CUPRA Launches to Steal Enthusiast Hearts with *sigh* an SUV

SEAT has long been one of the world’s more mystifying brands. Alive thanks largely to tie-ups with other brands, as part of one of the world’s largest automakers and with things going pretty well, there was no need to find new brands to partner with. So it made up one of its own.

CUPRA, SEAT’s in-house spice cabinet, has now been spun off as a standalone brand that will get its own floor space in SEAT dealerships across Europe.

Like Audi Sport, CUPRA will handle racing (taking over from SEAT Sport) and develop sportier versions of SEAT’s cars alongside it. The brand is being aimed at enthusiasts and SEAT hopes that it leads to doubling sales for the SEAT group in 5-7 years.

So what vehicle did it choose as its introduction? What car will fire up Europe’s enthusiasts and act as a halo, forming the image of the new brand in the minds of enthusiasts? The CUPRA Ateca.

To borrow a phrase from FX’s Archer: “Womp, womp.”

For those among you not intimately familiar with a Spanish subbrand’s non-North American offerings, the Ateca is SEAT’s version of the Tiguan.

And while yes, a hot Spanish Tiguan making 300 hp and powering all four wheels through a 7-speed DSG gearbox does sound okay (I guess), it sounds more like a cynical marketing ploy than the dream of a group of people committed to “craft, passion, high-quality [sic] and individualization,” as CUPRA puts it in its press release.

SUVs may be a part of the automotive landscape, and “sporty” SUVs are anything but uncommon these days, and it may be the automotive equivalent of yelling at kids to get off my lawn to complain about sporty SUVs, but selling me something sporty then giving me an SUV still feels like selling me brownies then giving me Carob bars.  

Still, CUPRA will partner with brands like DAINESE and NINCO in pursuit of better racing technology, though it will also partner with companies like TRAKATAN and L.G.R. in pursuit of better fashion accessories.

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with trying to make performance cars fashionable and cool, it’s just that this attempt is a little unfocused and buzz-wordy and feels like it was created by Perfect Curve.

The good news is that CUPRA has its sights set on other SEATs, like the Polo-sized Ibiza, too. The bad news is that CUPRA also has its eyes set on other SEATs, like the T-Cross-sized Arona, too.

Both cars were the subject of CUPRA “design exercises” at the launch. CUPRA, though, would confirm neither car’s existence.

Weirdly, it did confirm the SEAT Leon CUPRA R ST. Basically the same thing as the CUPRA Ateca (300 hp, AWD, DSG gearbox), but lower and lighter and therefore better. The Leon CUPRA R ST features copper wheels and paint, but a SEAT badge instead of CUPRA one, which is pretty indicative of the event since the sportiest car there wasn’t actually a CUPRA.

It will make its debut at the Geneva Motor Show and will be available to Europeans by the end of the year.