Cupra is quickly finding traction in Australia… well, at least the Formentor has.
While the Spanish performance brand’s bespoke crossover has has been well received by Australia, its other models haven’t quite seen the same amount of love since Cupra’s local launch in August 2022.
One of those is the car we have on test here, the 2023 Cupra Ateca VZx.
What is it? The Ateca was actually the first vehicle to wear standalone Cupra branding, rather than a trim level with SEAT badging. It first launched in Europe in 2018, and received a refresh inline with the SEAT Ateca in 2020.
The Ateca has strong links to the Skoda Karoq and the Volkswagen Tiguan – less so with the latter. Given the Skoda doesn’t get a performance option above the 140kW Sportline, the Cupra is the go-fast option for the Ateca and Karoq line-ups.
Under the bonnet of the boxy Ateca is the Volkswagen Group’s proven EA888 2.0 TSI petrol engine, which powers everything from the Polo GTI to the Golf R, as well as a number of other vehicles across the Group’s brands.
While it has tried and tested underpinnings, the new name and face haven’t cut through in the way its more coupe-styled Formentor sibling has. But with a more practical body and unique features available, does it deserve better?
Available in a single VZx specification, the Cupra Ateca is priced from $66,750 drive-away across Australia.
That’s a more than the advertised drive-away price for the smaller Volkswagen T-Roc R ($64,990 D/A), while the slightly larger and more powerful Volkswagen Tiguan R will set you back $79,470 drive-away based on a Melbourne postcode.
Meanwhile, the Audi SQ2 is priced from $68,200 before on-road costs, while the Cupra Formentor VZx is currently advertised from $68,990 drive-away. That’s just within the Volkswagen Group.
There are fairly limited like-for-like options in the performance SUV space – particularly at this price.
An equivalent Jaguar E-Pace, for example, is at least $87,000 before on-roads (221kW/400Nm 300 Sport), while the electrified 222kW/520Nm Peugeot 3008 GT Sport Plug-in Hybrid lists for $82,915 before on-roads. It’s worth noting both of these alternatives, while similar in outputs, are well off the Cupra’s acceleration pace.
2023 Cupra Ateca pricing:
- Cupra Ateca VZx: $66,750
Prices are drive-away
- Premium metallic paint: $475
- Akrapovic titanium exhaust: $5950
- Brembo brakes: $4050
- Panoramic sunroof: $1800
The Ateca’s family ties to the Karoq and Tiguan are quite evident in the cabin, which is no bad thing.
With a familiar design and layout to everything from the Karoq and Tiguan to the pre-facelift T-Roc and Mk7 Golf, the Ateca’s cockpit is clean, functional, and ergonomically sound.
The lack of touch-capacitive controls reminds you of its vintage, given even the Leon and Formentor have followed the Mk8 Golf into the new software-driven age, but the Ateca is actually quite reminiscent of my Mk7.5 Golf GTI – if with a lower level of perceived material quality.
Where its Skoda and Volkswagen contemporaries feel quite premium in their presentation, the Ateca’s matte silver trim inlays, plastic door handles, and higher ratio of hard plastics make it feel like ‘Volkswagen Lite’ dressed up, rather than a higher-end vehicle with a mainstream badge.
The Petrol Blue leather adds a much needed pop of colour, but depending on your exterior finish it might look a little out of place – it’s a shame the black leather alternative available abroad is not offered in Australia.
I’m a big fan of the bucket seats with integrated headrests, which have been rolling out across the Group’s compact performance models and sport ‘line’ variants.
They’re chunky and comfy, with good support and bolstering, and in the Ateca the driver’s seat is fully power adjustable with memory.
It’s a shame the passenger one is manually adjusted given the price tag, but this seems to be the case for most of the Ateca’s MQB-based platform mates.
All the switchgear is pretty familiar if you’ve sat in a previous-generation Volkswagen product, with solid, damped operation and clear labelling. It may not be all that flash, but it’s clean, functional and feels solidly built.
