You get six drive modes to choose between after you’ve thumbed the car’s starter button and begun wondering why those quad pipes you saw a moment ago aren’t quite bellowing like quad pipes usually do. In most of the Cupra Ateca’s drive modes, the car makes a fairly reserved amount of noise, and is likely to leave keener drivers wanting for a bit more vocal presence even in its ‘Sport’ and ‘Cupra’ settings. That’s Seat’s chosen ‘performance meets sophistication’ positioning at play again. Enticing, but not yobby or anti-social, is evidently what they’re aiming for. Fair enough.
At everyday speeds, the Cupra Ateca works quite well. Leave the car’s dampers in their comfier setting and it rides with reasonable low-speed compliance, but it retains a sense of tautness in its deportment, immediacy about its steering, slickness about its drivetrain and muscly, responsive pep about its performance – all of which would make it feel just a little bit special on the school run or office commute.
While it’s considerably more than you’ll be able to use most of the time on busy UK roads, the car’s outright performance level isn’t quite everything a maturing hot hatchback exile might want it to be. The Cupra Ateca has more than enough thrust to make short work of A-road overtaking, and it gets up to the national speed limit from standing with an authoritative sense of purpose. But in outright terms it’s about as fast as a Ford Focus ST rather than a Focus RS, or a VW Golf GTI Performance Pack rather than a Golf R.
And, while its precise handling is enjoyable enough on wider, smoother roads, the car’s chassis struggles to impress on testing A- and B-roads in the same way it did at everyday speeds. The Cupra Ateca is simply too high and too heavy to work well on a B-road when driven like the high-rise hot hatchback that so much in its make-up seems to promise that it might be. And yet it hasn’t been configured or tuned with enough imagination to appeal as a driver’s car in a new and different way, either.
At a keener pace, the car’s adaptive dampers struggle to effectively marshal and control its bulk over lumps and bumps; leave them in ‘comfort’ mode and they allow too much body movement - every jounce, fidget and toss of which you feel because you’re sat further above the car’s roll axis than you might otherwise be. But if you dial that suspension up into ‘sport’ or ‘cupra’ mode the car's ride gets techy, reactive and slightly wooden. Thus set up, the hot Ateca will start to deflect and divert over inputs that affect one side of the car more than the other – and it’ll do it within the national speed limit on a fairly testing cross-country road.
The car’s tactile facets aren’t quite good enough to make the finer details of its driving experience feel genuinely enticing, either. It steers with decent weight in the sportier drive modes, but has a rim that remains muted as you load up the tyre sidewalls and that therefore erodes that last degree of precision with which you’d like to guide the car. And it doesn’t have a four-wheel-drive system capable of enriching the car’s handling with added balance or throttle adjustability, either. The Cupra Ateca corners with strong grip and decent poise up to a point and on a balanced throttle, but it doesn’t seem to know any really effective asymmetrical torque vectoring tricks, and will understeer fairly persistently with power if you chase it through an apex.