have also received a design upgrade with 19” being the standard, but our demo was sitting on the $2,000 20” supreme alloy option. Where the Xcellence demanded the wheel upgrade, it’s less essential with the FR as neither option can really be called ugly.

It’s the inside that counts

Sitting in the new SEAT Tarraco FR and we can immediately see the usual “FR” touches like a badged steering wheel and red stitching all ’round. The steering wheel itself got an update, which appears to be a range-wide feature from the photos that we’ve seen of the upcoming all-new SEAT Leon and the face-lifted SEAT Ateca, both of which have already launched in Europe.

The new cockpit loses the Adaptive Cruise Control stick below the turn signal and moves it to button controls on the steering wheel itself. The new steering wheel has a bit more of an Audi feel to it than before, but at the end of the day it is a steering wheel and it does what a steering wheel is supposed to do.

SEAT steering wheel
The new SEAT steering wheel and digital dash.

Now, if you look at European reviews of the new Tarraco FR, you’ll find a few differences here in New Zealand. The model we drove still had the same infotainment and climate control interface as the Tarraco Xcellence we reviewed last year, rather than the next generation setup we’ve become used to seeing in European imagery. That said, it’s not necessarily a bad thing; the touch-slider temperature changer in the new Leon, for example, has not received universal praise and the “old school” dials and buttons in our Kiwi Tarraco did exactly what you’d expect them to do. Simple as.

The European Tarraco FR appears to have new infotainment and climate control interfaces. Photo: SEAT, S.A.

It’s also a good opportunity to give a great big shout out to SEAT’s map team; this is the first VW Group car we’ve driven where the built-in navigation doesn’t start spitting up blood on the “new” Huntly by-pass!

What’s it like to drive?

On SEAT’s marketing papers, the FR is meant to have a sport suspension and I drove the Xcellence for three months earlier in the year and I’ll be honest I didn’t notice a difference. That said, this is a 7-seater family SUV, not something you’ll take on the track or 4-wheeling through a jungle. So I probably shouldn’t be surprised that I didn’t notice a difference driving down SH1 on Adaptive Cruise and that’s a good thing, because the Tarraco is a phenomenal drive.

It’s little wonder that Kiwi and international motoring journalists alike have showered the Tarraco with awards; it is every bit as good as you’d expect a proper European SUV to be.

The Tarraco is built in Volkswagen’s flagship factory in Wolfsburg, Germany, and the build quality and drive reflect that every step of the way. It’s a quiet, refined drive. You’re surrounded by plush materials, the seat offers excellent support and the engine offers enough performance that you can overtake safely and confidently when you need to. It’s actually quite difficult to think of a better Kiwi family roadtrip whip than the SEAT Tarraco. That said, if your family needs that third row of seats, you’ll need a roofbox or a trailer for your luggage!

SEAT Tarraco FR front passenger seat NZ
Super-comfortable seats in the SEAT Tarraco

Kiss, marry or kill?

Or should we say shortlist, buy or avoid in this context? No, I like my juvenile question-answer games better. So the old Tarraco Xcellence was a definite “kiss”… the drive and spec level are world-class and that hasn’t changed. The question is – and let’s be honest here, we buy cars based on looks – does it look epic enough to bring home? Beauty is a mysterious thing; I mean, someone married me for heaven’s sake!

I’m going all out on this one… the SEAT Tarraco FR is an upgrade on the looks department so you’ll want to put a ring on it. In its segment – and knowing I’ll upset some friends writing this – and when compared to its Volkswagen Group siblings Tiguan Allspace and SKODA Kodiaq, it is the best one out there and will be interesting to see if it catches buyers’ attention enough to make it a common sight on Kiwi roads.

But as we know, beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder so I’m looking forward to hearing why I’m wrong in the comments. Go!

2020 SEAT Tarraco FR New Zealand
Oh come on… tell me that’s not a stunner!

Your options here in New Zealand

As we’ve found out, overseas reviews won’t give you the info you need here in Aotearoa because our spec is rather different to what’s on the road in Europe.

SEAT New Zealand has specified two variants for the Tarraco FR and for all practical purposes it comes down to one question. Do you need all-wheel drive? That is literally it. The front wheel drive Tarraco FR costs $60,000 on the road and the 4Drive is $6,000 more at $66,000 on the road.

Colours: You can have two types of grey (metallic and non-metallic) and metallic black free or pay $700 extra for green, red or white.

Rims: Standard is 19″ and they look good. There’s a $2,000 option to go an inch bigger and the style is quite similar, but granted a bit more dynamic. If money is no object, I’d tick that box but no big deal.

Seats: The standard Alcantara sports seats are great. You can spend an extra $1,600 on black leather, but that’s a bit of a Boomer thing to do these days, okay?

Other options include wireless charging pad for $450, Beatsaudio sound for $950, panoramic sunroof (it’s a stunner) for $2,000 and an exterior chrome pack for $700. It’s not a long list of options, but I actually appreciate that. The car comes with everything you need out of the box anyway so the advertised price is probably more honest than most in this regard.

One option that SEAT’s car configurator didn’t give me was the electrically folding towbar, or indeed any towbar for that matter. Perhaps the only missed trick for Kiwis for this car. You can have it for the Xcellence for $1,300 so I’m starting to think it may just be an error on the website so worth asking your sales person about that if you need one. I’ve reached out to SEAT New Zealand for clarification and will update this when they respond.

Next steps?

Go test drive one! If you’re on the market for a 7-seater SUV and not test driving the Tarraco, you’re cheating yourself out of one of the truly best large SUVs on the market anywhere today.

Get started on the SEAT website now!

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