SEAT Arona SUV - Engines, drive & performance
The SEAT Arona offers decent agility and strong performance, but falls short of delivering fun
Unlike some compact SUVs, the Arona doesn't offer four-wheel drive, nor any kind of off-road traction-control system. If you're looking for a family car that'll take you off the beaten track, the Citroen C3 Aircross or Peugeot 2008 will suit you better thanks to their 'Grip Control' system, while a Jeep Renegade can offer proper four-wheel drive and real off-road ability.
Tarmac is the Arona's home territory, and here it acquits itself well. The steering is precise and nicely weighted – there's not a lot of feedback and it can feel a bit uninvolving, although you quickly learn how much lock is required when cornering. The Arona can be driven through fast turns with some vigour, eventually running wide if you overstep the mark.
That takes some doing, though, and your passengers will become anxious long before you reach the Arona's roadholding limits. Even in spirited driving, the body feels neatly controlled and resists leaning into corners. It behaves very much like a taller, heavier SEAT Ibiza – essentially what the Arona is. It’s sharper and more fun than the Citroen C3 Aircross or MG ZS, and while it’s firmer than the smooth Citroen, it still rides bumps in a controlled manner.
Don't expect the SEAT 'drive profile' system to convert the Arona into a snarling sports car – it only affects the extent of power-steering assistance and how quickly the throttle reacts. We've not yet tested the Dynamic Chassis Control system that'll be available on UK cars, but the standard FR model offers a decent compromise between comfort and agility without relying on extra technology.
While the FR's sports suspension lends it greater stability in corners and further reduces the Arona's already well-contained body lean, it does highlight how little communication the steering offers. As a result, enthusiasts might find driving the FR quickly on a winding road a slightly underwhelming experience.
SEAT Arona petrol engines
Petrol buyers get a wider choice than those who want a diesel engine under the bonnet, and the petrols also make the most sense for those who do lots of short or urban journeys. That said, they're impressively economical, too, and won't cost the earth when making long motorway trips.
The range opens with a 94bhp, three-cylinder 1.0-litre TSI that comes with a five-speed gearbox. A 113bhp version comes next, with a six-speed manual and the option of DSG automatic transmission. It pulls strongly at all speeds, accelerating strongly from rest to reach 62mph in just under 10 seconds and makes effortless progress when joining fast-moving motorway traffic. There's little of the delayed response that turbocharged engines often suffer from, either. The DSG automatic is one of the best in its class, with smooth and snappy changes, although it can be a little jerky while parking.
Once up to motorway speed and in top gear, the engine becomes fairly subdued, but still has the tonal character of a three-cylinder engine, with a distinctive and noticeable thrum. The noise inside the car is actually from the wind rushing past the mirrors, rather than from the engine, and it’s more refined than a C3 Aircross. The only real way the engine registers with the driver is through mild vibration in the accelerator pedal.
The 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine is reserved for FR and FR Sport models, where its 148bhp gels with these models' sporty looks. It is, of course, noticeably more powerful than the 1.0-litre, but feels solidly powerful rather than breathtakingly fast. It certainly makes life more relaxing, though, with more power available instantly no matter which gear you're in.
The Arona's gearbox has an easy and positive shift action, but doesn't like to be rushed, and can feel cumbersome if you try to rush from one gear to the next. The 1.5-litre engine minimises this frustration because you won't find yourself needing to change gear quite so frequently.
Those who expect to cover in excess of 12,000 miles or so a year might find the 1.6-litre diesel to be the sensible choice, thanks to its impressive fuel consumption, but it’ll still take a while to offset its higher purchase price. It’s now only available with 94bhp, since the more powerful 113bhp version was discontinued in 2019. Refinement takes a slight knock with the diesel fitted, but the Arona still drives with little body lean and smooth gearshifts. It has a decent amount of pulling power, providing the Arona with enough pace for overtaking slower traffic.