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two top seats New Taracco and Ateca have style and substance

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It doesn't surprise me one bit that sales figures for SEAT cars is rising faster than the coronavirus numbers during the height of the pandemic last year.

For far too long the brand has been seen by many as the poor relation in the Volkswagen group - but not any more.

I have said this time and time again, SEAT is one of the most stylish brands on our roads at the moment and the Spanish car manufacturer is possibly producing even better looking cars and SUVs than its stablemate siblings across in Volkswagen and Skoda.

If you don't believe me, take at look at the latest Tarraco and Ateca that have just rolled off the production lines.

Having driven both models recently during week-long test drives, I cannot tell you how impressed I was with both models.

I have said it for a long time that the SEAT brand is the hidden secret in the Volkswagen group - don't even get me started about one of my favourite people carriers, the SEAT Alhambra.

The first of my test drives was the SEAT Ateca. First launched in 2016, the Ateca was a breath of fresh air for the Spanish brand in a market that was already saturated with small SUVs.

But the Ateca offered something a little bit different in that it basically shared its underpinnings with its Volkswagen Tiguan stablemate, yet it was much more affordable.

Five years on and the Ateca has been given a mild makeover to keep it youthful and fresh looking for 2021.

To the untrained eye, there is very little to differentiate it from the out-going model apart from a new front grille and headlights and fancy new lettering at the rear end to highlight the model you see in front of you.

However, the most noticeable difference is underneath where SEAT has ditched the 1.6-litre TDi diesel option and replaced it with the larger 2.0-litre that is found in the Tarraco.

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This big diesel comes in three options: 115bhp, 150bhp, which was fitted to my test car, and a range-topping 200bhp unit.

On the inside, you will find SEAT's new 'Digital Cockpit', which brings together an (optional) high-resolution full-colour 10.25-inch fully-customisable digital instrument panel and a large infotainment system.

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The standard infotainment system boasts an 8.25-inch screen with smartphone audio compatibility, while the optional larger 9.2-inch 'Connect System' offers online navigation and natural voice control to simplify user interaction.

Overall, the refreshed Ateca really has come of age and it is not to be overlooked if you are in the market for an affordable and spacious SUV.

Prices for the Ateca start at €31,910, while my test model will make you dig a good bit deeper at €44,564.

The second of my SEAT test drives was the new Tarraco, which totally blew me away.

I took this bad boy on my first trip outside the Pale since the travel ban was lifted and boy, did it not disappoint.

Packing my bags and the wife into the car, I hit the road for the North to the beautiful town of Portaferry on the southern end of the Ards Peninsula in Co Down.

My test model for the week was the new SEAT Tarraco in FR trim which was fitted with the same engine the powered my Ateca a week earlier - the 150bhp 2.0-litre TDI diesel engine mated to the seven-speed DSG automatic gearbox.

Sitting at the top of SEAT's SUV range, the new Tarraco FR is better looking than its Volkswagen and Skoda siblings in my eyes.

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The FR trim adds 20-inch alloy wheels, the more aggressive FR body styling kit - featuring the dynamic twin exhaust, unique rear spoiler, front and rear sports bumper, as well as black mouldings, wing mirrors and roof rails.

The cabin benefits from front sports seats as well as an electric driver's seat.

All this equipment comes on top of the already generous standard of specification available across the Tarraco line-up.

All models receive automatic full LED headlamps, SEAT Digital Cockpit - which includes the 10.25-inch digital driver binnacle and 8-inch full-colour infotainment touch-screen - Full Link, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and a USB socket in all three rows of seats.

I cannot tell you how much of proper family SUV this Tarraco is. Before my road trip up North I packed six teenage girls into the back along with all their shopping bags from Dundrum shopping centre - and, believe me, there was a lot!

SEAT claim that this big bus will do 5.6l/100km and, if I am honest, its claim is not far wrong.

I drove it around for the week and did a round trip to Portaferry, taking in the scenic route on the way home, and there was still half a tank left when I handed back the keys last Monday.

My only quibble with it is that this new FR model pushes the price up close to the €50k mark. Still though, you could opt for a lower specced model as prices start from €38,890.

Believe me, you are getting a lot of bang for your buck with this one.

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