SEAT's Ateca looks a strong proposition in the family Crossover segment. It's well priced, sharply-styled and offers the sporty feel the sector seems to want. In fact, you wonder why it took the Spanish brand so long to bring us a car like this.
The Ateca delivers a line-up of petrol and diesel engines ranging in power from 115 to 190PS, with the initial range built around three petrol units and three diesels. Things kick off with a 1.0-litre TSI 115PS Ecomotive petrol variant that sits just below a 150PS 1.4-litre TSI EcoTSI option, plus there's a 2.0 TSI 190PS powerplant. Diesel models start with the 1.6-litre TDI 115PS derivative, plus there are also 150 and 190PS versions of the Volkswagen Group's familiar 2.0-litre TDI diesel. 2.0 TDI 150PS drivers get the option of DSG auto transmission and '4Drive' 4WD, but if you go for the top 190PS variant, you have to have both.
We expect the 2.0 TDI diesel engine to be the one many drivers will target and it's a strong engine that pulls willingly from low speeds, though isn't the most refined powerplant of its kind. The Ateca rides firmly - in line with SEAT's preference to make it 'sporty': that's something potential drivers will need to like. The lofty driving position will please them, as will the way that all the major controls are clustered around you. Not so good are the thick, angled C-pillars that block rear three-quarter vision. An optional park assist system and birds-eye camera help with tight spaces.
Under skin, the Ateca sits on the same MQB platform as its more conventional Leon stablemate and uses most of the same mechanicals found in Volkswagen's very similar Tiguan model. Inside, it's also very similar to the Leon - which is no bad thing. The fit and finish is of high quality, though the plastics get scratchier the farther down you go.
In the front, there's decent room for two adults on supportive seats. It's the same in the back, though it's disappointing to find that the rear seats don't slide or recline like they do in the Volkswagen Tiguan. The boot's a bit smaller than that pricier Volkswagen rival model too, though will easily swallow a couple of big cases and a pushchair. You access it via a tailgate offering the option of power operation: it's one of those you can activate by waving your foot beneath the bumper.
SEAT's first effort in this segment looks to have been worth waiting for. The Ateca isn't quite the size of a Tiguan - but then it's much more affordable. And there's a dash of spirit and character here that we think potential customers will like. In summary, if you were just about to decide on a Nissan Qashqai or something similar, an Ateca is certainly worth a look.Click here to find out more about our SEAT Ateca range
The latest Nissan Qashqai is sleeker, feels more expensive inside and offers some of the most sophisticated electronic safety technology in the mid-sized Crossover segment. As before, there's a choice of two diesel and two petrol engines, front or all-wheel drive and manual or Xtronic automatic transmissions. Make no mistake, this is a much-improved version of Nissan's hugely popular contender.
On the face of things, not much has changed in terms of drive dynamics, though Nissan insists that under the skin, modifications to the suspension, damping and steering systems have resulted in a more refined on-the-road experience, plus refinement's better too. As before, drivers can choose between front and four-wheel drive versions. The front-wheel drive cars get a cheaper torsion beam rear suspension set-up, while those with All-Mode 4x4 get a more sophisticated independent rear suspension. The calibration has been performed in Europe to suit European tastes. Whether you choose front or rear wheel drive, the Qashqai benefits from Active Trace Control which monitors the behaviour and trajectory of the car, and applies subtle braking to deliver a function similar to a Limited Slip Differential, providing the best traction and the least understeer. There's also a dual mode steering system which changes the weighting of the electrically-assisted rack when you select the Sport setting.
As ever, drivers get the choice of two downsized petrol engines and two turbodiesels. The petrol units comprise a 115 PS 1.2-litre DIG-T powerplant that drives through a six-speed manual box or a 1.6-litre 163PS DIG-T engine. Most customers will doubtless be drawn to the diesels and here, there's a choice between a 1.5-litre dCi co-developed with Renault, good for 110PS, and benefiting from a revision of the engine's internals to improve refinement. Or the 130PS 1.6-litre dCi unit that is offered in either two or four-wheel drive guises. This engine is also sold with the Xtronic transmission, a stepped CVT gearbox.
As part of this model's mid-term package of upgrades, it gets a smarter look featuring a completely revised front end, including the latest Nissan 'V-motion' grille. The headlamps have also been revised with a new version of the 'boomerang' Daytime Running Light signature. At the rear, the car's instantly recognisable 'boomerang' light motif is extended across the whole lamp, and now includes a contemporary 3D lens effect to enhance the signature shape.
