David Motton

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Is the new Seat Ateca good enough to take on the very best compact SUVs? Our tow car expert David Motton gets behind the wheel to find out!

Finally the new Seat Ateca is here! The brand has badly needed a rival for the Nissan Qashqai – with the Ateca it gets one.

The manufacturer has taken a long time to bring a proper compact SUV to the market. Until now the Seat Leon X-Perience has been the closest thing, but it's a 4x4 estate rather than a true crossover or SUV.

Prices start from £17,990. Order books have been open since June, and Seat reports healthy demand for a car which customers haven't been able to drive until this month. Is the faith of those eager buyers justified?

In a word, yes.

On price, value and practicality it's strong enough to give the Nissan Qashqai Renault Kadjar and Škoda Yeti a hard time. The Seat Ateca isn't perfect, but is a very good car indeed.

The range starts with the 1.0 TSI, with 113bhp and 148lb ft of torque. It makes little sense as a tow car for most caravanners, with a kerbweight of just 1280kg and a 1300kg legal towing limit. But if you own a micro-caravan or a trailer tent it could be worth a look. On the road the performance belies its modest power and torque figures.

There's also a 1.4 TSI with 148bhp and 184lb ft of torque. It's a more plausible alternative to the diesels for regular towing duties, with its 1349kg kerbweight and 1800kg legal maximum.

Even so, most caravanners are likely to pick one of the diesels. The 1.6 TDI is the least able on paper, with 113bhp and no more torque than the 1.4 petrol. It's the most economical choice (65.7mpg on the combined cycle) with the lowest emissions (113g/km of carbon dioxide). Unsurprisingly, Seat expects this engine to be the favourite with company car drivers.

However, it's not the quietest engine and even at motorway speeds there's a persistent drone. This model has a 1375kg kerbweight and a 1500kg towing limit.

For serious towing, either of the 2.0-litre diesels is preferable. The 148bhp 2.0 TDI is familiar from many Volkswagen Group cars, including our reigning Tow Car Awards overall champion, the Škoda Superb. It does a predictably fine job in the Ateca. It becomes more vocal the harder it's revved, but there's not much point in pushing on towards the redline when there's 251lb ft of torque from 1750rpm all the way to 3000rpm.

That extra mid-range pulling power makes the 2.0-litre a much more relaxing car to drive than the 1.6. Gearchanges are needed less frequently, and acceleration is more decisive.

While the petrols and the 1.6 diesel are front-wheel drive, for now the 148bhp 2.0 TDI is four-wheel-drive (front-wheel-drive versions are included in Seat's price list, but deliveries won't start until next year). That's clearly a plus point for all-weather towing, and the added weight makes the Ateca suitable for towing a wider range of tourers. The kerbweight is 1548kg, giving an 85% match figure of 1316kg. The legal towing limit is 2000kg, and the permitted download on the towball is 80kg – the same figure applies across the range.

The final engine choice is the more powerful 2.0-litre diesel, with 187bhp and 295lb ft of torque. These healthy figures mean another step up in acceleration, with really punchy performance in what's still a relatively light car. The kerbweight is 1589kg, giving an 85% match figure of 1351kg. The legal towing limit is 2100kg.

The less powerful 2.0-litre is only available with a six-speed manual gearbox, the higher-powered model comes with a seven-speed DSG auto. It changes gear promptly and swiftly, and combines well with the strong and flexible engine.

Seat is positioned as the Volkswagen Group's sporty brand, and the performance of the range-topping Ateca mostly fits that billing well. It comes with Seat's Drive Profile feature (all but the entry-level S-spec cars do), which allows the driver to sharpen the throttle response and add weight to the steering by choosing Sport mode.

Even then, the Ateca is composed and stable in corners rather than truly exciting – if you're expecting a hot hatch on stilts, you'll be mildly disappointed. The steering is direct and precise, but the car gently pushes wide if you corner enthusiastically.

It keeps things tidy, though, and body movements are kept in check on undulating roads. The 2.0-litre diesels, with their more sophisticated multi-link rear suspension, feel better tied down.

But whether the Ateca has the semi-rigid rear axle or the multi-link set-up, the Seat's suspension is firm. Patchy surfaces and potholes jerk and jostle the car. We'd like the suspension to be a little more forgiving of our less-than-perfect UK roads, but if that firmness delivers stability when towing then it's a compromise we're ready to make.

While the ride could be more comfortable, the driving position is just about spot-on. There's enough adjustment to cope with drivers of most heights and body shapes, and all but S-spec cars have lumbar adjustment.

The cabin's a pleasant place to while away the miles, with an attractive design and decent build quality. Some of the plastics lower down the dash and doors don't look or feel as plush as those on the top of the dash, but the same is true of most of the Ateca's rivals.

Space-wise, the Seat is right up with the roomiest cars in its class. In the back of the car there's enough head and legroom for a 6'3" passenger to sit behind a 6'3" driver without digging their knees in the back of the front seat.

Air vents between the two front seats keep rear-seat passengers supplied with chilled air. Again, the basic S-spec cars are the only exception.

In terms of luggage space, the Ateca has the Qashqai well beaten. There's 510 litres with the rear sets upright, which is 80 litres more than in the Nissan. It's worth noting that luggage space drops by 25 litres in 4x4 models.

The new Seat Ateca is good value as well as practical. As we said before, prices start from £17,990. That undercuts the entry-level Qashqai by £555.

However, we'd be inclined to skip the S in favour of SE trim, which adds electrically adjustable and heated door mirrors, front fog lights, LED tail lights, cruise control, dual-zone climate control, rear parking sensors, an easy-to-use eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system and more. Prices start from £19,590.

For satellite navigation as standard, you'll need to choose either the SE Technology, the limited-run First Edition, or the range-topping Xcellence spec, which also comes with leather upholstery and a long list of other kit. The 188bhp Xcellence diesel is the most expensive Ateca, priced at £29,990.

These are keen prices for a car this practical and well equipped. In fact, the Seat Ateca could be the new benchmark in the compact SUV class. We'll find out for sure when we tow with one later this autumn.

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