The SEAT Arona is an above-average offering amongst the burgeoning array of small SUVs currently on the market. It offers a composed and refined drive – albeit one that’s short on pure thrills or involvement – and SEAT’s decision to pitch it above the Ibiza means that all versions get pretty generous levels of standard equipment. It’s not the most practical car in the class but it is just about big enough to possibly serve as a small family car.
Refined petrol engines. Slick infotainment system with good connectivity. All versions get decent levels of equipment
Not as practical as some rivals. Sports suspension could feel firm on UK roads. Cabin can appear a bit dark and gloomy
SEAT has been slowly transforming itself since 2012, when the firm launched the successful third generation of its Leon hatchback. The latest SEAT Ibiza was another strong step – but the vehicle that has really reignited the company’s fortunes has been the Ateca family SUV.
So SEAT has been quick to follow up that vehicle with a smaller sibling: the Arona. It is, in effect, an Ibiza SUV, because it shares the same chassis and its engines with the Spanish manufacturer’s supermini, but sits taller and claims to offer a smidgen more practicality.
The Arona is also designed to be easy to personalise, with several interesting visual cues – including metallic paint and a contrast roof – included as standard on all UK versions.
Indeed, SEAT is pitching the car firmly above the Ibiza in the line-up – even slightly above the Leon, in fact. As such, there’s no ‘base version’ with a headline-grabbing price tag but next to no equipment. The range starts instead with SE, which brings 17in alloy wheels and a colour touchscreen infotainment system.
There are five other versions: SE Technology (which increases the infotainment screen size and adds Android Auto and Apple CarPlay), the sport-themed FR and FR Sport, and the more luxurious XCELLENCE and XCELLENCE Lux.
The engine line-up is familiar VW Group fare. The petrols are a 1.0-litre three-cylinder unit producing either 94bhp or 114bhp, and a 148bhp 1.5-litre four-cylinder motor with cylinder deactivation to improve fuel efficiency.
The diesels are both1.6-litre units – and they all manage less than 110g/km of CO2 emissions. There’s a 94bhp version (paired with a five-speed manual gearbox or a seven-speed DSG), or a 114bhp variant that gets a six-speeder.
All Aronas are front-wheel drive. There’s not even the slightest hint of off-road potential here, in fact; in this respect, the traction control-based Grip Control system of the Citroen C3 Aircross looks positively adventurous.
The Arona is the first small SUV from the mighty VW Group. That’s something of an internal coup for SEAT, which will also build the car at its plant in Martorell, near Barcelona in Spain.
Engines, performance and drive
Let’s be honest: no small SUV offers a particularly thrilling experience behind the wheel. But the Arona manages to sit near the top of the class anyway – not because it really involves you when you’re driving down a twisty country road (it doesn’t) but because it does the rest of the basics pretty well.
We haven’t tried the most modest engine yet, but the 114bhp version of the 1.0 three-cylinder has a nice spread of power and torque – enough for you to maintain something approaching brisk progress when you need to. It’s easy to keep it in its happiest band of revs – between 2,000rpm and 4,000rpm, we’d say – because the six-speed manual gearbox (the weakest petrol gets a five-speeder, note) is slick and easy to shift quickly.
Once you are up to a decent speed, you’ll hear a distant thrum that’s smooth enough but also audible enough to remind you that your car does have a three-cylinder engine, not a four-pot. The biggest noise at a motorway cruise is likely to be wind rush from around the usual SEAT sharp-angled side mirrors. There is a bit of three-cylinder vibration through your feet, though, especially via the clutch pedal.
The steering is light – perhaps a little too much so for our liking – but it soon becomes easy to trust where the front wheels are pointing. As with pretty much all of its rivals, the Arona is set up to understeer if you show too much enthusiasm entering a corner. But in the most part the body is well enough controlled for a swift, if slightly uninvolving cross-country journey.
We’ve also tried the 1.5, which feels quick but not quite a jacked-up hot hatchback. The engine is very comfortable with a car of the Arona’s size, and as with the 1.0, the power delivery is pretty linear, so you can expect the motor to pull you along happily from around 1,500rpm to 4,500rpm and beyond. It does start to get a bit vocal in the top third of the rev range, but you’re unlikely to need to go there in all but desperate overtaking situations.
There are a few chassis variations in the range. Everything up to FR sits on ‘comfort’ suspension, and in the most part, this feels like it can cope with all but the worst roads, even when equipped with the 17in wheels that come with most trim levels.
FR Sport takes things on a step, though, with stiffer suspension and 18in wheels – and while it’s surprisingly compliant, even at low speeds and over urban potholes, it is more reluctant to settle down over frilly road surfaces. We’d urge you to try both before deciding if it’s necessary, because it’s not as if it really adds an extra facet to the Arona’s abilities on twistier roads anyway.
We’ve also tried the 114bhp 1.0 with SEAT’s DSG dual-clutch seven-speed automatic transmission. It’s a doddle to use around town – not totally foolproof, but quick enough to shift to get you smoothly through most situations.
