SEAT Arona review
Let’s be honest: no small SUV offers a particularly thrilling experience behind the wheel. But the Arona manages to sit near the top of the class anyway – not because it really involves you when you’re driving down a twisty country road (it doesn’t) but because it does the rest of the basics pretty well.
We haven’t tried the most modest engine yet, but the 114bhp version of the 1.0 three-cylinder has a nice spread of power and torque – enough for you to maintain something approaching brisk progress when you need to. It’s easy to keep it in its happiest band of revs – between 2,000rpm and 4,000rpm, we’d say – because the six-speed manual gearbox (the weakest petrol gets a five-speeder, note) is slick and easy to shift quickly.
Once you are up to a decent speed, you’ll hear a distant thrum that’s smooth enough but also audible enough to remind you that your car does have a three-cylinder engine, not a four-pot. The biggest noise at a motorway cruise is likely to be wind rush from around the usual SEAT sharp-angled side mirrors. There is a bit of three-cylinder vibration through your feet, though, especially via the clutch pedal.
The steering is light – perhaps a little too much so for our liking – but it soon becomes easy to trust where the front wheels are pointing. As with pretty much all of its rivals, the Arona is set up to understeer if you show too much enthusiasm entering a corner. But in the most part the body is well enough controlled for a swift, if slightly uninvolving cross-country journey.
We’ve also tried the 1.5, which feels quick but not quite a jacked-up hot hatchback. The engine is very comfortable with a car of the Arona’s size, and as with the 1.0, the power delivery is pretty linear, so you can expect the motor to pull you along happily from around 1,500rpm to 4,500rpm and beyond. It does start to get a bit vocal in the top third of the rev range, but you’re unlikely to need to go there in all but desperate overtaking situations.
There are a few chassis variations in the range. Everything up to FR sits on ‘comfort’ suspension, and in the most part, this feels like it can cope with all but the worst roads, even when equipped with the 17in wheels that come with most trim levels.
FR Sport takes things on a step, though, with stiffer suspension and 18in wheels – and while it’s surprisingly compliant, even at low speeds and over urban potholes, it is more reluctant to settle down over frilly road surfaces. We’d urge you to try both before deciding if it’s necessary, because it’s not as if it really adds an extra facet to the Arona’s abilities on twistier roads anyway.
We’ve also tried the 114bhp 1.0 with SEAT’s DSG dual-clutch seven-speed automatic transmission. It’s a doddle to use around town – not totally foolproof, but quick enough to shift to get you smoothly through most situations.
The Arona is a choice of three petrol engines or two diesels. There’s a 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol offered in two states of tune – with 94bhp or 114bhp – and a 1.5-litre four-cylinder unit that has 148bhp and can switch off cylinders when you’re cruising along, to help improve fuel efficiency.
We haven’t tried the basic 1.0, but the 114bhp version of the engine feels pretty comfortable with life. There’s a bit of three-cylinder rumble if you rev it hard, and there is some vibration through the pedals in all situations, but in the most part it’s a strong, flexible, refined companion.
The 148bhp petrol is faster, obviously – though not to the point where turns the Arona into a ‘hot’ baby SUV. But it’s very flexible, offering refined and smooth power from just below 2,000rpm up to 4,000rpm and beyond (although in truth, you’ll rarely feel the need to go to higher revs).
There are two diesels in the line-up – a 1.6-litre unit that’s offered with either 94bhp (available with a five-speed manual gearbox or a seven-speed DSG auto) or 114bhp (six-speed manual only). We’ve yet to try either of these set-ups, though.