Seat Arona (2018) review: A crossover of youth and maturity
The Seat Ibiza is among one of the most popular small hatchbacks in Europe but consumer tastes are changing and the result is the crossover is well on its way to dominating the supermini sector as well as the rest of the market.Seat’s gambit in all this the Arona, which is the Ibiza’s bigger brother in almost every domain. Like most such crossers, although it looks like it might cope with a little gravel and dirt better than the Ibiza can, this isn’t a car that’s designed for off-road terrain. It’s a front-wheel drive SUV designed to appeal to those who prefer a higher driving position – which, as it turns out, is a lot of people want these days.
And the Arona is quite the looker, too, echoing the sharply-creased body panels of the rest of the Seat range, without mindlessly aping the 4×4 stylings of some of its larger cousins, and it’s surprisingly practical, too, with a larger 400-litre boot than its smaller sibling.
The Arona’s most intriguing feature, though – added only recently to the car’s roster of features – is its new premium Beats audio system.
Seat Arona (2018) review: Sound system
Owned by technology giant, Apple, Beats is the audio brand synonymous with the rise in popularity of aftermarket headphones. Lambasted by audiophiles and loved by everyone else, it makes an appearance here in the SE Technology Lux and Excellence Lux trim levels, starting at £20,310.
And it’s an impressive-looking setup for a car this small. In the Arona, the Beats audio system comprises a 300W amplifier, a digital signal processor (DSP) and seven-speaker drivers, liberally sprinkled throughout the cabin. Two tweeters are located in the A-pillars, two low/mid-range speakers in the front doors, two full-range speakers in the rear and, in a rather clever design sleight of hand, a subwoofer under the spare wheel cavity, which is located in the boot. It’s clever because you get all the bass of a discrete subwoofer without having to sacrifice boot space, and I’m also pleased to report that there’s no audible rattle or distortion from the enclosure.
As for overall sound quality, well, you probably won’t be surprised to find that it has a very Beats-esque sound signature. That means lots of bass, dipped mids and high frequencies that are a touch sibilant.
It’s certainly a fun system to listen to. With the Beats system equipped, the Arona kicks out the sub-bass frequencies with a healthy throb and there’s plenty of rumble and lots of thumping mid-bass slam, too. That’s not to say the system is refined. Instead, it’s a question of quantity over quality with the sheer amount of bass somewhat overpowering the mids, which are somewhat recessed and veiled. As for the soundstage, the Arona is a tad closed sounding and instrument separation could be better.
Overall, the Arona’s Beats audio system is, like the car itself, tailored for a young crowd: it’s fun, warm-sounding and has plenty of bass to keep your head bopping.
Seat Arona (2018) review: Interior and driver assistance technology
As befitting a car-hailing from the all-conquering VW stable of manufacturers, the Beats audio system is accompanied by a host of highly competent technological accoutrements.
Just like the 2017 Golf, any model of Arona above the basic SE trim gets the company’s 8in “Media Plus” infotainment system, which is both responsive to the touch and looks wonderfully crisp and colourful. It’s worth noting that you don’t get integrated navigation until you move up to the SE Technology Lux model (£20,310), but with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink on board, that’s no great loss. To add navigation to the screen – and the usual selection of compatible smartphone media apps – simply connect your phone to one of the two USB sockets in the cubby just below the screen.
As for usability, the system is brilliantly simple and packed with neat features. My favourite has to be the proximity sensor, which detects when your hand is approaching the screen and pops up a series of context-sensitive options, thus maximising the screen space when the map is on show.
Perhaps the one issue here is that operating the system while you’re driving takes some practice as there’s no physical control dial. Having said that, all your climate controls are physical and I like the fact that Seat includes wireless charging from SE Technology trim, which is compatible with the universal Qi standard – so you can charge your iPhone 8, or your Samsung Galaxy S9.
Moving up to the steering wheel, there’s nothing particularly fancy here: just the usual selection of cruise-control buttons and media buttons, plus a dedicated button for activating voice recognition, allowing you to perform basic tasks through the car’s own system or, with a long press, via Android Auto or Apple CarPlay.
Again, the integrated voice recognition isn’t included in the basic model but is standard with the 8in Media Plus system. No model includes any kind of full-colour digital instrument cluster, though, as is becoming increasingly more common in cars further up the price spectrum. Instead, you get an analogue speedometer and rev counter with a small, rectangular display sat between them. Bog standard, in other words.
As for driver assistance, that’s basic as well. As with many modern cars, the upper echelons of the Arona range come with adaptive cruise control but that’s about the extent of active driver assistance.
There’s no automatic parking system, although Seat’s Park Assist array of proximity sensors and a rear-view camera are really all you need. And there’s no active lane aid or steering assistance to help out on long motorway cruises. Even the adaptive cruise control won’t slow you completely to a halt in traffic; you have to take over at slow speed.
Seat Arona (2018) review: Drive and handling
The Arona is built on the same MQB-A0 platform as the Ibiza, VW Polo and Skoda Fabia, and is available with three engines; starting from the 94bhp 1-litre petrol TSI all the way up to the 114bhp 1.6 turbo-diesel. The model I drove was equipped with the three-cylinder 114bhp 1.0 TSI petrol engine mated to a seven-speed DSG Gearbox.
All that combines to deliver a composed, yet fun drive. Despite its small size, the engine was able to provide enough grunt to keep me happy – this certainly no sports car but as far as co compact SUVs go, especially in this price range, the Arona does a good job.
It’s not all rosy, as the throttle response suffers from a slight delay when you floor it (even in Sports mode) and there’s plenty of wind noise coming from the area around the car’s angular wing mirrors. Further, the car rocks quite a lot when cars pass close by at speed, which is particularly noticeable when stationary.
As for comfort, though, the Arona is remarkably pliant for such a small car, the SUV glides over speed bumps and small potholes with surprising insouciance. There’s some body roll when cornering – the Arona is a long way from competing with the wonderful Ford Fiesta on this front – but it’s reasonably well-controlled.
For a deeper insight into the car’s performance and handling characteristics, head over to our sister publication, Auto Express.
Seat Arona (2018) review: Verdict
The 2018 Arona isn’t the most exciting car on the road nor is the most dramatic to look at or outright fun to drive. But in its class, its balance of comfort and technology is impressive at the price.
It doesn’t quite offer the same extensive list of driver assistance features we’ve driven in other (albeit more expensive) cars, but if you’re after a competent, mature compact crossover, the Arona is a great choice.