The UK car market is having a tough old time at the moment, with new registrations falling on a monthly basis.
But amid the sea of doom and gloom some brands are managing to swim against the tide, and none more so than Seat.
The once-tiny Spanish firm is the fastest growing car brand in the UK – and across the whole of Europe – with sales jumping an impressive 12 per cent last year.
Seat Ateca FR Sport
Price: £29,340 (£30,030 as tested)
Engine: 1.5-litre, four-cylinder, turbo, petrol
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic, four-whee-drive
Top speed: 117mph
0-62mph: 9.2 seconds
CO2 emissions: 149g/km
Central to that is its recent focus on creating a family of SUVs to cover pretty much any buyer’s needs.
While the Leon remains its biggest individual seller and the Ibiza supermini remains important, it’s the triumvirate of Arona, Ateca and Tarraco that are helping to propel Seat’s growth, with SUVs accounting for a third for all the brand’s sales last year.
Now a few years old, it’s still a sharply styled thing and overall a good-looking package but there’s more than a hint of familiarity about it. From the front, the angular headlights give it some individuality but from many angles you could just as easily be looking at a Skoda Karoq or VW Tiguan, with which it shares a platform.
The interior is a similar story. Remove the Seat badge and you could be in virtually any VW Group car from the last three years.
That isn’t such a bad thing, the group’s interiors continue to be some of the best in the business in terms of comfort, quality and layout, and the infotainment system remains one of the easiest and most intuitive, even if it isn’t the very latest version found in other models.
The Ateca’s interior also benefits from being quieter than several of its biggest rivals and offering more space for passengers and luggage.
As with design, the Ateca’s engine line-up is similar to its cousins, with the same mix of 1.0 and 1.5 petrols and 1.6 and 2.0 diesels.
Our test car came with the 148bhp 1.5 petrol matched to a slick seven-speed DSG and four-wheel-drive. The engine lacks the low-down torque of the equivalent diesel but get past that and it’s an effective, smooth and quiet powerplant with enough vim to suit most needs.
Seat is positioned as the VW family’s sporty youthful arm, meaning its cars generally ride more firmly than competitors. In the Ateca that can translate to an occasionally jittery ride and it’s not as smooth as rivals such as the Qashqai and Kuga but overall it offers a decent balance.
When it was launched three years ago the Ateca was hailed as a serious contender for the title of the best in class. It was more refined, spacious, better looking and better to drive than its rivals. Since then the Qashqai and others have been updated but the Ateca still manages to hold its own thanks to that built-in blend of qualities.
It’s no wonder Seat is riding a wave.