Ahead of the driver is a swish 10.25-inch Digital Cockpit virtual cluster, which as in other Cupra models goes one better than its relatives by offering almost Audi levels of personalisation and clarity, while the 9.2-inch central touchscreen is a reskinned version of the unit you’ll find in the current T-Roc and Tiguan.
I like the Audi R8-style centre tacho flanked by widgets that can be customised to show various menus and readouts, while the inclusion of embedded satellite navigation and wireless smartphone mirroring covers most bases – though DAB+ radio is a notable omission, and there’s no form of connected services.
It’s otherwise quick to load and respond to inputs, though the new 12-inch touchscreen that’s standard in the Leon and Formentor definitely has more wow factor – even if it isn’t that different in operation.
Wireless Apple CarPlay worked reasonably well during our time with the Ateca, though we experienced a couple of occasions where interruptions or interference (which is common in specific parts of Melbourne) would really mess with the unit when it tried to reconnect.
This sort of thing is fairly uncommon in the latest MIB3-equipped VW range these days, but I have experienced a similar bug in a Tiguan before, which runs effectively the same system.
Where the Ateca really wins points compared to the Leon and Formentor is in the back seat, where the tall glasshouse and higher roofline offer tangibly better outward visibility and headroom.
Two full-sized adults should have plenty of room back there, though the Ateca isn’t quite as accommodating in terms of knee and leg room as a Tiguan R – keep in mind the VW has just under 50mm more length in its wheelbase.
Amenities in the rear include directional air vents behind the centre console with a pair of USB-C charging ports, but there’s no third zone of temperature controls like you’ll find in the Formentor or the Tiguan.
There’s a storage nook underneath said charging ports for smaller items, map pockets behind the front seats, bottle holders in the doors, and a fold-down centre armrest with cupholders when no one is using the middle seat.
ISOFIX anchors for the window seats and top-tether points behind all three rear positions mean kids are catered for as well.
Behind the second row, Cupra quotes 485 litres of luggage volume, but no figure with the rear seats folded. That’s about 40L less than a Karoq Sportline 4×4, and 150L than the quote for the Tiguan – though the VW’s 615L figure is with the rear seats slid forward.
The Ateca’s boot is nice and square, and is a handy 65 litres more accommodating than the Formentor’s. When you fold the seats, there’s a noticeable hump between the boot floor and the seat backs.
Worth noting is the fact the optional Brembo brake package removes the standard car’s space saver spare wheel.
Like other VZx-badged Cupra models, the Ateca is powered by the VW Group’s EA888 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine.
The Ateca VZx scores the same tune as the Audi SQ2 and Volkswagen T-Roc R, meaning it offers 221kW (5300-6500rpm) and 400Nm (2000-5200rpm). Drive is sent to all four wheels via a seven-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic.
Cupra claims the Ateca VZx will dash from 0-100km/h in 4.9 seconds; which is 0.2s quicker than the Tiguan R.
The Ateca is homologated to the latest Euro 6 emissions regulations, and is fitted with a petrol particulate filter (PPF). The brand claims the Ateca will consume 7.8L/100km on the combined cycle, and emit 177g/km of CO2.
98 RON premium unleaded is the minimum required rating, with the fuel tank measuring 55L. If you plan to tow, the Ateca is rated to tow up to 2100kg (braked), with a max down ball weight of 90kg.
It’s familiar fast Volkswagen fare the moment you fire the Ateca up – with a little twist.
The optional Akrapovic titanium exhaust fitted to our test car adds another layer of charm to the Ateca’s soundtrack right from the get go, though it’s a little more muted than you might expect.
Likely a result of Cupra’s decision to go with European-spec emissions systems, which includes a petrol particulate filter, the Ateca’s more burbly note with the optional exhaust isn’t super present in the cabin unless you have it in Cupra mode, where between 3000 and 4000rpm it’ll let out some pretty loud pops and bangs on overrun.
It definitely sounds a little different from the outside, and will no doubt be quite similar in tone to the system fitted to the Mk7.5 Golf R Special Edition of 2019 as well as versions of the Golf R, T-Roc R and Tiguan R overseas… but I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t see the value in ticking that box.
