Crossovers are the rage, and Spanish carmaker Seat has joined the fray. But its new compact Arona has an uphill task on several fronts.
First, the brand. Seat has been absent from Singapore for too long - from 2003 to 2016. It registered 199 new cars last year, the first full year since its return. There are just not enough new Seats on the road for people to recognise the brand.
Then there is the issue of size. The Arona is small. At 4,138mm, it is shorter than the Volkswagen Golf and Toyota C-HR. Given that cars are costly here, buyers in the price-sensitive $100,000 segment can easily be swayed towards bigger cars.
These issues aside though, the Arona is an unpolished gem waiting to be discovered.
Seat cars are based on Volkswagen and Audi models, sharing engines and gearboxes. The punchy one-litre turbocharged engine that powers the Arona also sees service in the facelifted VW Golf and the Audi A1, A3 and Q2 cars. So does its seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox.
Here is another piece of trivia: The Arona is built in Seat's Martorell factory near Barcelona. The Audi Q3 also rolls out from the same factory. If the production lines can meet Audi's standards, it ought to boost buyers' confidence in Seat cars too.
SPECS / SEAT ARONA FR; IBIZA STYLE PLUS
Price: $100,400; $89,400 with COE
Engine: 999cc 12-valve inline-3 turbocharged
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch with manual select
Power: 115bhp at 5,000rpm
Torque: 200Nm at 2,000-3,500rpm
0-100kmh: 10; 9.5 seconds
Top speed: 182kmh; 193kmh
Fuel consumption: 5; 4.7 litres/100km
Agent: Vertex Euro Motors
The Arona has a youthful design, especially with contrasting roof and body panel colours. Its equipment list does not disappoint. The test-car came with features such as a full-colour, 8-inch touchscreen monitor, paddle shifters, and LED exterior and interior lights.
It has drive mode selection: sporty, normal or eco. And its headlamps are fitted with cornering LEDs, which light up according to steering inputs.
Its one-litre turbo engine is lively and punchy, although it gets a little buzzy at higher revs. On the move, the ride is generally pliant, but the car feels a little unsettled over the curvy bends in Neo Tiew Road and Old Upper Thomson Road.
Its fuel consumption over a 250km test-drive was about 8 litres/100km, compared to the official 5 litres/100km figure.
The less fanciful bits about the car include a plasticky interior and an old-fashioned handbrake.
A "lowered" version of the Arona, and carrying a smaller price tag, is the Seat Ibiza.
The two cars have almost identical wheelbases - Ibiza's 2,564mm versus Arona's 2,566mm. This means that passengers will enjoy more or less the same legroom, while the rear headroom is better in the Arona.
The engine and gearboxes are the same, but the lighter Ibiza (1,164kg kerb weight versus 1,210kg) means that it clocks a faster century sprint (9.5 seconds versus 10 seconds), has a higher top speed (193kmh versus 182kmh) and better fuel consumption (4.7litres/100km versus 5 litres/100km).
The interior of both cars are almost identical, but the Ibiza has fewer frills, such as cornering lights and drive mode selection. It also makes do with halogen headlights and daytime-running lights.
I drove both cars back to back and preferred the Ibiza. It is not a hot hatch, but is still more fun than the Arona to toss around bends. It also offers similar practicality as the Arona.
Overall, the Arona and Ibiza are unlikely to disappoint those who are looking for entry-level cars.