From £27,7508

Seat is getting increasingly keen on SUVs, for the very good reason that market predictions indicate European demand for these already popular vehicles will grow by another 25% between now and 2025.

From next February, Seat will have a three-model SUV line-up when its new seven-seat flagship, the Tarraco, joins the small Arona and medium-sized Ateca in showrooms. The move is very likely to boost Seat's UK sales beyond their present record levels and increase the proportion of SUVs in the company’s model line-up from a quarter to a third.

Seats attract markedly young buyers than the other Volkswagen Group brands, and the company’s marketing people are confident that the three-tier SUV range, deliberately styled with more zing than those from the other family brands, will continue to do so.

What does the Tarraco line-up look like?

The Tarraco comes in both front and four-wheel drive guises, starting at £28,320 for a 1.5 TSI 150 SE First Edition and reaching upward to around £40,000 for the top-spec 2.0 TSI 190 Xcellence. Other engine choices are 148bhp and 187bhp versions of a 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel.

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The four-wheel drive system, called 4Drive, is configurable (for use both on and off road) via a twist control on the centre console and incorporates electronic niceties such as hill descent control and roll-over protection. The basic front-wheel-drive model comes with a manual six-speed gearbox, but four-wheel-drive versions use a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox.

There are two main trim levels, SE and Xcellence, but each is enhanced by a comprehensive array of launch editions and extra equipment packs. The bottom line is that even the most basic Tarraco is quite well equipped and the top models look very decent value against the ever-swelling pack of contenders.

How does the Tarraco perform on the road?

The Tarraco is a good-looking and imposing vehicle, 4.75m long and unashamedly linked with Volkswagen and Skoda models of the same underbits and lineage. Indeed, although the distinctive body and interior parts were designed at Seat’s Martorell headquarters, the vehicle is being built with similar models from other brands by Volkswagen in Wolfsburg.

Still, the Tarraco avoids being dismissed as a piece of badge engineering because it has sporty, unique-to-Seat styling inside and out and a spec that suits the marque’s more youthful ethos. Mind you, anyone familiar with the Skoda Kodiaq won’t find the new big Seat too surprising.

Like its siblings, the Tarraco comes across as a capable family car, adequately quick and responsive with any powertrain. Its strength is accommodating people and stuff. The seats are firm but comfortable and there's an array of trim materials, from durable-looking fabrics to full-on leather.

All UK-spec models will be seven-seaters, but it’s fairer to describe the Tarraco as a five-plus-two than a true seven-seater. On the other hand, it's compact enough for a life in the suburbs – a vital point for success in this country.

Like its siblings, the Tarraco seems to shrink as you drive, a compliment to its taut and neutral-handling chassis. All versions are refined (apart from some inexplicable wind noise we noticed in two or three different examples, emanating from the door mirrors). The steering offers top class feel and the chassis’ rolling comfort is deeply impressive, even at the highest speeds. The brakes are strong and easy to modulate.

We drove three versions on test — the base model and the top petrol and diesel versions — and found, somewhat perversely, that the smoothest and quietest of them all was the front-wheel-drive 148bhp petrol model that rides on the tamest 17in alloys. However, if wheel size is a priority for you, the top Xcellence models offer wheels of up to 21in in diameter.

How does the Tarraco compare to its rivals?

The Tarraco would be a good choice, but not necessarily a done deal. There’s very tough competition for Seat in this category, and it's a bit of a latecomer.

Our own experience with the Tarraco’s close relation at Skoda made us aware of the model’s essential appeal, and Seat adds pizzazz to that. The Barcelona-based marque is expecting strong sales from the Tarraco and shows no fear that this bigger, bulkier, more practical off-roader will dilute the character from which it benefits.

This is a very strong contender in the class and a little bit livelier than most of them.

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