Left in its standard Comfort setting, the Ateca drives like any MQB-based SUV, and I mean that in the nicest possible way. It’s smooth, responsive, comfortable and pretty refined, even on 19-inch wheels and low-profile 245/40 Bridgestone Turanza tyres.
The Ateca does an admirable job of ironing out the lumps and bumps of suburban and city streets, and even in its Sport and Cupra settings it’s far from uncomfortable.
Not that SEAT versions of the Ateca are on sale in Australia, but using non-performance Karoqs and Tiguans as a reference, the Ateca is only slightly firmer and allows a bit more tyre roar into the cabin thanks to the wheel and tyre package.
SEAT and Cupra models are known for being a little sharper compared to the equivalent Volkswagen or Skoda, and the Ateca is no different. There’s an extra sense of directness and weight to the steering not in its platform mates, though the upright stance and high-set driving position definitely are familiar.
The Ateca is a very liveable daily and as we’ve laid out in the interior section, there’s plenty of space for the family and their stuff to come along for the ride. Being more compact than a Tiguan as well as having a standard 360-degree camera and all-round sensors makes parking a cinch, too.
It’s a similar story on the highway, where the Ateca’s planted stance and array of driver assistance technologies make longer stints behind the wheel a doddle.
Travel Assist is easily one of the best examples of semi-autonomous driver tech currently available, with intuitive adaptive cruise and lane centring assist calibrations allowing you to trust the vehicle’s abilities, rather than being constantly primed to wrestle the steering wheel.
Blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are also handy in everyday situations, even with the Ateca’s great outward visibility courtesy of its tall glasshouse – though that D-pillar is thicc…
The Top View Camera is handy for parking scenarios and tight streets, but like the Tiguan it’s frustratingly grainy and susceptible to being distorted by rain, dirt and poor light. The viewing angle in its bird’s eye setting could also be better.
Now, the fun bits. Press the steering-mounted drive mode button to select Cupra mode, find a good stretch of road, and the Ateca shows off its best impression of a Jekyll and Hyde split personality.
Everything firms up and the car feels primed and ready to shoot in wherever you point the steering wheel, with a bassy bark from that quad-tipped Akrapovic exhaust while you do it.
It definitely feels as quick as. its 0-100km/h claim, and it does a great job of pulling hard right through the rev range, a hallmark of the EA888.
You can take more control via the plastic paddle shifters behind the steering wheel, which as you’d expect offer crisp responses from the seven-speed DSG.
Speaking of, regardless of whether you’re going full tilt or putting around the ‘burbs, the Ateca’s wet-type transmission is one of the smoothest dual-clutchers you can buy. As we’ve found with the latest round of Volkswagen Group products, the jerky traits of older DSG shifters are rarely, if ever exhibited here.
Don’t let the boxy body fool you, the Ateca is quite a capable steer. It’s not going to fall apart when you find a winding B-road.
Like the Tiguan R there’s a slight lean in corners which is down to its taller proportions, but it’s well controlled and maintains contact with the road to keep you pointed where you turn the wheel. It’s minimised further in its most aggressive Cupra setting, where the adaptive dampers keep everything quite firm.
The Formentor is quicker and sharper again, but the Ateca strikes a really nice balance whilst also having a more unique and substantial soundtrack courtesy of the optional exhaust – even if it’s a little pricey.
All told, the Ateca VZx is a pretty well-rounded performance SUV on the road.
