Seat has traditionally been the slightly confused brand in the Volkswagen Group – not quite having the selection of cars to live up to its funky, youthful marketing campaign, nor being cheap enough to tempt buyers away from the historically affordable Skoda badge.
But it has been enjoying a purple patch of late, overhauling its popular Ibiza, introducing the brilliant Ateca mid-sized SUV and generally focusing on cars that appeal to the younger buyers.
Fresh off the back of the Ateca comes the smaller Arona – a vehicle that will do battle in a congested market that includes the new Hyundai Kona, Citroen C3 Aircross, Kia Stonic and Peugeot 2008, as well as long-in-the-tooth stalwarts in the shape of the Nissan Juke and Mini Countryman.
Size doesn’t matter
The first thing to notice about the Seat Arona is its diminutive stature. Standing at just 1780mm wide and 4138mm long, it’s not much larger than the seemingly smaller Seat Ibiza – but higher ground clearance and slightly chunkier bodywork gives it the impression of a much larger car.
A boxier body shape also means interior packaging is more generous than its sportier cousin, with enough space inside for five adults to sit comfortably.
The boot that swallows 400-litres of stuff. Better still, there’s a clever moveable boot floor that means the space can be used more intelligently.
On the road, the car feels compact enough to thread through busy city streets and good visibility out of the front makes parking pretty simple. The view out of the back could be improved, but there’s a thorough suite of parking sensors available on more expensive models, should you require a bit of extra assistance.
One of the best things about Arona is its relatively measly mass – at around 1200kg, it feels lithe and agile, ensuring the range of small capacity engines don’t have to work too hard to propel the weight along the road.
Design and technology
Despite the original design concepts and sketches promising enormous alloy wheels, rakish rooflines and chunky under-body cladding, the finished Arona is decidedly more reserved.
In all honesty, it’s actually a bit bland from some angles and certain, more basic models can look pretty vanilla – especially when decked out in white with the smaller wheels and black plastic bumpers.
That said, the interior is as robust and smart as we’ve all come to expect from a VW Group product and the technology offered is clever, responsive and easy to use.
Basic SE trim levels come fitted with a 5-inch colour touchscreen, USB port, Aux-in, FM/AM radio and a simple four-speaker system.
But a step up to SE Technology trim opens the doors to a sleek 8-inch touchscreen, navigation and Seat’s impressive Full Link, which bundles MirrorLink, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto into one system. In short, there’s not a smartphone in the world that can’t be tethered in some way.
Customers specifying the fully loaded Xcellence First Edition trim models receive a Beats Audio system with 300W subwoofer in the boot, while the slightly less lavish Xcellence and Xcellence Lux trim get a full suite of active safety systems, including adaptive cruise control, blind spot detection and keyless entry.
All of the aforementioned technology is extremely approachable, with most accessed via the crisp and responsive touchscreen system. Granted, it may not be as fancy as Volvo’s SensusConnect offering but it certainly does the job.
An impressive ride
Although there is nothing new or drastically different to other setups found in the VW Group, the chassis and suspension system on the new Arona seems to click on British roads. The ride is pliant and forgiving over really rutted stuff, but manages to avoid the awful body roll experienced by other high-riding crossovers of this ilk.
Seat has chosen to make the shopping experience as simple as possible for customers, so rather than bamboozle them with a long list of optional extras, punters simply chose a trim, exterior colour and engine.
As a result, the powerplant line-up is very easy to navigate, with the choice of a 1.0-litre petrol engine with a 95hp or 115hp output, a 1.5-litre 150hp Evo petrol found in the FR Sport versions, or a 1.6-litre diesel that’s offered with the same two power outputs as its smaller petrol counterpart.
It’s surprising just how adept the little petrol engine is at coaxing the Arona up to speed, although it can get a bit noisy an buzzy when pushed to the upper limits of its rev range.
There is also a fair amount of gear juggling to do in order to keep it in the correct powerband, but it’s highly unlikely many owners will drive it in this manner, which is a shame because it’s actually quite good little SUV when pushed.
The 1.5-litre Evo engine is obviously a more natural fit for anyone wanting a performance punch, while the diesel offerings return an impressive claimed 70mpg on the combined cycle.
But in reality, this is a vehicle that will feel more at home in the city and, in that respect, the petrol engines seem to be the way forward, proving quiet and refined enough on longer motorway drives, yet nice and nippy about town.
The Seat Arona manages to grab attention in a fiercely contested marketplace thanks to its enticing mix of interior space, refined ride and generous technology offered on even the more basic models.
Arguably not as striking as the new Hyundai Kona and Citroen C3 Aircross, Seat’s baby SUV rides better than both of the aforementioned models and proves more fun when the roads get interesting.
It’s also mores spacious and cheaper than a Mini Countryman, while its interior feels more premium than those found in the Renault Captur.
On top of this, Seat’s overtly simplified buying process – which is similar to Kia’s method with the Stonic – not only ensures residual values remain buoyant by bundling lots of kit in as standard, it also makes approaching your local dealer a much less daunting prospect.
With plenty of research suggesting that younger car buyers aren’t the least bit interested in automobiles these days, that’s probably a very smart move.
Alternatives to consider
If its style and colour that you want, the Kona delivers it aplenty. Overall, while it’s no sports car to handle, the Kona acquits itself well for a crossover, while extending into the more capable SUV space thanks to all-wheel-drive (Premium GT only) to extend its appeal to a wider audience.
Built on the same platform as the Kona (above), the Kia offers a lot of tech for less money overall, thanks to a simple two-tier buying system (‘2’ or ‘First Edition’ and that’s your lot). The Kona may be better looking and the Arona the better to drive, but as a balanced proposition of price, features and drive the Kia is hard to beat if you’ve got your sensible hat on.