THESE DAYS if you want to compete in the ever-crowded compact 4 x 4 market, you have to be pretty good. There are a lot of great wee SUVs out there.

So, SEAT would appear to be a bit of a Johnny-come-lately to what is now a huge market, with its Ateca. It’s taking on some proven runners in this market – Ford’s Kuga being a leader, with established models from VW, Renault, Kia and Hyundai also doing very nicely thank you very much.

Therefore, it’s a brave move from SEAT, but maybe not as daft as you think. As part of the VW/Audi group, SEAT has access to a vast range of that conglomerate’s parts bin of engines, drive trains and the software expertise to make it work.

It has the VW Tiguan, for example, to look and live up to. I have to tell you, that the Ateca does it pretty well. In fact, it was a very pleasant surprise and certainly beats its stablemate on price, with the cheapest VW Tiguan almost £5000 dearer.

It drove well and looks pretty good too, with its angular lines giving it a purposeful air. And while under the skin it shares the majority of its inventory with the VW version, it does looks totally different. It’s a bit like non-identical twins – they don’t look much like each other, but the DNA is virtually the same.

At its heart is one of the star products out of the VW/Audi engine factory – the 2-litre turbo diesel power unit, in this case rated at 148 bhp. That proved plenty enough power to propel this four-wheel-drive version (a two-wheel-drive version is also available) from 0-62mph in nine seconds.

I have to say it felt better than that, but you can also expect to get about 55mpg from it. Going by the trip computer for the time that I had it – and unlike quite a lot of cars these days – that figure looks to be entirely achievable. It easily breeched the 50mpg barrier with me.

It felt a well-put together car – designed in Spain, but built in the Czech Republic, where another of the VW brands, Skoda, is king. Like all brands in the group, the cabin ergonomics are pretty straightforward and the fixtures and fittings much the same as in any of them too. ‘Bland’ might be a word you would use to describe it, but you might equally call it ‘efficient’.

The model on test was the top-of-the-range Xcellence model, with the Haldex-derived multi-plate 4Drive all-wheel-drive system, which has settings for ‘off-road’ and ‘snow’ on the turnwheel in the centre console. At nearly £28,000 it’s quite a distance from the basic S model, which starts at £10k lower than that (albeit, with only two-wheel-drive).

It’s main features are leather upholstery, some pretty nifty interior ‘ambiance’ lighting (with a neat little exit circle of light for passengers and driver alighting in the dark), wireless phone charging, automatic lighting and windscreen wiping, bigger wheels and a really clear rear-view reversing camera.

However, even the range starter gets alloy wheels, air conditioning, a touch-screen media system, Bluetooth, electronic parking brake, plus a heap of safety features more usually as ‘add-ons’ with other brands.

Further down the ratings, there’s also a 1.6-litre TDI engine as well as a one-litre three-cylinder petrol power unit turbo-charged to match that diesel at 113bhp, and a 1.4-litre TSI of 148bhp too. A 187bhp version of the 2-litre diesel is also promised.

All come with a six-speed manual gear-change as the standard fitment, though the more powerful petrol and diesel can be specified with a really excellent seven-speed DSG twin-clutch auto change.

SEAT also now makes a 4 x 4 version of its Leon estate car and the Ateca shares a lot of its values. It is slightly bigger that the Leon and certainly taller, with a load area of 510 litres behind the rear passengers (slightly less on the 4 x 4 versions) with a van-like 1600-litre with the rear seats folded flat.

With a turning circle of just 10.4m and a light steering, this is quite a manoeuvrable wee beast and there’s all-round disc braking providing the stopping power. It will handle a two-tonne braked trailer easily.

For those looking at future costs, SEAT’s major service is needed only every 20,000 miles, with oil changes at 10,000 miles. A fixed price servicing deal is also available, with the oil-change one costing £159 and a major one setting you back £269, but that includes VAT and all labour.

Warranty-wise, SEAT’s three-year/60,000 miles deal look paltry beside some of the opposition (Hyundai has a seven-year one), but the JD Power survey puts the brand very much in the top half with regard to reliability.