There’s plenty of interest in family SUVs that are fun to drive, but is it worth stumping up the extra cash for a sporty trim? We pit the new Seat Ateca against the Audi Q2 and Ford Kuga to find out
*** Note : £1 = $1.32 (correct at time of post)
Audi Q2 1.4 TFSI 150 S Line
List price £27,160
Target Price £26,305
Audi’s smallest SUV isn’t cheap, but it’s smart inside and promises to be fun to drive
Ford Kuga 1.5T Ecoboost 150 FWD
List price £26,945
Target Price £24,612
Recently revised Kuga is the largest of our trio, so it should outscore its rivals for practicality
Seat Ateca 1.4 EcoTSI 150 FR
List price £24,960
Target Price £23,594
Our Small SUV of the Year is available in a sporty new trim. Does it make sense?
Big alloys? Check. Beefy body kit? Check. Figure-hugging seats? Check. Yep, an SUV may not be the best starting point for something genuinely sporty to drive, but there’s plenty of clamour for ones that look and feel suitably athletic.
And that no doubt explains Seat’s decision to launch a more aggressively styled FR version of its trendy Ateca. Already one of the most fun-to-drive SUVs on the road, the new FR is mainly about looking the part, although it does have quicker steering than other models in the line-up to make it feel even more agile. To test its mettle, we’ve lined it up against the smaller Audi Q2 and larger Ford Kuga. Both cars are also at the fun-driving end of the SUV spectrum and both are tested here in their sportiest trims. So, assuming a Porsche Macan is out of your reach, which of our trio should you go for?
Driving – Performance, ride, handling, refinement
These SUVs may look like they’ve been down the gym, but don’t expect Macan-rivalling acceleration. In fact, all three are powered by the same small turbocharged petrol engines you’ll find in the more value-focused trims in their respective line-ups.
That’s not to say performance is sluggish. The Q2, the lightest of our trio, sprinted to 60mph in a respectable 8.0sec and the Ateca was only a few tenths behind. Both cars are closely matched when it comes to in-gear acceleration, too, building speed briskly as long as you keep the revs above 1500rpm.
The Kuga matches its rivals for engine power, but it quickly loses ground to them when you put your foot down and always feels more lethargic, no matter what situation you throw at it. You’ll notice its relative shortage of muscle the most when trying to breeze past slower-moving traffic in the high gears, because it takes considerably longer to wind your way up to speed.
Being tall is bad for agility. It’s why you wouldn’t stand a chance of catching a stray cat and why SUVs don’t corner as well as conventional hatchbacks. The Q2 comes closest to doing so, though, mainly because it’s only a few centimetres taller than the Audi A3 on which it’s based. It’s the most eager to dart into corners and can ultimately carry the highest speeds through them, although the Ateca still handles remarkably well for something fairly high-sided.
In fact, the Ateca’s steering actually gives you slightly more confidence when tackling a sinewy B-road, because it builds weight more progressively and naturally. Mind you, the margins are small and the Q2’s steering is still much better than the Kuga’s, which tells you little about what the car’s front wheels are up to. And despite having stiffer suspension than other models in the Kuga line-up, the Ford still can’t disguise the fact that it’s the loftiest of our trio; it leans the most through bends and is the first to run out of grip.
Fortunately, though, that stiffer suspension hasn’t ruined the Kuga’s ride. It’s actually the most forgiving of this particular trio over low-speed ruts and potholes, and it matches the Ateca for high-speed composure. The Q2 doesn’t quite border on uncomfortable, but it bucks and bounds the most along beaten-up backstreets and never completely settles on the motorway.
Behind the wheel – Driving position, visibility, build quality
After all that drama on the outside, it’s fair to say that getting into any of our contenders is a bit of an anticlimax. They all look and feel much the same as lesser versions in their respective ranges, with few clues to remind you that you’ve stumped up extra cash for a sporty trim level.
Look hard and you will spot ‘FR’ and ‘S Line’ badges on the corresponding steering wheels of the Ateca andQ2, along with some shiny metal pedals in all three cars. And in the Ateca, you can pay £281 for brightly coloured dashboard and door trim highlights if you like your interior colour schemes a little less Fifty Shades of Grey, which is what you’ll otherwise get in all of our protagonists.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Q2 wins the day for interior quality. But it’s closer than you might have guessed, because parts of the Q2’s dashboard are made of hard rather than soft-touch plastic. You simply won’t find that in any other Audi model. The buttons, dials and switches all operate slickly, though, and the leather on the steering wheel feels suitably plush, so it still has the edge over the Ateca.
