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Cupra Ateca VZx 2023 review

Sitting at the top of Cupra’s local line-up, the Ateca VZx not only looks the part, but packs a punch

Good points

  • Very strong engine
  • Sporty interior
  • Impressive standard kit
  • Great ride quality

Needs work

  • Middling interior materials
  • Gets pricey with options
  • No spare wheel with Brembo brake option

In the not-too distant past, Cupra’s Australian relevance was almost non-existent with it being a performance off-shoot of the Seat brand, not sold locally since the mid-90s. But a lot has happened in the last few months surrounding the Volkswagen Group’s Spanish arm, and it is becoming more common to see a Cupra or two during a daily commute.

Since the Barcelona brand launched in Australia earlier in 2022, Cupra has released three models locally, being the Leon hot hatch, Formentor midsize SUV, and the Ateca small SUV – and orders are expected to open for the all-electric Born soon.

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Today we’re focusing on the Ateca, which sits right in the middle of the local line-up. Compared to the Formentor, the Ateca is shorter and has a smaller footprint on the road, but it is taller and more practical – with a bigger boot.

The Ateca is offered exclusively in VZx guise in Australia, with the high-spec model costing $65,990 on the road. At this price point, the Ateca VZx betters the likes of Volkswagen’s slightly larger and more powerful Tiguan R (about $76,433 driveaway), but it’s a bit pricier than the smaller T-Roc R (about $65,532 driveaway), despite sharing its 221kW 2.0-litre turbo petrol four-cylinder engine.

In terms of options, Ateca buyers have the choice of black, grey or white paint at no extra cost, but opting for a premium finish – being dark camouflage green, will set buyers back $475.

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Just one set of 19-inch alloy wheels are offered with the Ateca, but these are finished with copper accents to match the aesthetic of the car – and are a marker of being a top-end VZx trim. On the inside, the same goes for the funky blue leather that comes as standard and can’t be optioned out for, say, black or red. A panoramic sunroof is available for an extra $1800.

On the performance front, the Brembo brakes that were fitted to our test car cost around $4000, and the Akrapovich exhaust is no cheapie either – at $6000. With $10,000 in options fitted, a full-fat Ateca sits in the premium mid-$70,000 bracket – so, does it prove itself as enough of a rival to its more traditional stablemates under the far-reaching VW umbrella?

How does the Ateca VZx drive?

Under the bonnet of the Ateca VZx sits a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine that makes 221kW and 400Nm. This is sent to all four wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. In terms of performance, Cupra claims that the Ateca will hit 100km/h in just 4.9-seconds, before topping out at 250km/h.

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to hear that the Cupra Ateca VZx drives as if it’s a slightly lifted version of a Volkswagen Golf R – albeit with Cupra’s signature steering and suspension tune, which differs in a subtle way to the feel of a Volkswagen or Skoda.

Not only does the Ateca use the same long-running EA888 engine as virtually all of the VW Group’s hot models, but the wet-type dual-clutch transmission and the Haldex four-wheel drive system is also identical to the system used in the VW T-Roc R or Audi SQ2. Being a small SUV, it’s unsurprising that the 1652kg Ateca is about the same weight as those cousins, and about 150kg heavier than the lower and leaner Golf R hatch.

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This all translates to a very quick small SUV that’s very easy to drive near its limits. As with a lot of Volkswagen products on the MQB platform, oversteer is almost non-existent unless drivers are pushing these aforementioned limits to an extreme. Compare this with the new Tiguan R with its torque-splitting rear differential, and you’ve got a different SUV at the limit, on throttle. That’s not to say that the Ateca is a bad drive, as it offers a more balanced drive to the regular part-time back road blaster.

Accessible by a nifty steering wheel button, the flagship ‘Cupra’ drive mode is where drivers will find the Ateca most thrilling, with the Spanish SUV rip-snorting its way through gears.

It’s in this mode that drivers are able to make the most of the optional Akrapovic exhaust ($6000). Here, it’ll growl, pop and bang as you’d expect an aftermarket exhaust to do, but the real treat lies higher in the rev range where it lets the engine sing in a wonderfully crude fashion.

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Not a lot changes when switching the Ateca into Sport mode, except for the exhaust, which becomes quieter despite the car maintaining its agility. In both the Sport and Cupra modes, the Ateca is extremely well composed on the road, with little to no body roll.

The steering has a firmer weighting in the more serious modes, but a quick ratio means that changing direction isn’t a chore, either. As far as the steering goes, my only complaint would be down to the lack of communication when grip subsidies, but then again, this isn’t something you expect from a small SUV.

Even in its mode hardcore driving modes, the ride is firm, but not to an uncomfortable degree. Things get a little softer at the other end of the spectrum in regular and comfort, but there’s still no doubt about the performance underpinnings.

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As the name suggests, the comfort drive mode chills everything out in the Ateca, but not to an overly noticeable degree. The suspension, which is adaptively damped as standard, loses its edge and isn’t as harsh, but still doesn’t allow for much roll.

The same goes for the steering, which loses its firmness, but keeps things quick with its tight ratio. Along the same lines, the Akrapovich exhaust loses its shouty nature at low revs, but will still sing when pushed through the rev range.

On the safety front, the Ateca comes standard with all the modern technology that you’d want. This includes adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, and blind-spot monitoring just to name a few.

Considering that this is exactly the same system that’s used across the entire VW Group range, it’s a breeze to use. My only slight annoyance came from the overly alert lane-keep assist system that would bump the steering wheel when I was pushing through some back roads, but this is something that’s easy enough to turn off.

