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Cupra Ateca engines, drive and performance

2018 onwards (change model)
Performance rating: 4.1 out of 54.1

Written by CJ Hubbard Published: 10 October 2023 Updated: 12 October 2023

  • TSI turbo petrol engine line-up
  • Up to 300hp, all-wheel drive
  • Fast, but not that exciting

Petrol engines

The Cupra Ateca was launched with the single option of a 2.0-litre TSI turbocharged petrol engine producing 300hp and 400Nm of torque (pulling power). Channelling the power via a seven-speed DSG automatic transmission to all four wheels, this is capable of a claimed 0-62mph acceleration time of 4.9 seconds and a top speed of 152mph. In terms of five-seater family SUVs, this is a pretty quick one.

In 2023, however, Cupra added more affordable 150hp 1.5-litre and 190hp 2.0-litre models as well – both also petrol-powered and turbocharged. These too come with the seven-speed DSG transmission, and the 190hp model gets the same 4Drive all-wheel drive system as the 300hp version. The 150hp Cupra Ateca is front-wheel drive only.

Performance from the newer engines is naturally reduced, with the 1.5 taking 9.3 seconds to go 0-62mph and reaching 124mph flat out. The 2.0-litre is quicker, taking 7.2 seconds and hitting 132mph. But the star of the show here is undoubtedly the 300hp variant.

The engine, gearbox and all-wheel drive work very well together, providing plenty of poke and good traction, allowing the fastest Ateca to cover ground at an impressive rate. It’s not, perhaps, as ferocious as those figures for the 300hp versions might lead you to suspect – there’s no massive kick in the back here when you put your foot down, but speed builds quickly, even so.

Cupra Ateca review - facelift, rear view, white, driving round corner
Body roll is well contained where adaptive suspension is fitted.

For comparison, the 1.5-litre car with half the horsepower feels relatively nippy around town, helped by the responsive DSG automatic. It becomes much harder work on the motorway. Though far from slow, you certainly won’t dispatch other traffic with anything like the alacrity of the most powerful motor. It sounds dirge-like as well.

The noise of the 300hp engine is sporty but quiet and quite remote, a surprise given how lively the Cupra looks from the outside. While many may like this more mature approach, no doubt some potential buyers will be disappointed by the lack of extrovert fireworks from the exhaust. An optional Akrapovic exhaust system is available on the top VZN variant, costing over £3,300.

You can choose to activate the gearbox manually via the paddleshifters on the back of the steering wheel, but it does a decent job taking care of business if left to its own devices. Use manual control and leave yourself in too high a gear, and the engines do get a little bogged down – something to keep in mind when pulling away from junctions.

Cupra Ateca review, front interior, 1.5-litre TSI turbo petrol
DSG is standard on every model.

A choice of driving modes allows you tailor the experience to a certain extent, changing the accelerator mapping to exaggerate or relax responsiveness and the speed of gearshifts, as well as the weight of the steering. On 300hp versions this also alters the firmness of the standard-fit Dynamic Chassis Control variable suspension and includes an extra, more aggressive setting, labelled Cupra.

The rest of the range makes do with conventional suspension, and a 10mm increase in ride-height.

What’s it like to drive?

  • 4Drive all-wheel drive adds traction
  • Tall body leans over more than a hatch
  • Composed and balanced, even so

It takes a lot to unstick a 300hp Cupra Ateca, thanks to 4Drive and the adaptive suspension. But as you drive faster into corners, the bodyroll – while mostly well contained – will eventually convince you to ease off a bit. While it handles well for a tall car, there’s only so much you can do to resist body movement in an SUV that doesn’t have expensive active anti-roll systems.

When really cornering quickly you can feel the all-wheel drive system shuffling power to the back wheels, just before the front ones start to feel overwhelmed. It’s quite impressive to experience as you can maintain traction and grip during wet-weather conditions far better than you may expect for such an upright and heavy car. The Ateca retains a fundamentally front-wheel drive feel in all situations, however, and the back of the car never becomes too wayward.

Cupra Ateca review - bronze wheels, Brembo brakes fitted to VZ3 trim level
Large Brembo brakes are available on 300hp models.

It still lacks something compared with the enjoyment you get from driving a good, conventional hot hatch, such as a Cupra Leon or Volkswagen Golf R. The Cupra Ateca’s steering and front end response just don’t engage the driver enough – it’s perfectly pleasant but not truly exciting, and you have to adopt quite an aggressive driving style to really get the most out it. The VZ3 and VZN versions are best if this sounds like you, as they come with a Brembo brake upgrade with mightier stopping power.

On the less powerful cars, the slightly higher, less sophisticated suspension makes itself known through a slight increase in body roll. But these are still firm riding cars, so you’re unlikely to find this excessive. And while the front-wheel drive 1.5-litre variant doesn’t have the same level of reassuring all-weather traction as the rest of the range, you still have to be pressing on very fast before you’ll start running out grip.

The Ateca deal with mid-corner bumps well, regardless of suspension type. And it typically absorbs surface changes with little drama. But you will still find rougher roads transmitting shocks through to the passenger cabin, and ride comfort on longer journeys is not as relaxing as you’ll find it in less sporty rivals.