IT’S only normal to feel a tad apprehensive when a manufacturer’s performance arm announces it is becoming a standalone brand. Those initial apprehension levels grow somewhat when Cupra, whose engineers have been responsible for transforming dour Seats into some cracking cars, say they’re launching their new sporty venture with a mid-sized SUV, the Ateca.

If that decision’s a hard one to come to terms with, it’s a bit of a weird one to look at, too, and even after a week with it I couldn’t decide whether I was a fan of its appearance or not. 

It has all the traditional go-faster addenda so there’s bigger wheels, four-pot Brembo brakes, a quad-exit exhaust and a more muscular stance, but it reminds me a big of those hateful Vauxhall Zafira and Meriva VXRs of yesteryear. Pointless? The Ateca is an unconventional launchpad but uses some familiar components, sourced from fast Seats, VWs and Audis including the 2.0-litre turbocharged engine that’s found in the Golf R and S3 to name but a few so it most definitely has the punch to back up its bold, bronze-coloured wheels.

Cupra’s badge, which looks like one of those horrendous tribal-inspired tattoos found on the arms of most criminals, proudly sits on the bonnet and tailgate, while it also adorns the steering wheel and seats in an interior which is pretty much uninspiring. It’s well-made, though, and spacious as you’d expect. Start it up and the exhaust has a purposeful growl and the semi-automatic gearbox - another familiar-but-fantastic inclusion - is exemplary in both modes. The paddles, as usual, could be longer but there’s no denying just how impressive the transmission is.

You’d expect the Cupra Ateca to be a hard-riding thing given its beefed-up wheels and stiffer suspension set-up, but it’s a compliant car and never irritates in that department. The steering too has a relatively decent amount of feel, and those Brembos match the gearbox for just how good they are with superb pedal feel and instant bite without ever feeling grabby.

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The engine, perhaps predictably, is the star of the show. Its headline figures of 296bhp and 295lb ft of torque equate to 0-60mph in 5.4 seconds and a 152mph top speed - fast enough in anyone’s book. While it’s not especially characterful, it does its best work below 5,000rpm so holding on to a gear is relatively pointless. The fact it appears in so many cars is testament to how good of a unit it is, combining accessible power with reasonable fuel economy which allows its driver to easily see 35mpg without too much effort.

Its brilliant four-wheel-drive traction allows the Ateca, which you’d think would feel all at sea through corners, to swallow up bends and pelt out with no fuss whatever the weather. While its driving position is too high, the way in which it devours anything you throw at it with ease is undeniably impressive.

It remains an enigma. It’s better than you expect and many of its components are pretty much flawless, but I struggle to see the point as its smaller, cheaper stablemates from the VW Group remain the pick. Here’s the biggie: it costs £35,900 in its basic trim level and is in no man’s land without a main rival. It shares a lot of traits with the Leon Cupras, S3s and Golf Rs of this world and although it’s easier to get into thanks to its raised height, I fail to see why anyone would choose it other the aforementioned hatchbacks.