Born in Barcelona and welcomed into the comforting arms of the Volkswagen Audi Group in 1990, the Spanish car giant SEAT (and its performance arm Cupra) adds spice and a sense of Latin flair to the automotive market. With name plates such as Ibiza, Leon, Ateca and Terraco that match some of Spain’s more renowned regions and islands, the brand evokes feelings of the Mediteranian sun and salsa.
In 2016, not only did the release of the all-new Ateca SUV continue with the geographical theme (named after an area in the north-west region of Zaragoza) but also brought a new dimension to the mid-size SUV market; with its Spanish flair and spacious versatility.
Here in NZ, sales of the Ateca have grown from a mere mid-teens level in 2017 to multiplying ten-fold over the subsequent two years, and last year the name plate saw 35% of its sales being the high performance Cupra Ateca (but I’ll get to that in a moment).
2021 sees the launch of the Ateca’s mid-cycle facelift although it’s not just its face that’s had some attention, however, best we started there.
The bumpers have been redesigned and the grille has been revised to a longer, wider format. It’s got new LED headlamps with narrower DRL’s that now pinch near the edge of the grille. The redesigned fog lamps now come shrouded in a more dramatic air curtain and there’s more sharp angles and divides to the lower valence (or is that Valencia).
The rear sports new LED’s, sharing a similar design to the Tarraco and featuring sequential indicators, plus the Ateca’s block-capital badge design has been swapped for the same hand-written script found on the rear of the new Leon.
The interior gets a new leather steering wheel, updated door cards and a choice of new upholstery designs. The infotainment screen is now a larger 9.2-inch unit and Smartphone pairing has been made easier for iPhone users with the introduction of a wireless connection for Apple CarPlay functionality. However, those of us with Android phones still need to connect via a cable in order to use the media features of their phones. It’s also got a pair of new USB-C ports in the front and a pair in the rear, a multi-colour ambient lighting system and voice recognition.
SEAT NZ are only offering two models, the FR (FWD) with a 1.4L turbo engine (11kW/250Nm) married to a 8-speed auto and FR 4Drive (AWD) with 2L turbo (140kW/320Nm) married to a 7-speed DSG.
SEAT has also added some money saving ‘pack’ to choose from – the very popular Urban pack gives you Adaptive Cruise Control, Park Assist and Wireless charging. Street Pack 18 offers a Panoramic Sunroof, heated front seats and wheel and new 18-inch alloys. While the Street pack 19 offers 19-inch alloys.
Now the 2021 Cupra Ateca.
As outlined before, performance arm Cupra are now making up 35% of Ateca sales and according to James Yates (General Manager SEAT & CUPRA in New Zealand) he expects this to rise to 50%. And it’s easy to see why.
The new Cupra offers all the new design cues from the FR BUT now it comes with a VZ label – VZ is short for Veloz which means fast, and fast it is.
Under the bonnet lies a performance tuned 2L turbo engine that produces 221kW and 400Nm, Strapped to a 7-Speed DSG and all-wheel drive, it propels this SUV from 0-100km/h in 4.9 seconds, yes that’s right, a mid-size SUV out pacing most sports hatches.
Bucket seats are now standard (you’ll need them) and the interior can be optioned to have ‘petrol blue’ upholstery, the steering wheel is heated and there’s a range of six new alloys to have your fill of.
For the local launch we got to sample the three models on a long circuit from Auckland City out to Puhoi and back. The route included the country roads around Helensville and Kaukapakapa with plenty of sharp bends and long straights to stretch the Ateca’s legs. Starting with the Cupra.
I’m a bit of a fan of this copper accented rocket. It’s easy to spot among the myriad of similar sized SUVs that are on our roads and although it will fend off a LOT of other performance vehicles and will gladly nip around a racetrack, it will also take the family and their seemingly endless amount of gear to the beach and beyond. The new facelift didn’t disappoint. It’s photogenic enough to stop and take pics with and also quick off the mark to easily catch up with the pack thereafter.
Next up for me was the FR, obviously a bit of a comedown after the Cupra but actually surprisingly nimble around the twisting roads that surround Makarau (only having to slow for a small hatch evidently still out on a Sunday drive – although it was Thursday). I assumed my driving had improved over the Xmas break but it’s probably the XDS Electronic differential lock system (that maximises road holding and improves cornering) working hard behind the scenes that kept me on the straight and narrow. It’s a little slower to respond as the peak torque is around 5,000rpm and 0-100km/h is 9s (almost double the Cupra) but a sure footed ride nonetheless.
After lunch at the Puhoi Tavern it was time to head back to the city, FR 4Drive was next on the list. Aside from bypassing Waiwera and Orewa I opted to join the motorway traffic for the route back and the Ateca is as comfortable there as the country roads I had previously tackled, probably moreso. The large infotainment screen is easy to navigate around and the 8-speaker stereo sounds nice and rich.
It looks like it’s going to be a big year for SEAT NZ this year and even bigger for Cupra NZ, for aside from the Ateca, the performance arm will be launching the Cupra Leon Hatch, the Cupra Leon SportsTourer and the much anticipated Cupra Formentor V and VZ (fast and faster). We’re heading to the dealership now to wait.
SEAT Ateca FR ($46,900+orc), SEAT Ateca FR 4Drive ($52,900+orc), Cupra Ateca VZ ($66.900+orc)