The Arona is a choice of three petrol engines or two diesels. There’s a 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol offered in two states of tune – with 94bhp or 114bhp – and a 1.5-litre four-cylinder unit that has 148bhp and can switch off cylinders when you’re cruising along, to help improve fuel efficiency.
We haven’t tried the basic 1.0, but the 114bhp version of the engine feels pretty comfortable with life. There’s a bit of three-cylinder rumble if you rev it hard, and there is some vibration through the pedals in all situations, but in the most part it’s a strong, flexible, refined companion.
The 148bhp petrol is faster, obviously – though not to the point where turns the Arona into a ‘hot’ baby SUV. But it’s very flexible, offering refined and smooth power from just below 2,000rpm up to 4,000rpm and beyond (although in truth, you’ll rarely feel the need to go to higher revs).
There are two diesels in the line-up – a 1.6-litre unit that’s offered with either 94bhp (available with a five-speed manual gearbox or a seven-speed DSG auto) or 114bhp (six-speed manual only). We’ve yet to try either of these set-ups, though.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
Lean three-cylinder petrol engine promises decent economy; even high-powered 1.5 has fuel-saving tech
It may be an SUV, but the SEAT Arona is still geared towards efficiency. All of the petrol engines – from the 94bhp 1.0 up to the 148bhp 1.5 – emit somewhere between 118g/km of CO2, including those models with a dual-clutch automatic transmission.
The diesels are even better on fuel, of course, and while none of them manages to dip beneath the 100g/km CO2 mark, they’re all hovering around 105g/km – which makes them a good choice on company car benefit, wider concerns about diesel taxation aside.
To put these figures in context, they’re all a bit cleaner than those of comparable editions of the Citroen C3 Aircross, and some way clear of the numbers posted by the likes of the Renault Captur, NIssan Juke and Hyundai Kona.
SEAT has taken a novel approach to the Arona’s line-up, eschewing the traditional ‘entry-level’ edition which offers a low price but a basic spec that few customers ultimately choose. As such, the whole Arona range is predicted to have strong residual values – and with even the early models getting deposit contributions on finance deals, the car should be at the sharper end of the class on monthly rates.
SEAT has yet to confirm insurance groups across the Arona range. We’d expect the numbers to be higher than those of the car’s close relative, the Ibiza, because while both cars share a lot of security and safety features, the Arona is being pitched at a slightly higher price point.
It’s too early to get residual values for the Arona, but we expect them to be competitive in a class that’s still developing fast. SEAT used to have a poor reputation for depreciation but several key models in the past few years – including the Leon and Ibiza, and in particular the Ateca SUV – have firmed up the company’s performance in this area. We’d expect the Arona to hold its value slightly better than any of its obvious rivals, in fact, including the Citroen C3 Aircross or the Nissan Juke.
One good point about the Arona line-up is that there’s no ‘entry-level’ model with a low list price but next to no standard equipment. This type of vehicle tends to suffer a sharp fall in resale value, but since SEAT has avoided it, pretty much any Arona should have appeal after the usual two, three or four-year period.
Interior, design and technology
Neat, sophisticated design with standard contrast roof and plenty of colour options; infotainment set-up is among the best in the class
SEAT is hoping that the Arona will attract buyers from not only the supermini class but also those who fancy a slightly higher driving position and a style-focused approach over a run-of-the-mill family hatchback.
As such, the Arona gets plenty of equipment as standard and a few key design features that are often included only on the options list. Every car sold in the UK will get metallic paint included, as well as the option of a contrast colour on the roof. There are 10 body colours and three hues for the roof, giving 30 possible combinations.
Oddly, every Arona also gets an ‘X’ motif just as the roof comes down behind the rear door. It makes sense on XCELLENCE editions, but is a bit more confusing on SE and FR versions.
Most Aronas come with 17in alloy wheels as standard, although there are different designs to help you distinguish between SE, FR and EXCELLENCE. FR Sport and XCELLENCE Lux models get 18-inchers, oof.
Inside, the Arona loses some of its funky attitude and becomes quite conservative – but the overall feel is still that of a mature, well-rounded product.
That’s not to say that there are squishy, soft-touch plastics everywhere; like its sister car, the Ibiza, the Arona’s dashboard is well screwed together but layered in hard, textured plastic. However, few owners will ever feel the need to prod the top of the dashboard with their index finger anyway, and SEAT’s engineers have done a good job of putting quality materials where the occupants are likely to touch the vehicle.
So even the entry point to the range, SE, gets leather on the steering wheel, handbrake lever and gear knob.
The range has its limits, though. You get a plain fabric covering on the seating in SE and SE Technology editions, while FR and FR Sport have a more sculptured seat featuring red flashes for a sportier look. But even the luxury spec, XCELLENCE, doesn’t go to the lengths of full leather upholstery; there’s just a bit of contrast stitching and a slightly more complex fabric pattern. At least FR Sport and XCELLENCE Lux bring the grippy Alcantara material to their seats.