Drivability scorecard

    Power & performance 9.0

    Ride & refinement 8.0

    Handling 8.0

    Safety 9.0

How is the Ateca VZx’s interior?

The interior of the Ateca follows a very similar theme to the exterior, in the fact that it borrows extensively from Volkswagen’s parts bin. Still, that’s only likely to come to mind if you’re already a Volkswagen owner and you were hoping for an interior with Spanish flair. The Ateca doesn’t bring that, but it does have a handsome and functional cabin.

In terms of the fit and finish, the quality is up there with solid Volkswagen interiors, but despite the relatively premium pricing of the Ateca, it doesn’t take long to find some harder and less refined plastics. All the high-contact areas such as the arm rests and door cards are soft-touch, but the centre console and shifter surround are cheaper and shinier.

The multifunction steering wheel is also worth a mention. Because the Ateca is the oldest product in the Cupra lineup from a lifecycle perspective – having been introduced in Europe as a Seat model in 2016 – the car still has satisfying tactile buttons where its Leon and Formentor stablemates have haptic touch-sensitive controls.

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Not only are the Ateca’s traditional buttons and knobs easier to use, but the positioning of the start/stop and Cupra mode buttons give it a very high-performance feel. My only complaint here is in relation to the fake carbon finish on the airbag cover, but I get the point that it’s trying to prove.

In terms of cabin technology, drivers get a 9.2-inch digital cluster and a 12.3-inch infotainment screen. The standard operating system is one of the best on the market to use, and comes with satellite navigation as standard. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is also included to round out the package. Cupra has done away completely with USB A ports in the Ateca, so upgrading to USB C cables is a must.

As standard, the Ateca comes with a Beats sound system, which includes nine speakers, a subwoofer, and a 340-watt amplifier. There’s no denying that it sounds better than a standard system, but I’d argue it’s nowhere near something like a Bowers and Wilkins system in a Volvo.

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Petrol blue-dyed leather is the only option when it comes to the upholstery in the Ateca, which looks awesome, but might not be to everyone’s taste. The front seats are carried over from the Volkswagen Tiguan R Grid edition in Australia, but look a bit classier in Cupra form.

Space is plentiful across the front row, but things get a bit tighter back in the second row. Here, legroom is adequate, but opting for the sunroof will make things a little tight for taller passengers. There’s also a large transmission tunnel to take into account, that severely impedes legroom in the centre seat.

A power tailgate comes as standard on the Ateca and 485-litres of space is available with the rear seats in place. As standard, the Ateca comes with an 18-inch space saver below the boot, but opting for the Brembo performance brake package means that this is swapped out for a tyre recovery kit.

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Interior scorecard

    Layout & materials 7.0

    Cabin technology 9.0

    Driver comfort 8.0

    Passenger space 7.0

What are the Ateca VZx’s running costs?

On the fuel economy front, Cupra claims a combined figure of 7.7L/100km. During testing, 7.8L/100km was the best figure that we got. This was achieved through a combination of motorway driving and slow-traffic urban commuting.

As you’d expect, this figure spiked as soon as the Ateca hit a back road, and all 400Nm offered by the 2.0-litre engine was tapped into. In saying this, the worst we saw was an average figure of 10.8L/100km, but then again, this settled back down to 9.2L/100km during the motorway drive back to the office.

The Ateca requires 98-octane premium petrol. At a price of $2 per litre, driving 15,000km per year at 9.2L/100km in the Ateca would set you back about $2760.

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On the servicing front, Cupra bundles three years or 45,000km of scheduled maintenance free with the price of the car. An extra two years – taking the package out to five years/75,000km, costs a further $1200.

Even with the cost of the extra two years added, this plan is still significantly cheaper than the equivalent plan for the Tiguan R, which costs $3,600 over the same period. Meanwhile, a Hyundai Kona N costs $1675 to service over five years/50,000km – that vehicle has shorter maintenance intervals.

A five-year, unlimited mileage warranty is offered across the entire Cupra range in Australia.

Running costs scorecard

    Consumption Good

    Servicing Great

    Warranty Good

The final verdict

As a whole, it’s hard to seriously fault the Cupra Ateca VZx, as it’s so competent in what it does. Out of the box, performance is extremely impressive, and it’s a car that almost anyone will be able to drive near its limit without issue. Its dynamics are predictable, safe and rapid.

In terms of options, I’d probably forgo the $4,000 Brembo performance brake package unless track days are high on your agenda – and if they are, the Leon hot hatch may be a more satisfying choice anyway.

Brake fade isn’t something that I have experienced on standard VW Group brakes while driving on the road, but I can imagine that it’s a different story when lapping a track.

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The $6000 Akrapovic exhaust is a no-brainer in my eyes as it enhances the driving experience in the best possible way. It sounds great.

Though I was slightly let down by some parts of the interior’s fit and finish due to cheaper plastics around the centre console, this doesn’t take away from the performance theme. Quirky blue leather, great cabin technology, and a funky multifunction steering wheel more than makes up for this in my eyes.

If you split hairs, the slightly older-gen Ateca is shaded by its Formentor sibling – and Volkswagen’s Tiguan R – on the road. However, there isn’t a lot in it. Those looking for a quirky alternative to tradition will likely gravitate towards the Cupra, and will be rewarded with a family-friendly high-performance SUV that’s hard not to love.

Overall rating

    Overall rating 8.0

    Drivability 8.5

    Interior 7.5

    Running costs Good

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