IF I reel off some stand-out features on this car’s spec sheet, it’ll be sure to whet the appetite of every petrolhead. Here goes: Akrapovic exhaust made from titanium, Brembo brakes, carbon fibre wing mirrors, bucket seats, tuning from ABT, 345bhp, less than 100 models…
I could go on, but it all sounds incredibly appealing, doesn’t it? Add in a seven-speed DSG gearbox and four-wheel-drive and it translates into 60mph in under five seconds and a 160mph top speed, too. A proper bit of kit, but one that has the added ability of swallowing a few kids and their no end of accompanying equipment such as prams, toys and heaven knows what else.
I suppose it’s only normal to feel a tad apprehensive when a manufacturer’s performance arm announces it’s becoming a standalone brand, but Cupra has been a ‘thing’ for a while now and there’s this fancy new addition to its model line-up, the Ateca Limited Edition.
The jacked-up SUV was an unconventional launchpad for Cupra to kind of go it alone - albeit at arm's length from Seat - but it uses some familiar components, sourced from fast Seats, VWs and Audis including the 2.0-litre turbocharged engine found in the Golf R and S3 to name but a few so it most definitely has the punch to back up its bronze-coloured wheels.
The uninspiringly-named Limited Edition’s engine has been breathed on, though, by ABT. A brand synonymous with fast Audis, its clever engineers have offered a knowing hand in this car’s development so there’s an accompanying badge on its boot and 345bhp under your right foot as a result.
It’s intriguing to look at but it could never be described as a looker, simply because of its hiked proportions. Cupra’s badge is prominent - unfortunately - as it looks like one of those horrendous tribal-inspired tattoos found on the upper arms of most criminals. There’s Cupra lettering on the front grille, but round the back is more interesting thanks to that lovely quad-exit exhaust and the intriguing ABT badge.
Start it up and the exhaust has a purposeful growl and the semi-automatic gearbox - another familiar-but-fantastic inclusion - is exemplary in its default mode. 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.
The engine, perhaps predictably, is the star of the show. It’s been boosted from of 296bhp to 345bhp in ABT-tuned guise, which slashes the 60mph sprint by half a second, and you can easily feel the added grunt. One minor disappointment is the exhaust, strangely, as although it sometimes pops on the overrun, it just doesn’t give the noise I was expecting.
While the familiar engine is 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 though, combining accessible power with reasonable fuel economy which allows its driver to easily see 35mpg without too much effort, even with the extra power.
Its brilliant traction allows the Ateca, which you’d think would feel all at sea through corners thanks to its rather high centre of gravity, 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. On one of my favourite routes from Holmfirth to the summit of Holme Moss, it felt fast, composed and supremely tractable in the worst possible conditions.
However, there’s a catch, and it’s to do with the gearbox. DSG systems are absolutely brilliant when they’re left alone, but as I found recently in VW’s Polo GTI, in manual it’s just irritating. You push the gear lever over to manual mode, believing you’ll be left to your own devices, but that never happens. Take control of the paddles, which are a little small but still fine to use, leave it in third in its power band and bury your foot. It’ll override your demand to stay in the gear, it’ll downshift to second and you’ll be jerked forward on the brink of smashing into the rev limiter. An absolute pain, because you then have to change to third anyway. Manual mode should mean what it says on the tin - unfortunately in many DSG-equipped VAG vehicles it does not. The same happens in higher gears; it’ll think it knows best and put you in a lower gear so attempting to witness its in-gear pull in third or fourth - something which I enjoy doing - becomes a battle.
There’s another gripe: it costs £45,000. Factor in its kit and undeniably great spec and it doesn’t seem too extortionate, but it still leaves a bitter taste in one’s mouth as it’s a big chunk of cash and, as a result, it’s not going to be for everyone. The standard car in 296bhp form is also costly - hence why they’re very rare sights on the road - but it’d amaze me if all Limited Edition units sell at their RRP.
It’s a weird one, because I do genuinely like the Cupra Ateca. An enigma it might well be, but it’s very interesting and does drive well. If it was cheaper, it’d be a belter and require serious consideration, possibly even tempting dads from their hot hatches into one as their families grow.