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Seat is on a roll but can the Arona, its new junior SUV, cut it in such an ultra-competitive class?

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You may or may not be the sort of driver who is suggestible to the idea of trading in a hatchback for a compact crossover like the Seat Arona – but even if you’re not, you can hardly blame a car maker for selling one at the moment.

By Seat’s estimation, the global market for supermini-based pseudo-SUVs is four times as large today as it was even as recently as 2015 – and it’s expected to continue to grow just as quickly for years to come.

The Arona’s profile view is dominated by a sharply rising shoulder line that adds plenty of ‘wedge’ aesthetic and drama with it

For those reasons alone, any car manufacturer whose business depends even vaguely on volume and market share would need a very good reason not to introduce a car such as the subject of this road test: the Arona.

And that’s why so many have. In a segment where the likes of Renault, Nissan, Peugeot, Mazda, Ford and others are already represented, we’ve seen the likes of the Citroën C3 Aircross, MG ZS, Vauxhall Crossland X (2017-2020), Kia Stonic and Hyundai Kona all join the party in recent years. Blink and you’ll have missed at least one of them.

At times like these, one full Autocar road test a week doesn’t seem like nearly enough to stand the pace. But although we could easily devote a segment to another new jacked-up supermini every seven days for the rest of the year and still have a few left over, you can rest assured that we’re not going to.

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The Arona impressed us more than most of its new and established rivals when we first drove it and, between the Seat Ibiza, Seat Ateca and Seat Leon, its maker is also on a bit of a roll at present.

And so, while one or two of its newbie competitors may still get a road-test workout before they’re a very common sight on UK roads, we’re paying the Martorell-based marque the compliment its run of form merits and turning to the Seat first.

So has this blossoming Spanish industry player got another class-leading crossover on its hands? This road test will answer that question and more besides.

Seat Arona FAQs

Is the Seat Arona available as a plug-in hybrid or electric?

Despite a very recent facelift, the Seat Arona doesn't get any form of electrified engine option. In fact, the Spanish SUV is limited to just two engine choices, both TSI petrols - a 1.0-litre three-cylinder with either 84bhp or 108bhp, plus a 148bhp 1.5-litre. The larger unit does get cylinder deactivation that helps save fuel, but that’s about it for advanced engine tech. There’s not even mild hybrid assistance, like you’ll find on the similarly sized Ford Puma.

What are the main rivals for the Seat Arona?

Few sectors of the new car market are as fiercely fought as the small crossover class. Combining chunky off-roader looks and decent practicality with compact dimensions and supermini running costs, cars like the Seat Arona are hugely popular. The closely related Volkswagen Volkswagen T-Cross adds premium appeal, while the Ford Puma is more fun to drive. For style the Peugeot 2008 is hard to beat, plus it’s available in all-electric Peugeot e-2008 form, as is the Vauxhall Mokka.

How much power does the Seat Arona have?

You don’t expect high performance from a compact crossover, but the Seat Arona’s engines are surprisingly responsive. The entry-level 1.0-litre TSI delivers 94bhp, which is enough for a respectable 0-62mph time of 11.5 seconds. A more powerful 108bhp version of the same unit drops the benchmark time to a sprightly 10.6 second. The most muscular version of the Seat Arona is the 148bhp 1.5 TSI, which can sprint from 0-62mph in a warm hatchback-rivalling 8.2 seconds.

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What choice of gearbox are there for a Seat Arona?

The entry-level engine on the Seat Arona is a 94bhp 1.0-litre petrol, which is available exclusively with a five-speed manual, while the more powerful 108bhp variant gets a six-speed unit. Both have light and precise actions and are mated to a progressive clutch, making gear changing smooth and effortless. A seven-speed twin-clutch DSG automatic is standard on the 1.5-litre TSI and an option on the 108bhp 1.0-litre. It delivers seamless shifts and can be operated manually using steering wheel paddles on FR models and above.

Where is the Seat Arona built?

Like most of the Seat line-up, the Arona is built at the brand’s headquarters at Martorell in Spain. Part of a huge site that includes the design and technical centres, as well as the Cupra motorsport department, the factory is capable of producing around 500,000 vehicles every year. Constructed alongside the Arona are the Ibiza and Leon, plus the Cupra Formentor and the Audi A1.