The Kuga, quite frankly, feels like a £15,000 car inside rather than one with an asking price approaching £30,000.
The Ateca and Kuga both have suitably elevated driving positions, whereas you sit noticeably nearer terra firma in the Q2. The basic driving positions are sound in all three, though, with a good range of seat and steering wheel adjustment to help you get comfy. Thanks to extra-big seat bolsters, you won’t find yourself sliding around on twisting country roads in any of our trio, although the Ateca’s seats are the most supportive and the Kuga’s least so – especially around the shoulders and under the thighs.
Whereas the other two cars have touchscreen interfaces, you control the Q2’sinfotainment system using a rotary dial between the front seats. You simply twist to scroll through the menus and press down to make a selection; it’s much less distracting than stabbing away at a touchscreen. A bright 7.0in colour screen comes as standard; the 8.3in version (pictured) is part of the £1395 Technology Pack
The Kuga was recently treated to an updated infotainment system. Don’t get too excited, because the 8.0in touchscreen is still rather low-resolution and the on-screen menus could be more logical. Sound quality from the standard six-speaker stereo is acceptable rather than outstanding, so the nine-speaker Sony system (£500) is worth considering if you love your music. As with all three cars, smartphone mirroring is standard.
Like the Kuga, the Ateca gets an 8.0in touchscreen. Fortunately, the menus are more intuitive and the screen responds more promptly when you press it. We wouldn’t bother with the optional Navigation System Plus (£935), although the punchy 10-speaker Seat sound system (£330) is worth considering. Wireless phone charging is available and costs £505, although that does also bring keyless entry.
Space and practicality – Front space, rear space, seating flexibility, boot
The Kuga is the longest and tallest of our trio, so surely it trounces its rivals for interior space? Surprisingly, it doesn’t, because the Ateca does a fine Tardis impression by being slightly more spacious in the front than the Kuga and a lot roomier in the rear. Taller adults sitting in the back will particularly appreciate the extra knee room.
Unsurprisingly, the Q2 is the most cramped inside. Four six-footers will fit, but the two in the back will probably have to put up with their knees rubbing against the seats in front. The Q2 is the worst choice if you regularly need to carry three in the back, too; the Ateca is best for that particular job, thanks to its extra elbow room.
None of our contenders is available with sliding rear seats, even as an option, although the Kuga’s can be reclined by a few degrees – handy when one of your rear passengers fancies an impromptu snooze. Meanwhile, a central rear armrest comes as standard in the Ateca and Kuga and costs £250 in the Q2.
It’s another win for the Ateca on boot space. We managed to squeeze eight of our carryon suitcases below the parcel shelf, compared with seven in the shallower load bay of the Kuga. However, the Q2’s boot is shallower still and could swallow only six suitcases.
The rear seats in all of our contenders can be folded down in a 60/40 split. The process is easiest in the Ateca, because you simply pull handles conveniently mounted inside the boot, while in the other two cars you need to release the seatbacks from the rear seat area. However, dropping the rear seats in the Q2 and Kuga leaves a virtually flat extended load bay, whereas there’s an annoying step in the Ateca unless you pay £120 for a false floor to iron this out.
Q2 is the most cramped in the back, with a lot less knee room than its rivals. It has the smallest boot, too, although it is the only one here available with 40/20/40 split-folding rear seats (for £250)
Boot 405-1050 litres Suitcases 6
Kuga may be the biggest car on the outside, but rear space isn’t as copious as you might imagine. Slide-across tonneau cover (instead of a solid parcel shelf) is a handy feature, though
Boot 456-1653 litres Suitcases 7
Ateca is easily the most practical of our protagonists, with the biggest boot and the most room for rear passengers. Handy levers on the walls of the boot allow you to easily fold down rear seats
Boot 510-1604 litres Suitcases 8
Buying and owning – Costs, equipment, reliability, safety and security
The Ateca looks something of a bargain when you compare brochure prices, undercutting the other two by around £2000. However, you’ll get a lot more money off the Kuga than its rivals by haggling; if you’re paying cash, it will cost you only £1000 more than its Spanish rival. Discounts on the Q2 are much smaller, making it the most expensive to buy outright by a big margin.
