CUPRA becomes overall winner for the Sports SUV of the Year 2019.

The CUPRA Ateca needed to be special. And, sure enough, it is.

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AS THE FIRST model from Seat’s freshly spun off performance brand, the CUPRA Ateca needed to be special. And, sure enough, it has what marketing folk call a ‘unique selling point’, because no other sports SUV offers anywhere near as much pace for less than £40,000.

The reason it’s so fast, reaching 62mph from rest in just 5.2sec, is a 296bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine, which it shares with Volkswagen’s Golf R flagship hot hatch. Indeed, the CUPRA Ateca will out-accelerate anything from the Honda Civic Type R to the Porsche Macan, which costs £10,000 more.

Don’t think CUPRA has created a car that’s quick only in a straight line, either. Even in standard, Seat form, the Ateca is one of the best-handling family SUVs, so with its lower and stiffer suspension, the CUPRA car’s body is propped up excellently through fast corners.

Accurate and well-weighted steering adds to the fun. And yet when the suspension is in the softer of its two settings, the ride doesn’t feel any firmer than the SEAT Ateca’s. The only thing that really disappoints is the exhaust note, but then again only compared with bigger-engined SUVs that cost a lot more.

So, CUPRA has managed to produce a car that’s just as much fun to drive as our other price point winners – the BMW X3 M40i and Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio – despite undercutting them by more than £16,000 and £33,000. And that’s why it wins.

If you have even a basic grasp of physics, you’ll know not to expect what’s still a tall-riding SUV to rival the best low-slung hot hatchbacks for cornering skill. Compared with, say, a Civic Type R, there’s more of a delay between turning the steering wheel and the nose of the car reacting, and when it does, there’s more body lean and ultimately less grip.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun, because the CUPRA Ateca actually corners very well by SUV standards. The standard Seat Ateca is already one of the best-handling family SUVs, and lower, stiffer suspension controls the CUPRA’s body even more effectively through fast corners. And while the steering isn’t blessed with as much feedback as the Macan’s, it’s always accurate and, as long as you avoid the most aggressive ‘CUPRA’ setting, pleasantly weighted.

Choose the more comfortable of two damper settings and the CUPRA’s suspension is surprisingly supple by sports SUV standards; you never find yourself cursing expansion joints or avoiding roads you know to be littered with potholes. In fact, the CUPRA doesn’t feel noticeably firmer than a big-wheel regular Seat Ateca. That is, unless you choose CUPRA mode, at which point thing do become rather bumpy.

There’s some road noise when you get up to motorway speeds, but no more than in the more sedate Seat Ateca. Meanwhile, the engine’s muted nature means you barely hear a peep from it at a steady cruise.

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