How many generations of the Seat Arona have there been?

Introduced in 2017, the Seat Arona was the brand’s first ever small SUV, following in the wheel successful tracks of the larger Ateca, which is aimed at rivals such as the Nissan Qashqai. The Arona is still in its first generation and there currently no plans to replace it imminently. In fact, it was only facelifted in late 2021, revised subtly revised looks and the addition of enhanced technology, including improved infotainment and digital instrument cluster.

Seat arona

DESIGN & STYLING

Seat Arona rear

Just as the Seat Ateca did, the Seat Arona borrows sparingly from SUV design archetype.

This is a smart, svelte and sporty-looking car that does without the bluff grille and squared-off wheel arches that you’ll find on certain rivals, and it succeeds very well in a visual sense – both as a crossover hatchback and as a contemporary Seat.

No car in this class is much fun to drive, although the Arona is satisfying to thread along a road and only the Kia Stonic can match it for agility

Unlike some of its opponents, the Volkswagen Group’s Spanish outpost is developing a line-up of appealing cars that hangs together as one, rather than as mutually discrete lines of SUVs and conventional cars – and that’s to be applauded.

The Arona may not have the visual charisma of the likes of the new Citroen C3 Aircross or the enduringly quirkiness of the Nissan Juke, but it’s undoubtedly a neat, pretty-looking effort.

It’s also one whose appearance can be tailored to personal preference, with its roof available in a choice of three body-contrasting colours if you want them, and in a total of 68 possible body colours among them in shades such as Eclipse Orange and Mystery Blue, which should distinguish the car very well on the road.

The Arona is the VW Group’s first crossover to be built on its new supermini model platform – the not so catchily named MQB-A0 architecture. It’s typical of the breed for its transverse front-engined, front-wheel-drive mechanical orientation and its torsion beam-style rear suspension.

We clearly needn’t criticise it for any lack of capability in a class where buyers very rarely choose four-wheel drive anyway and would much rather buy a car with at least some of the presence, convenience and space of an SUV combined with the performance, economy and road manners of a normal car.

And so the Arona is 79mm longer than a Seat Ibiza but also 99mm taller. It offers a driving position that’s 52mm higher than the regular supermini’s, as well as 37mm more front-row head room and a boot that, at 400 litres, is about 15 percent larger.

For those with at least a passing interest in capability, the Arona has 15mm more ground clearance than an Ibiza – or up to 190mm of it, depending on wheel specification.

Buyers can choose from three petrol and two diesel engines, which open for business at 94bhp and range upwards to include the Volkswagen Group’s new 148bhp 1.5-litre TSI EVO motor.

Trim levels start at SE and culminate in Xcellence Lux, but if you want the most sophisticated mechanical specification on your Arona, you should note that only FR Sport cars come with Seat’s Dynamic Chassis Control adaptive dampers. For now, at least, there is no extra-rugged off-road-style version.

For this examination, we elected to keep things simple and test the Arona in affordable form, with Seat’s 94bhp 1.0 TSI three-cylinder petrol engine and in SE Technology trim.

INTERIOR

Seat Arona interior

The Seat Arona – dainty of footprint, despite its SUV pretensions – surprises in the same way that the Volkswagen Volkswagen Up does, which is to say that it’s much more capacious than you’re expecting.

Even with a 6ft 1in road tester in the driver’s seat, there is comfortably enough space for a similarly tall person to sit behind, and head room extends seemingly endlessly, although you’d need the body of a contortionist to squeeze into the middle berth in the rear with adults sat either side of it.

It might take you a moment or two to fire up the Arona: it’s a push-button start button is sat oddly on the passenger side of the transmission tunnel

Boot space, meanwhile, is certainly impressive and there’s a height-adjustable floor to ease the ingress of awkward loads.

Once you’re behind the wheel, you’ll be genuinely surprised by very little. The driving position is comfortable, if a little upright and lacking a touch in steering-wheel adjustability, and you enjoy excellent visibility through the Arona’s unusually upright windscreen.

The chiselled dashboard and smart Germanic switchgear are lifted from the Seat Ibiza and make for an attractive if somewhat uninspiring environment that’s at odds with those of French rivals such as the Citroen C3 Aircross.

