If Seat’s aspiration for the Cupra Ateca was simply to mimic the handling of a bona fide hot hatch at greater altitude, then the car ultimately falls short. However, when you consider just how high the bar is now set in the hot hatchback segment for body control, outright grip, handling response and adjustability, failure to live up to such exacting standards need not necessarily make this car a total disappointment.

Select wisely one of the six driving modes and the Cupra Ateca displays a fairly adaptable dynamic character. With the dampers in their more relaxed setting, the ride quality is taut but reasonably yielding and, as an everyday, every-road compromise, it’s somewhere between satisfactory and creditable. Admittedly, if you only rarely exercise this chassis on more testing routes, the insistent firmness of that ride and the immediacy of the initial steering response would both likely become tiring, but the Cupra’s ability to maintain good body control – and generate decent grip and plenty of handling directness – when commitment levels rise give it certain qualifications as a driver’s car.

Simon Davis

Simon Davis

Road tester
Ateca readily darts into corners, and patient use of the throttle helps fire it out in short order. Get greedy and understeer is inevitable.

Go looking for a more compelling kind of driver reward, though, and this chassis can’t cut it in the same manner as the best hot hatches. The raised ride height and extra weight demand a pretty authoritarian suspension tune – one unyielding to the extent that the front axle can deflect as it tries to digest the more pronounced flaws in a road surface.

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

Were it to provide a platform for more balanced handling when it comes to the crunch, you might forgive the twitchiness. As it is, no combination of steering (well weighted and swift, but anaesthetised) and throttle unlocks meaningful mid-corner adjustability.

The clever, torque-shifting driveline software that creates just enough of a rear-driven sensation in the Golf R is also absent, and hard, initially neutrally balanced cornering quickly bleeds into understeer. The result is a car found wanting for agility, poise, grip and personality just when it needs to raise its game.

During the marketing build-up before launch, Cupra hinted at the track-day mentality of its very first model. A few laps of Millbrook’s Hill Route put paid to the slogans, however. Although the Ateca remains within itself more often than not on the road, this tortuous circuit quickly reveals a stubborn chassis prone to understeer, as the tall body is tugged in the preceding direction of travel.

The car’s relatively short wheelbase and spry steering ratio make short work of the course’s tight hairpins – although, even at maximum attack, there’s precious little in the way of communication or a palpable sense of involvement.

Four-wheel-drive traction and a muscular engine make the Cupra Ateca deceptively quick, but any attempt to enliven the car’s handling will end in frustration.

Save money on your car insurance

Compare quotesCompare insurance quotes

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week