The compact crossover sector has increased four-fold since 2015 and the latest example to hit the showrooms is the all-new Seat Arona.
Sitting below the acclaimed Ateca SUV in the range, the Arona will do battle with the likes of the recently-launched Kia Stonic, Hyundai Kona, VW T-Roc and Citroen C3 Aircross, plus established big-sellers such as the Nissan Juke, Renault Captur and Vauxhall Mokka.
Only available as a five-door with front-wheel drive, it’s unmistakably a Seat thanks to its distinctive angular lines, front headlight signature and general sense of style.
Priced from £16,555 to £22,020, it’s an urban crossover targeted at the younger end of the market (a bit like the Seat brand itself), so the Arona is also all about personalisation and connectivity.
There are up to 30 different colour combinations available, with matching or contrasting body and roof finishes, so there’s plenty of fun to be had when configuring a car. For me, Eclipse Orange with a Midnight Black roof wins every time.
There are six trim levels starting with SE, FR and XCELLENCE, followed by SE Technology, FR Sport and XCELLENCE Lux.
There’s a choice of three petrol and diesel turbo engines with five different outputs – a 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol with 95PS (94bhp) or 115PS (113bhp), a 150PS (148bhp) 1.5-litre four-cylinder TSI petrol and a 1.6-litre diesel with 80 or 95PS (79 or 94bhp).
Depending on the engine choice, there are five and six-speed manual gearboxes, plus a seven-speed dual-clutch (DSG) automatic option.
The most frugal engine is the 1.6 TDI 95PS which, in theory, is capable of 71mpg with CO2 emissions of 105g/km. The fastest is the 1.5 TSI EVO 150PS (FR trim) which has a 0-62mph time of 8.3 seconds and a top speed of 127mph.
Seat expects the biggest selling model to be the Arona FR 1.0 TSI 115PS, which I tried along with the entry-level 95PS version of the same engine in SE Technology trim.
The 1.0 TSI 95PS has a 0-62mph time of 11.2 seconds (but seems faster), a top speed of 107mph, CO2 emissions of 111g/km of 57.6mpg. The 1.0 TSI 115PS is slightly faster with a 10-second 0-62mph time and a 113mph top speed, while CO2 emissions are 113/g/km and fuel economy ranges from 56.5-57.6mpg.
Cards on table time. The VW Group’s eager three-cylinder turbo petrol engine is one of the best in the business and it’s very much at home powering the lightweight Arona.
There’s not a lot to choose between the 1.0-litre outputs, but for me, the more powerful FR just edges it. Not just because there’s a bit more oomph – it also comes with a six-speed gearbox and drive mode function so that you can select between Eco, Normal, Sport or Individual. Sadly both manual gearboxes are a bit vague at times, so don’t expect slick changes if you’re in a hurry.
With a high driving position, light steering and good visibility, the Arona is an easy car to drive, but along with most of its rivals, its handling is nothing special. The ride is comfortable enough on smooth surfaces, but it can get a little unsettled on more challenging roads.
Body roll when cornering is pretty well controlled, so it’s not just for tootling along. Move up to the FR trim and above and you get the addition of drive modes including Sport (which stiffens up the suspension and boosts throttle response) meaning it can be driven in a slightly more spirited fashion if you so wish.
If you want things sportier still, go for the FR Sport trim which adds Dynamic Chassis Control to the four drive modes.
Road noise is fairly well suppressed and the engine is nicely muted with just a distant thrum unless pushed.
Inside, the Arona is well laid out and attractive, though you’ll be disappointed if you’re looking for soft-touch plastics.
The seats are comfortable and there’s plenty of space for adults front and rear, though the middle seat at the back is slightly more compromised. The decent 400-litre boot is a competitive size compared to most rivals.
The Seat Arona is well equipped with plenty of gizmos available as standard throughout the range – and the higher you go, the better it gets.
Power-adjustable door mirrors, LED daytime running lights, automatic headlights, air conditioning and height-adjustable front seats, plus a 5.0-inch touchscreen are just a few of the goodies available on the entry-level SE trim. If you can stretch to SE Technology and above you get a larger, 8.0-inch screen with sat nav and it uses MirrorLink, Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto. There’s also a wireless phone charger.
The Arona is a safe choice too. It achieved a maximum five stars in Euro NCAP’s demanding crash safety tests, thanks partly to autonomous emergency braking (SEAT calls AEB ‘Front Assist’) which is also standard across the range.
Other safety systems can be specified including hill hold control, adaptive cruise control, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Blind Spot Detection and Park Assist for both bay and parallel parking.
Verdict: It’s appropriate that Seat named the Arona after a town on the holiday island of Tenerife, because it’s a ray of sunshine. Stylish, funky, practical, easy to drive, economical, safe and competitively priced, the Seat Arona should definitely be on your shortlist if you’re looking for a baby crossover.