The entry-level SE Arona gets a 5.0in touchscreen, although upgrading to SE Technology trim — as tested here — introduces a rather elegant 8.0in alternative (with factory navigation) that gives the cabin a lift, but it's still a business-like and functional, if unerringly neat, interior.

The upgraded system is called Media System Plus and gives you DAB radio with Full Link capability (MirrorLink, Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto), voice control functionality, two USB inputs and both 3.5mm minijack aux-in and SD card inputs. It’s ostensibly the same system as in top-of-the-range models but for the omission of a reversing camera.

The resolution is as crisp as you’d ever want and latency has been chased out almost entirely, with the screen responding to inputs without any hesitation.  The display avoids looking cluttered by displaying secondary menu options only when it senses your hand approaching. 

The SE Technology trim also has a wireless phone-charging pad – indispensable once you’re accustomed to using it.

Some physical switchgear remains, which we like because it allows the driver to make adjustments to volume or zoom in on the navigation quickly and safely while on the move. 

Stepping up to SE Technology Lux swaps the speakers for a Beats-branded system, adds keyless entry and ignition, adaptive cruise control and Seat's Winter pack.

The FR trim includes 17in alloys, chrome exterior trim, electrically adjustable and heated door mirrors colour-matched to the roof, tinted rear windows and twin exhaust pipes to the exterior, along with FR sports seats, ambient lighting, a flat-bottomed steering wheel and Seat's Climatronic climate control system.

Xcellence trim loses the FR's customisable drive modes, but adds blind spot detection and rear cross traffic alerts. Top-spec Xcellence Lux Aronas gets those drive modes back, and gains a rear view camera and semi-automated park assist. 

It’s possible to have an extremely well-equipped Arona although, given that it would be north of £20,000, you’d have to be committed to this size of car rather than opting for a larger model.

Fixings don’t exactly mimic the solidity of oak, as they do in more senior Volkswagen Group cars, but build quality is certainly a notch above the likes of the Kia Kia Stonic and the Renault Captur and gives no cause for complaint.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Seat Arona on the road

Volkswagen’s direct-injection 1.0-litre TSI petrol engine doesn’t lend the Seat Arona what you might typically describe as ‘performance’, but it spins smoothly and its three cylinders provide enough muscle for it to be considered fit for purpose.

In fact, it’s a pleasant-sounding and nicely buoyant powerplant – a hallmark of tri-cylinder engines – so long as you never ask too much of it.

Up steep hills, the TSI engine feels particularly asthmatic, and that’s with just the driver on board

Thankfully, peak torque of 129lb ft arrives satisfactorily low, at 2000rpm, allowing you to short-shift up through the gears without needing to stray too far towards the 6000rpm redline, where the engine’s timbre becomes noticeably coarse.

The action of the five-speed manual transmission, meanwhile, is neat enough, its lightweight throw feeling neither overly long nor short but never really encouraging the driver to engage with it beyond keeping the engine on the boil.

The big question, of course, is whether you’d be better off with a more powerful variant than the base 1.0-litre Arona.

Our 94bhp test car recorded a 0-60mph time of 10.5sec, which aligns with an official 0-62mph of 11.2sec, and demonstrated respectable flexibility with a 30-70mph time of 10.7sec.

The car is no slouch, then, but some owners may justifiably want for more urgent acceleration.

The more potent, 113bhp 1.0-litre TSI Arona claims 10.0sec to 62mph and also gets a sixth ratio for its manual transmission, or even a seventh if you go for the dual-clutch DSG alternative. Either would be useful if you plan on undertaking longer journeys, although you’ll have to opt for the more expensive FR trim to even get the choice.

If you can wait, a 1.5-litre petrol engine with 148bhp is also due early next year and should have a transformative effect on a car that weighed just 1145kg when put on our scales.

Aided by that low kerb weight, the Arona stops well, although its over-servoed brakes do grab unexpectedly hard midway through the pedal travel.

Wind noise can also become problematic at motorway speeds, particularly around the base of the A-pillar.

RIDE & HANDLING

Seat Arona cornering

It’s unlikely most owners will peddle the Seat Arona with real enthusiasm on a frequent basis, but the car nevertheless does a lot of things right in the handling department.