Ateca VZx highlights:
- 19-inch Exclusive Sport alloy wheel, Black and Copper
- 18-inch temporary spare wheel
- Tyre pressure warning system
- Full LED headlights, daytime running lights
- LED tail lights incl. dynamic indicators
- LED fog lights incl. cornering lights
- Light Assist (auto high-beam)
- Driving Profile selection
- Dynamic Chassis Control
- Progressive Steering
- Hands-free power tailgate
- Rear roof spoiler
- Black roof rails
- Quad exhaust
- Rear privacy glass
- Gloss Black highlights
- Auto folding, heated mirrors incl. memory
- Welcome Light in exterior mirrors
- Mirror cases in Dark Aluminium
- Auto headlights, wipers
- Front, rear parking sensors
- Top View Camera (360 degrees)
- Petrol Blue leather sports bucket seats
- Heated front seats
- Driver’s seat power adjustment incl. memory
- Leather steering wheel incl. heating
- Paddle Shift
- Keyless entry, start
- Tri-zone climate control
- Ambient interior lighting
- Leather gearshift incl. Copper stitching
- Illuminated scuff plates
- Aluminium pedals
- Floor mats
- 10.25-inch Digital Cockpit
- 9.2-inch touchscreen navigation system
- Wireless phone charging
- Apple CarPlay, Android Auto (Wired, Wireless)
- Beats Sound System, 9 speakers + subwoofer + 340W amplifier
- 2 x front, 2 x rear USB-C ports
- Akrapovic titanium exhaust: $5950
- Brembo brakes: $4050
- Panoramic sunroof: $1800
- Magic Black
- Graphite Grey
- Nevada White
Premium Metallic: $475
- Dark Camouflage
Unlike the wider Cupra line-up, the Ateca doesn’t have an ANCAP safety rating.
The SEAT Ateca on which the performance model is based, wore a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating based on 2016 testing against older criteria, though it’s now expired.
It scored 93 per cent for adult occupant protection, 84 per cent for child occupant protection, 71 per cent for pedestrian detection, and 60 per cent for safety assist.
Standard safety equipment includes:
- 7 airbags
- Front Assist (AEB)
- Pedestrian, Cyclist detection
- Side Assist (blind-spot)
- Exit Assist
- Lane keep assist
- Travel Assist
- Adaptive cruise control
- Adaptive lane guidance
- Traffic Jam Assist
- Driver fatigue detection
- Proactive Passenger Protection (pre-crash)
- Park Assist
- Front, rear parking sensors
- Top View Camera (360 degree)
The Cupra range is covered by a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty in line with other Volkswagen Group brands. Cupra also throws in five years of roadside assist with purchase.
As for servicing, the three-year complementary service package previously included with every new Cupra is no longer offered as of March 31, 2023.
Having launched Down Under with three years of free servicing across its range, the Spanish subsidiary of the Volkswagen Group will now charge customers $990 for a three-year maintenance pack. A five-year service pack will cost you $1990 – intervals are 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first.
By comparison, the Tiguan R costs $3200 to service for the first five years if you go with its Care Plan.
In terms of real-world fuel consumption, I saw an indicated 9.0L per 100km over 550km of mixed driving conditions, including a mix of urban and freeway driving, as well as peak-hour commuting. For reference, the manufacturer’s combined claim is 7.8L/100km.
The Ateca deserves better.
While it’s not as sexy as the newer Formentor or Leon, it offers a good balance of pace, practicality, and price positioning – provided you don’t go silly with options.
It’s tangibly more practical than a Formentor while being just about as quick and cheaper to buy, while also offering the unique option of that burbly Akrapovic exhaust… even if it’s not really necessary.
Perhaps the most compelling part of the Ateca VZx’s package is that it’s very much a Tiguan R by another name for a lot less money. It’s arguably more exclusive, too.
The Ateca may not be all that flashy compared to some of its platform mates, but it’s possibly the least compromised of all its relatives – the T-Roc R and SQ2 are less practical, the Tiguan R significantly more expensive – while all offering similar levels of performance and dynamics.
Objectively the Formentor is the more athletic and sexier sibling, while its newer MQB Evo architecture affords it the latest tech and features; the Ateca’s cabin feels a little old-hat by comparison. Whether that’s a dealbreaker or not is really up to you.
My ideal spec would be Dark Camouflage paint with the Brembo brakes and Akrapovic exhaust options (exxy I know), as well as the Exclusive R-style light alloy wheels from the Launch Edition which are available as an accessory.
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MORE: Everything Cupra Ateca