The rest of the front cabin is pretty standard SEAT fare, with a conventional instrument panel (albeit with a digital display between the dials). There’s no head-up display option, unlike on the Citroen C3 Aircross and Hyundai Kona.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
Even the most basic Arona, SE, gets a 5in touchscreen infotainment system with DAB and Bluetooth connectivity – although it’s worth noting that this display doesn’t support navigation.
You have to step up to SE Technology to increase the screen size to eight inches and include sat-nav – and this system also incorporates Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and brings a pair of USB sockets that are perhaps the SE spec’s most glaring omission.
We’d recommend aiming for at least the 8in set-up (which is standard across all other trim levels) – not necessarily because its system is any easier to use than the smaller display’s (they’re the same basic software) but because the extra screen area and resolution make it crisper and easier on the eye.
SEAT’s infotainment system is pretty much exclusively that, incidentally; you can access some of the car’s settings through the screen, but tasks like increasing air-con fan speed or temperature adjustment are still conducted through separate controls on the centre console. This is a welcome contrast to the approaches of some of the Arona’s rivals, most notably the Citroen C3 Aircross.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
A fair amount of space, but few of the practical tricks required to make it a genuine alternative to a family hatchback.
On the face of it, there’s not too much to complain about with the Arona’s packaging and practicality. There’s plenty of room up front for two fully grown adults, of course, and you’re unlikely to get any complaints about headroom or shoulder room if you ask a couple more to jump into the back seats
The SEAT doesn’t offer a particularly big boot, however, as with all its seats lowered you’ll find a relatively modest 823 litres. There’s enough space there for most of a small family’s needs, however – and that’s more than you can say for many other baby SUVs.
The Arona really typifies how tightly knit car manufacturers’ ranges are these days. It’s 4,138mm, 1,780mm wide (including mirrors) and 1,543mm tall – so longer than an Ibiza and considerably taller than a Leon.
However, the car’s wheelbase – always a good guide to how much interior space there’s going to be – is 2,566mm. That’s only a couple of millimetres more than a five-door Ibiza’s, showing that despite the increase in length, there’s not actually that much extra knee or legroom over the Arona’s supermini cousin.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
Head and shoulder room is very generous in the back of an Arona, but passengers may complain about leg and knee room. That’s because the Arona’s rear cabin is definitely closer to that of a supermini than it is an alternative to, say, a Golf’s or a Leon’s. This isn’t uncommon among small SUVs, though, as few offer much more practicality than their small car cousins. It’s worth noting that Citroen’s C3 Aircross has the Arona trumped on rear cabin space, however.
The Arona’s load bay is pretty unadventurous. It offers more space than almost all superminis, but there are few extra practical touches to make it stand apart.
You do at least get a double boot floor as standard across the range, allowing you to prioritise either outright space or a flat loading area with no discernible lip to heave items over. And the aperture is reasonably wide for such a compact vehicle. But that’s pretty much it; there are a couple of hooks at the sides of the boot for shopping bags, but there’s no trick divider to stop your items from sliding around as you drive along.
The overall capacity is 400 litres, rising to 823 litres if you lower both parts of the 60/40 split rear seat. We suspect SEAT has been conservative in its measurements but even with this, some key rivals – notably the C3 AIrcross – offer much more space. The Arona’s just above the middle of the small SUV back in this regard, though, because it trumps the likes of the Hyundai Kona and Nissan Juke in this area.
Reliability and Safety
The SEAT Arona should be a dependable and safe family car, as it uses many tried and tested VW Group parts
Like all modern-day SEATs – and indeed their VW Group counterparts – every Arona should fit the bill as safe family transport. Despite being only a few months old, the Arona has already been awarded a full five-star Euro NCAP rating. All cars get six airbags, ISOFIX child seat mounts and tiredness recognition.
Elsewhere, you’ll find every Arona gets tyre pressure monitoring, autonomous emergency braking and front and rear seatbelt reminders. You’ll have to step up to the Xcellence car for Rear Cross Traffic Alert and adaptive cruise control, however.
The Arona is too new to feature in our Driver Power owner satisfaction survey, but the brand finished an impressive sixth overall in our manufacturer table. It boasted the lowest share of owners reporting problems with their cars, while owners also praised their models for ride and handling, as well as the tech-filled infotainment systems. Fit and finish needs improvement, however.
The SEAT Arona comes with an industry-standard three-year/60,000-mile warranty. While that doesn’t set any records, it’s on par with rivals from the rest of the VW Group (Skoda and Volkswagen included), as well as those wearing a Citroen or Peugeot badge. Kia offers the best guarantee in this segment, with its seven-year/100,000-mile warranty. Hyundai’s five-year, unlimited-mileage setup is good for those covering big distances, too.
SEAT offers fixed-price servicing on all its models, allowing you to keep a lid on costs and budget effectively during the course of ownership. SEAT will give you a courtesy car, video reports and a two-year warranty on all parts.