Its spring and damper rates are remarkably well judged for UK tarmac, and at typical A-road and B-road speeds, the ride is effortlessly composed and refined for such a small car.

Arona takes the tight hairpins with impressively little body roll and without succumbing to understeer too early

Moreover, even on the standard suspension, body roll is contained in a way that most similarly elevated rivals can’t match, and the steering – pleasingly precise, but over-assisted – weights up well for a car in this class during more committed cornering, even if it remains low on feel most of the time.

However, those hoping for a more practical alternative to the Ford Fiesta and the lithe, fun-loving chassis dynamics such a thing would possess are going to be a touch disappointed.

The Arona may float along a road with impressive nonchalance, corner with admirable accuracy and composure, and change direction well enough, but it does so a little joylessly, which is at odds with other cars in the Seat line-up.

It means that progress is about taking an almost more mathematical approach to conserving momentum, with more of an emphasis on competence than enjoyment.

Of course, that won’t matter to most buyers, who will be satisfied – and very rightly so – with the Arona’s ability to isolate its occupants from the road in the manner of a larger car while remaining as easy to place and manoeuvre as the supermini that it is.

And, truth be told, the Arona does give the driver a lot more feedback than rivals such as the Renault Captur and Citroen C3 Aircross, which feature numbingly light steering optimised for Parisian rat-runs. At the moment, it’s the standout chassis in this class.

This particular model sitting on a passive suspension set-up – coped reasonably well on Millbrook’s tortuous hill route, chiefly because of its accurate steering and body control, which is commendable given the car’s heightened centre of gravity.

With only adequate performance, it rarely feels as though the powertrain is getting the better of the chassis, and the front axle resists understeer well, clinging on gamely under all but the most ruthless provocation.

However, the Arona TSI is not imbued with the sharp, enjoyable dynamics that we know Seat is capable of gifting a car.

It’s competent but dull and, at its limits, the chassis feels awkward rather than entertaining. Like the Seat Ibiza hatchback with which it shares a platform, the steering, for all its accuracy, is over-assisted and inert. 

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Seat Arona

All Seat Arona models are well equipped – even the base SE car gets 17in alloy wheels and automatic headlights – so although the £16,555 entry point to the range is higher than for some rivals, it’s not money wasted.

On merit, the Arona is worth the premium in any case and it is also forecast to depreciate more gradually than its peers, so bear that in mind when weighing up which option to go for.

The Arona is expected to hold its value better than the new C3 Aircross and makes greater financial sense than the Juke

It’s also worth considering carefully which engine you want. Despite its modest output of 94bhp, the three-cylinder 1.0-litre TSI tested here is potent enough for the Arona in most scenarios and suits its character particularly well for urban driving.

However, during testing, it managed a touring economy of just 40.9mpg, which would duly fall with the additional passengers and luggage the car so impressively caters for. The 1.6-litre TDI diesel model, which will be available only in FR trim and above, will almost certainly be the better choice if your driving habits include an abundance of motorway miles.

Given the 1.0 TSI’s coarse timbre at higher engine speeds, you’d likely not sacrifice too much in the way of refinement, either, and then there’s the oil-burner’s effortless slug of torque to consider. 

VERDICT

4 star Seat Arona

A small footprint, a subtly elevated driving position, deceptive practicality and a sense of style – that’s the supermini-SUV recipe and it’s a concept sure to boost the bottom line of the many manufacturers who have chosen to compete in this popular segment.

None more so than Seat, on the evidence of this road test.

Polished, mature all-rounder goes straight to the top of the class

Dynamically, the Seat Arona may not be the most rewarding car that you’ll ever drive, but such matters are unlikely to concern most buyers.

They will take greater satisfaction from the tangible quality of its interior construction and its ability to ride with the composure of a larger, more expensive car, not to mention the intuitiveness of its impressive array of technology and the car’s all-round ease of use.

That Seat’s hard-edged design language – now a common sight on UK roads – translates so fluently onto this car’s unusual proportions completes a package that goes straight to the top of an ever-growing class. No rival balances practicality and panache quite like it.

What Car? New Car Buying

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Seat Arona First drives