Usually, you’d expect the draw of an Audi badge to keep depreciation to a minimum, but while our experts predict the Q2 will be worth the most if you sell after three years, its loss of value in pure money terms will actually be bigger than on the others. The Ateca will lose you the least in depreciation and will be by far the cheapest to own when you factor in all the other bills you’re likely to face. The Kuga is the costliest option, largely because its fuel economy is significantly worse than that of the other two.
Rather than purchasing outright, most buyers will opt to sign up to a finance agreement. Again, the Ateca is the cheapest option here: on a three-year PCP deal, it’ll cost you nearly £50 a month less than its rivals. The Ateca is also the cheapest for company car drivers paying benefit-in-kind tax; if you’re in the 40% band, you’ll need to sacrifice an extra £26 a month of your salary for the Q2 and an extra £59 a month for the Kuga.
Despite being the most expensive of our three contenders, the Q2 is the most stingily equipped when it comes to creature comforts; you even have to pay extra for climate control and power-folding door mirrors. Mind you, the Kuga has old-school halogen headlights rather than the brighter LED units fitted to the Ateca and Q2, and it’s also extremely disappointing that Ford charges (£200) extra for automatic emergency braking.
It’s always tempting to go for a sporty trim level, but often it means paying through the nose or putting up with a punishing ride. Fortunately, that’s not the case with the Ateca FR; it isn’t that much pricier than SE Technology trim, comes with extra kit and should hold its value better.
And because Seat has resisted the urge to fit stiffer suspension, the FR is no less comfy than lesser models in the range; it’s no limo, but it won’t shake your fillings out, either.
The Q2 is even dartier through the bends and has a better infotainment system. But it’s nowhere near as practical as the Ateca, has a bumpier ride and costs a lot more to buy and run, despite being less generously equipped.
The Kuga comes last, though. It isn’t as practical as its size suggests, its interior isn’t up to scratch, real-world fuel economy is very disappointing and you have to pay extra for vital safety aids that really should be standard.
1st – Seat Ateca
- For Brilliant to drive; easily the most practical; slowest depreciation; cheapest monthly finance payments; punchy engine; well equipped
- Against Firm ride; interior could be more interesting
- Must-have options Double boot floor (£120)
Specifications: Seat Ateca 1.4 EcoTSI 150 FR
Engine size 4cyl, 1395cc, turbo, petrol
- List price £24,960
- Target Price £23,594
- Power 148bhp @ 5000-6000rpm
- Torque 184Ib ft @ 1500-3500rpm
- 0-60mph 8.4sec
- Top speed 125mph
- Gov’t fuel economy 52.3mpg
- True MPG 42.8mpg
- CO2 emissions 123g/km
2nd – Audi Q2
- For For Sharpest handling; smartest interior; best infotainment system; nippiest acceleration
- Against Firmest ride; stingy standard kit; not very practical
- Must-have options Adjustable lumbar support (£250), dual-zone climate control (£525)
Specifications: Audi Q2 1.4 TFSI 150 S Line
- Engine size 4cyl, 1395cc, turbo, petrol
- List price £27,160
- Target Price £26,305
- Power 148bhp @ 5000-6000rpm
- Torque 184Ib ft @ 1500-3500rpm
- 0-60mph 8.0sec
- Top speed 131mph
- Gov’t fuel economy 49.6mpg
- True MPG 45.3mpg
- CO2 emissions 128g/km
3rd – Ford Kuga
- For Plenty of standard equipment; big discounts; the most comfortable around town
- Against Low-rent interior; shortage of standard safety kit; so-so rear space; awful real-world fuel economy
- Must-have options Active City Stop (£200)
Specifications: Ford Kuga 1.5T Ecoboost 150 FWD
- Engine size 4cyl, 1498cc, turbo, petrol
- List price £26,945
- Target Price £24,612
- Power 148bhp @ 6000rpm
- Torque 177Ib ft @ 1600rpm
- 0-60mph 9.0sec
- Top speed 121mph
- Gov’t fuel economy 44.8mpg
- True MPG 30.4mpg
- CO2 emissions 145g/km