SEAT's Ateca looks a strong proposition in the family Crossover segment. It's well priced, sharply-styled and offers the sporty feel the sector seems to want. In fact, you wonder why it took the Spanish brand so long to bring us a car like this.
The Ateca delivers a line-up of petrol and diesel engines ranging in power from 115 to 190PS, with the initial range built around three petrol units and three diesels. Things kick off with a 1.0-litre TSI 115PS Ecomotive petrol variant that sits just below a 150PS 1.4-litre TSI EcoTSI option, plus there's a 2.0 TSI 190PS powerplant. Diesel models start with the 1.6-litre TDI 115PS derivative, plus there are also 150 and 190PS versions of the Volkswagen Group's familiar 2.0-litre TDI diesel. 2.0 TDI 150PS buyers get the option of DSG auto transmission and '4Drive' 4WD, but if you go for the top 190PS variant, you have to have both.
We expect the 2.0 TDI diesel engine to be the one many buyers will target and it's a strong engine that pulls willingly from low speeds, though isn't the most refined powerplant of its kind. The Ateca rides firmly - in line with SEAT's preference to make it 'sporty': that's something potential buyers will need to like. The lofty driving position will please them, as will the way that all the major controls are clustered around you. Not so good are the thick, angled C-pillars that block rear three-quarter vision. An optional park assist system and birds-eye camera help with tight spaces.
Under skin, the Ateca sits on the same MQB platform as its more conventional Leon stablemate and uses most of the same mechanicals found in Volkswagen's very similar Tiguan model. Inside, it's also very similar to the Leon - which is no bad thing. The fit and finish is of high quality, though the plastics get scratchier the farther down you go.
In the front, there's decent room for two adults on supportive seats. It's the same in the back, though it's disappointing to find that the rear seats don't slide or recline like they do in the Volkswagen Tiguan. The boot's a bit smaller than that pricier Volkswagen rival model too, though will easily swallow a couple of big cases and a pushchair. You access it via a tailgate offering the option of power operation: it's one of those you can activate by waving your foot beneath the bumper.
SEAT's first effort in this segment looks to have been worth waiting for. The Ateca isn't quite the size of a Tiguan - but then it's much more affordable. And there's a dash of spirit and character here that we think potential customers will like. In summary, if you were just about to buy a Nissan Qashqai or something similar, an Ateca is certainly worth a look.Click here to find out more about our SEAT Ateca range
Mazda's CX-5 mid-sized SUV has been thoroughly rejuvenated in second generation guise. As before, it's a good compromise between a Nissan Qashai-style family Crossover and a Toyota RAV4-style SUV, offering good driving dynamics, efficient running costs and decent practicality. This may not be the first car you consider in this sector, but try one and you might just think it to be the best.
A lot has changed about this second generation CX-5 - but not under the bonnet. So, the same range of SKYACTIV engines are carried over into this MK2 model. That means the 2.0-litre 165PS 'SKYACTIV-G' petrol unit that hardly any UK buyers choose and which can only be ordered with manual transmission and front-wheel drive. And the volume 2.2-litre 'SKYACTIV-D' diesel unit which, as before, is offered with either 150 or 175PS and can be specified with the options of AWD and auto transmission.
Like many new-era Mazda models, this one's a product of the company's 'Jinba-Ittai' 'car-and-driver-as-one' philosophy which aims to deliver more focused levels of levels of driver engagement and comfort. This time round, particular attention has been paid to reducing noise and vibration within the cabin. Plus, a 15% improvement in torsional body rigidity, along with refinements to the steering, suspension and brakes, all contribute to an improvement in the handling precision that marked out the previous model. Further helping in this regard is a freshly introduced 'GVC' 'G-Vectoring Control' torque vectoring system that transfers traction to the wheel most needing it when you're going at speed through tight corners.
And off-road prowess? Well, as with the systems employed by most of its rivals, this car has a set-up in which the torque is automatically split according to the terrain you're on, so it can direct 100% of drive to the front wheels in normal conditions, with up to 50% then directed to the rear wheels if slip is detected.
There's nothing radically different about this second generation CX-5. Instead, what we've got is a thorough evolution of the original model, the car that introduced Mazda's 'KODO' 'Soul of Motion' design philosophy. This MK2 model takes its cues from the stunning 'RX Vision' concept car the brand displayed at the 2015 Tokyo Motor Show and swaps the previous soft and curvy look for an altogether sharper and more mature design. This is exactly what many prospective buyers will want. The smarter exterior looks see this car get a sleeker profile and a lower roofline to underscore its solid stance and elegant proportions. Under the skin, a fully-revised body structure that's been created under the concept of what Mazda calls 'Refined Toughness'.
