Once upon a long time ago - or so it seems - I ran a Leon Cupra long-termer. Brilliant car it was too, even if few still seem to recognise it. By sacrificing a bit of Golf GTI completeness for a slightly raw dynamic edge, it offered a really desirable hot hatch package. Well, I thought so at least. Especially when fettled further with the Performance Packages.
Given so much is shared between Leon and Ateca, the prospect of spending more time with it - including the EnduroKA weekend - was one I was quite intrigued by. Honest.
Trouble is, for my money, so much of what proved endearing about the Leon has been lost in the transition to Ateca. Chiefly that's thanks to an enormous 240kg weight gain, the Leon officially 1,375kg and the Ateca 1,615kg. Which kind of spoils quite a bit. Where the hatch, even with 20hp and a ratio less, felt at times quite improperly potent - an Evo 6 had the same power and just 10kg less - the SUV only ever feels pleasantly brisk. Given the eminent tuneability of this engine, established over the past half a dozen years and highlighted with the recent Mountune visit it seems a shame that the racy sub-brand couldn't have been launched with a tangible performance advantage. Perhaps hands are tied in Barcelona, what with the T-Roc R imminent.
Whatever the case, that weight naturally has an impact beyond merely stymied acceleration. A 1,600kg car will never feel as lithe as a 1,400kg car, and so even ramping up the Ateca's drive modes to their most aggressive - though leaving the steering in its normal setting for the Individual configuration - never reintroduces the urgency and agility of a conventional hot hatch. But does add an edge to the ride. And throughout, even with a long journey up the A11 to Snetterton, it won't get close to 35mpg as an average reading. Even a very handy electric tailgate and a raised boot floor can't make up for that.
All things considered, the Ateca should be consigned to a position not far from irrelevance, as there's already much that we don't like about these MQB hatches - buzzy, fake engine noise, aloof control weights - without what redeems them. However...
However, I can't remember a conventional (i.e. with a roof, and doors) car at this money that garners so much attention from the buying public at large. Over the EnduroKa weekend it received attention on the motorway, at services and even in the Snetterton paddock, people curious about what it was, how fast it might go and what the badges were for. Many even liked the looks. Purists may guffaw and mock, but the Cupra Ateca sits perfectly in the middle of automotive desirability Venn diagrams: customers want SUVs, specifically performance SUVs, but they also want good value and familiarity. At present, nothing else exists like the Cupra. It's a Love Island gif on four wheels, so perfectly does it capture the zeitgeist of buying taste; you might not like the prospect, but there's no denying the popularity.
Hence one of the PH sales lads is really keen on one, despite being just 21 and with no family to cart around; his Leon FR is old and boring by now, after all. That it does pretty much everything a Golf R does only seals the deal - there's not much given up in terms of outright ability for being trendy. And it'll do 0-60mph in five seconds. Of course the drawbacks are there, but far greater sacrifices have been made for fashion and style on four wheels over the years.
And that's the paradox of the Cupra Ateca: there are a host of objective reasons as to why it's worse than a fast estate or hot hatch. But trends don't care much for objective realities; if it's desirable, then it's desirable, and you won't need to look far down any street to see a host of SUVs, some with more Sport than others. Or alluding to more Sport than others, at least. By being broadly capable and readily available - it's cheaper than an R-Line Tiguan which develops 70hp less - there seems little in the way to stopping the Ateca's success. And so long as hot hatches can continue as well, that shouldn't be anything to be too perturbed by...
Car: Cupra Ateca
Run by: Dafydd, or Matt when there are racing requirements
List price new: £35,900 (as standard; price as tested £41,175, comprised of Comfort and Sound Pack for £1,930 and Design Pack for £3,345)
Last month at a glance: The customer is always right... right?
1 / 5