There are changes in the cabin too, where an improved layout, higher-quality materials and more advanced technology feature. The 'NissanConnect' infotainment system features a smarter user interface and also new is a D-shaped multi-function steering wheel with premium satin-chrome inserts. It features a new four-way controller for the combimeter display, for more intuitive use and less 'eyes off the road' time.
The new range-topping Tekna+ grade includes new seats trimmed in high-quality soft nappa leather and a new option for music fans is a BOSE seven-speaker premium sound system. Practicality is as good as ever, with reasonable space in the back and decent headroom thanks to a relatively low seat height in the back. Boot space is 430-litres and load space flexibility is enhanced by a dual-floor system designed to provide a flexible and versatile load space.
We think Nissan has judged this one perfectly. Time and again the company has been correct in predicting customer demand and having a product right there. That's not about to change.
It's worth noting that of all the Qashqai variants that are being offered to the UK public, only two feature all-wheel drive. This is a car that no longer purports to be anything remotely off-road at all. Instead, it's a model that plugs in to what drivers want, offering lifestyle looks, cutting-edge technology and an efficient ownership proposition. Even in these hard times, Nissan realises that a new car purchase needs to come with a dose of feel-good factor - perhaps now more than ever in fact. Given that reality, this Qashqai looks set to cash in.Click here to find out more about our Nissan Qashqai range
Skoda is getting serious about SUVs. Building on the success of its large, 7-seat Kodiaq crossover, it brings up this only slightly smaller Qashqai-sized Karoq model. It gets all the latest Volkswagen Group technology, including a hi-tech MQB chassis and cutting-edge safety and infotainment features. Everything in fact, that you'd want from a modern family-sized SUV of this kind.
Under the skin, this Skoda uses much the same MQB chassis as you'll find in the Volkswagen Group's rival SEAT Ateca and the Volkswagen T-Roc. The set-up with this Karoq is deliberately more comfort-orientated than it is in the Ateca. The various powerplants on offer are all familiar from other Volkswagen Group models. There are initially four turbo-charged direct injection engine options - two TSI petrols (with 1.0 and 1.5-litre variants) and two diesel engines (a 1.6 and a 150PS 2.0-litre unit). All the drivetrains can be ordered with a 6-speed manual gearbox or 7-speed DSG auto transmission. The 1.5 TSI petrol variant uses cylinder deactivation for an exemplary combination of performance and efficiency.
Only the top 2.0 TDI 150PS diesel variant is available with 4WD; in fact, you have to have AWD with this flagship version. This derivative is also fitted with a special 'Off Road' mode and hill descent control so that you can more easily slither down slippery slopes. In general, though, this Skoda's limited ground clearance makes testing off road forays fairly inadvisable. The Karoq is much happier being used for tarmac use and an option worth considering here is the 'DCC' 'Dynamic Chassis Control' adaptive damping system that can considerably improve the ride over poor surfaces. It works through the settings of the standard 'Driving Mode Select' system.
The Karoq is a slightly bigger car than its Yeti predecessor and much better able to square up to the market-leading Nissan Qashqai in the family-sized part of the volume Crossover SUV sector. This Skoda certainly has a much bigger boot than its Japanese rival, with 521-litres of cargo space, extendable to 1,630-litres if you fold forward VarioFlex middle bench made up of three separate seats that can, if required, be taken out completely. If you do that, a van-like capacity of up to 1,810-litres is freed up.
View the car in profile and the longer-than-average wheelbase by class standards is very evident and the side aesthetics are also characterised by short overhangs and a sloping roofline that's visually extended by a contour in the D-pillar. At the front, the headlights flanking the distinctive grille can optionally be ordered with full-LED beams. Inside, for the first time in a Skoda, a digital instrument panel is being offered. And, as usual, there are a range of 'Simply Clever' features, including an electrically-retractable tow bar. And a 'Virtual Pedal' option that allows you to open the power-operated tailgate with a wave of your foot beneath the bumper.
All the things that made the old Yeti so appealing remain with this Karoq model. It's spacious, safe, drives well, has a cool but understated image and is affordable to run. In short, what we have here is a class act in a market full of try-hard rivals and a car that strikes an appealing chord between practicality, quality and fashion.
True, some of the rivals it has to face are larger, more hi-tech or more efficient. Most of them are pricier too though and it's that very affordability that'll keep this Skoda in the frame for customers who want a more interesting and flexible alternative to yet another Qashqai clone in this class. It's a car that transcends lifestyle snobbery. A family car that doesn't shout 'family'. And a Crossover you could be genuinely pleased to own.Click here to find out more about our Skoda Karoq range