All of this is complemented by a completely re-designed interior that aims to merge meticulous cockpit ergonomics with a sophisticated, high-quality and spacious cabin environment. The interior's dominated by a 7.0-inch colour centre-dash touchscreen featuring full navigation as standard. In terms of overall quality, the finish isn't quite up there with a rival Volkswagen Tiguan but it's certainly an improvement over what you'd get in competitors like Ford's Kuga and Kia's Sportage. In the back, there's plenty of legroom, despite the provision of a decently-sized boot.
The CX-5 isn't one of those cars that jumps out at you on first acquaintance. But as with many Mazdas, its modesty hides a product packed with innovation. The result is excellent packaging, strong economy and emissions and driving dynamics that are amongst the best in this sector. Add in a high specification and competitive pricing and you've a compelling proposition, especially since recent suspension and refinement improvements.
In summary, what we've got here is yet another example of Mazda going its own way, doing things differently. Which means? Well something quite simple really. If you're looking for a car of this kind, make sure you also try this one.Click here to find out more about our Mazda CX-5 range
The latest Nissan Qashqai is sleeker, feels more expensive inside and offers some of the most sophisticated electronic safety technology in the mid-sized Crossover segment. As before, there's a choice of two diesel and two petrol engines, front or all-wheel drive and manual or Xtronic automatic transmissions. Make no mistake, this is a much-improved version of Nissan's hugely popular contender.
On the face of things, not much has changed in terms of drive dynamics, though Nissan insists that under the skin, modifications to the suspension, damping and steering systems have resulted in a more refined on-the-road experience, plus refinement's better too. As before, buyers can choose between front and four-wheel drive versions. The front-wheel drive cars get a cheaper torsion beam rear suspension set-up, while those with All-Mode 4x4 get a more sophisticated independent rear suspension. The calibration has been performed in Europe to suit European tastes. Whether you choose front or rear wheel drive, the Qashqai benefits from Active Trace Control which monitors the behaviour and trajectory of the car, and applies subtle braking to deliver a function similar to a Limited Slip Differential, providing the best traction and the least understeer. There's also a dual mode steering system which changes the weighting of the electrically-assisted rack when you select the Sport setting.
As ever, buyers get the choice of two downsized petrol engines and two turbodiesels. The petrol units comprise a 115 PS 1.2-litre DIG-T powerplant that drives through a six-speed manual box or a 1.6-litre 163PS DIG-T engine. Most customers will doubtless be drawn to the diesels and here, there's a choice between a 1.5-litre dCi co-developed with Renault, good for 110PS, and benefiting from a revision of the engine's internals to improve refinement. Or the 130PS 1.6-litre dCi unit that is offered in either two or four-wheel drive guises. This engine is also sold with the Xtronic transmission, a stepped CVT gearbox.
As part of this model's mid-term package of upgrades, it gets a smarter look featuring a completely revised front end, including the latest Nissan 'V-motion' grille. The headlamps have also been revised with a new version of the 'boomerang' Daytime Running Light signature. At the rear, the car's instantly recognisable 'boomerang' light motif is extended across the whole lamp, and now includes a contemporary 3D lens effect to enhance the signature shape.
There are changes in the cabin too, where an improved layout, higher-quality materials and more advanced technology feature. The 'NissanConnect' infotainment system features a smarter user interface and also new is a D-shaped multi-function steering wheel with premium satin-chrome inserts. It features a new four-way controller for the combimeter display, for more intuitive use and less 'eyes off the road' time.
The new range-topping Tekna+ grade includes new seats trimmed in high-quality soft nappa leather and a new option for music fans is a BOSE seven-speaker premium sound system. Practicality is as good as ever, with reasonable space in the back and decent headroom thanks to a relatively low seat height in the back. Boot space is 430-litres and load space flexibility is enhanced by a dual-floor system designed to provide a flexible and versatile load space.
We think Nissan has judged this one perfectly. Time and again the company has been correct in predicting customer demand and having a product right there. That's not about to change.
It's worth noting that of all the Qashqai variants that are being offered to the UK public, only two feature all-wheel drive. This is a car that no longer purports to be anything remotely off-road at all. Instead, it's a model that plugs in to what buyers want, offering lifestyle looks, cutting-edge technology and an efficient ownership proposition. Even in these hard times, Nissan realises that a new car purchase needs to come with a dose of feel-good factor - perhaps now more than ever in fact. Given that reality, this Qashqai looks set to cash in.Click here to find out more about our Nissan Qashqai range