Spurred on by the success of the VW Tiguan, the mechanically similar SEAT Ateca stormed into the booming mid-size SUV market and immediately became popular thanks to a mix of sharp styling, an entertaining driving experience and a practical interior. The smaller SEAT Arona also shares these qualities, but is aiming at cars such as the Nissan Juke, Suzuki Vitara and Renault Captur instead. But if you’re choosing between the two SEATs, which should you choose – the Ateca or the Arona?
Getting behind the wheel of the Ateca isn’t too expensive – an entry-level S model costs from just £18,670. By comparison, an entry-level VW Tiguan kicks off at £23,250 and, although the VW is better equipped, the cheapest Ateca still offers alloy wheels, LED daytime running lights and tinted rear windows. However, the £20,820 Ateca SE model is much better value, because you also get an eight-inch colour touchscreen, dual-zone climate control and rear parking sensors. Sporty-looking FR models are the most expensive, but get a lot of toys thrown in as standard.
The Arona range starts at £16,555, and it’s quite a similar story in terms of the equipment you’ll get on the entry-level SE model – alloy wheels, LED daytime running lights and automatic emergency braking are standard, but for the large touchscreen infotainment and satellite navigation you’ll have to pick the SE Technology model. Through carwow, you can save an average of £3,951 and £2,186 on the Ateca and Arona respectively.
Both these cars are among the smartest and sharpest looking SUVs on sale, and make some alternatives look bland in comparison. The Ateca resembles a Leon hatchback that has been put on steroids with the front and rear looking broadly similar. From the side, it’s clear to see that the Ateca, Tiguan and Skoda Karoq are related, while squarer wheel arches, silver plastic scuff plates and roof rails make it look rugged and able to tackle a muddy track.
Squint a little bit and the Arona looks like a miniature version of the Ateca, but it sets itself apart with different lights, large windows and the option of two-tone paint. Its tall bonnet and black plastic wheel arches make it look much more upright and practical than the Ibiza on which it’s based.
You might imagine these two cars to share most interior parts, but in reality they’re pretty different inside. Both cars have an eight-inch touchscreen on almost all versions but, whereas the Ateca has physical buttons each side to access the navigation, phone and other features, the Arona offers touchscreen buttons which are harder to use while driving.
The Ateca’s cabin is almost entirely shared with the Leon, and is on a par with more expensive cars in terms of build quality. It might not look super exciting, but makes up for it with a logical layout and robust feel. Meanwhile, the Arona offers a bright and airy inside space, but cheap plastics are used more widely and it lacks the pizzazz of the exterior.
The Ateca is a larger car than the Arona and it does very well for passenger space – there’s a lot of room in the front seats and many adjustments to help the driver to get comfy, and three adults won’t have any complaints sitting side-by-side in the rear seats. Its tall body means headroom is good, and the footwells are large too. The 510-litre boot is much bigger than the Nissan Qashqai’s and is easily enough for most shopping trips or holidays. Should you need more, over 1,600 litres are available with the seats down.
Despite its smaller size, the Arona also does pretty well for passenger space. The large windows and raised roofline mean it’s airy and spacious, and there’s even enough headroom in the back for six-footers. The Arona is noticeably narrower than the Ateca – good for tight car parks and city streets – which means that three adults will be a bit squashed in the rear seats. If boot space is key, then the Arona does better than cars such as the Hyundai Kona but can’t offer quite as much as the Citroen C3 Aircross.
Engines and driving
Driving experience doesn’t tend to be top priority for family SUVs, so many are rather dull to drive. That’s not the case with the Ateca, which is one of the best-driving cars of this size. The handling is fantastic, the engines are strong and there’s less body roll than you might expect. You can pick from a variety of engine flavours – three petrols and three diesels. Out of the 1.0-litre, 1.4-litre and 2.0-litre petrols, the middle one is best for most needs. With 150hp it’s punchy enough, but it’s also got an ace up its sleeve by being able to shut off two of the engine’s four cylinders while coasting to save fuel. The diesel powerplants are great too, and are best if you do lots of miles or plan to tow trailers.
Two petrols and a 1.6-litre diesel are currently offered in the Arona. A 1.0-litre petrol with either 95hp or 115hp is worth choosing if you do a lot of urban driving, and both options are markedly less expensive than the 1.5-litre petrol, which admittedly is rather brilliant. It’s also used in cars such as the VW Golf, and can also deactivate two cylinders at a cruise. The Arona is one of the best-driving smaller SUVs, and doesn’t roll half as much in fast corners as the C3 Aircross does. As an added bonus, you can even get fancy adaptive suspension on FR and Xcellence models.
These SEAT SUVs are both zingy to drive, practical and handsome, so the one that’s best for you will depend on your lifestyle. The Arona’s smaller size means that it’s more manoeuvrable and agile, but you don’t have to compromise too much on space and practicality. However, we’d choose the larger Ateca because it’s not too much more expensive, has better-quality interior materials and you’ll never know when you might need the extra space it offers.