Road Test: SEAT Arona FR 1.5 TSI
Building on the popular Ateca, the compact Arona has all the makings of a great user-chooser car, reckons Alex Grant.
SECTOR Compact SUV PRICE £21,465 FUEL 55.4mpg CO2 115g/km
Whether it’s the myriad colours, graphics, wheels, interior trims or technology packs, speccing a company car has never thrown up such a bewildering array of options. But the Arona does things differently; Seat isn’t offering any options for its smallest SUV. A brave move in a segment where style and individuality are crucial.
It’s not like there’s a shortage of alternatives. The Arona, which shares a platform with the Ibiza, is Seat’s rival to products such as the Renault Captur, Citroën C3 Aircross, and Nissan Juke. It’s an indirect replacement for the discontinued Ibiza Sports Tourer, and steps into one of the fastest growing market segments.
But don’t mistake a slimmed-down model range for a lack of choice. Seat’s approach is clever; six trim levels, each competitively specced, and with one of five engines (three petrol, two diesel) under the bonnet. Beyond that, metallic or two-tone paint is a no-cost option, and if there’s anything essential missing, you’ll need to opt up to the next trim level to get it.
Given that endless choice tends to result in a few popular specifications, it’s a sensible move. Drivers can spend less time scratching heads over which option packs to tick, and for Seat it’s a way to avoid over-complicated WLTP-based fuel economy figures caused by testing every efficiency-sapping extra. Expect other models to follow suit.
The Arona itself is a smart move too; the larger Ateca is a core component of its fleet offer and a big part of its record UK sales, and the flagship seven-seat Tarraco SUV is coming later this year. This sits at the more functional end of the segment, more Captur or 2008 than Kona or T-Roc, but with the promise of Seat agility and performance behind it. That’s a hard balance to pull off.
But it delivers. In FR guise, it gets the sportiest bodystyling in the range, and this is the only trim to get the new 148bhp 1.5-litre TSI turbo engine – in turn, the only petrol in the line-up without an equivalent diesel option. The Ibiza manages to offer near-Leon levels of comfort and refinement, and the Arona introduces little compromise into that. Switch between its driving modes, and with two cylinders shutting off when the engine isn’t working hard, it’s a 50mpg compact SUV that’ll also put a smile on your face when you take the long route home. It’s good fun, if a little firmer than the Leon.
The big change is flexibility. Its taller doors and higher driving position offer MPV-like ease of access, ideal for families with car seats, and there’s enough room for the bulkiest buggy chassis in the boot, helped by the movable load floor. Four adults will fit, owing to the near-untapered roofline at the back, and the FR gets an intuitive touchscreen navigation system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Useful gear for fleets. FR also introduces red stitching on the seats and dashboard, with accents of gloss black instead of flat silver in lower trim levels, both of which stop it feeling basic inside.
Which leaves end-users to focus on the important stuff. With equipment levels fixed, and no complicated options to wade through, all drivers need to do is pick a colourway and drivetrain to suit their life and style. A free rein to put a little more time into that all-important kerb appeal.
What We Think:
Seat is on a roll, with competitive, desirable products in all the most important segments, and the fleet infrastructure to back them up. The Arona has the right ingredients in place to take that momentum a step further.