AS first attempts go Seat's entry into the SUV market is bang on the money. No, let's go a bit further - it's an absolute cracker!

The Ateca comes late to the party with lots of big names already well established so it is up against it. Rivals like Nissan Qashqai, Kia Sportage, Hyundai Tucson, Peugeot 3008 and Renault Kadjar could scare the living daylights out of the Spanish newcomer, but it needs to fear no one.

Never have I felt so at home behind the wheel of a car so quickly. Everything about Ateca is right; the size, the driving position, feel of the steering, suspension.

As far as driving goes this is the most rewarding SUV I have driven; it even topped the Jaguar F-Pace. Ateca is smaller than the big Jag and a bit less intimidating and I only use it as an example because I jumped straight from F-Pace into Ateca in my road test rota.

That said the Spaniard still gets the nod over Audi Q3 and Volkswagen Tiguan which is some achievement given that they are part of the same company and share the same platform.

Ateca is also very smartly priced coming in at just under £18,000 although I expect most buyers to ignore the entry S level and opt for the juicier spec’d SE or Technology trims. It doesn’t have DAB radio as standard which is shortsighted.

No matter, there is plenty to like in this Ateca. What a pleasant change to get behind the wheel of a car and not have to spend five minutes finding out how everything works. The Seat dashboard layout is traditional, some will call it dated, but it works.

The binnacle has standard speedometer and rev counter dials, sharp and clear, and looking as if they have come straight from the Audi parts bin, with a vast bank of driver information between the dials all easily accessed from a touch pad on the steering wheel.

There is a central eight inch touchscreen but that, too, is a doddle to use because it is rimmed by clearly marked switches, so instead of touching the screen to work out where to go next you just press a button for radio, navigation etc. And the separate heating control switches are clearly marked and perfectly positioned beneath the screen, just the way I like it.

Engine choice ranges from a one litre three-cylinder petrol with 113bhp, 54mpg and good for £30 road tax, to a 186bhp two litre turbo diesel that can be mated to the VW group’s excellent seven speed DSG gearbox.

In between there is a nippy 1.4TSI petrol and economy-minded 1.6 litre diesel.

It is early days for the model but Seat should think about making the 147bhp 2-litre available for the front wheel drive Ateca. At the moment it is exclusive to the all-wheel drive models and means having to shell out £25k.

My test car came with the most powerful diesel and provided superb performance even with my caravan in tow.

Overall solo economy was disappointing, averaging 38mpg, a good few miles per gallon below the larger and heavier 4x4 F-Pace.

It is the norm to pack new cars with safety features and Ateca is no exception although you have to move well into the range before it is available. At least an emergency braking system to help avoid low speed shunts is standard, but why no rear view camera until you reach the top of the range?

So if Ateca is such a great car have I gone wrong choosing Peugeot 3008 as my car of the year? No.

This is a fine first effort, but so it should be with the might of VW with all its SUV experience behind it.

If Ateca lacks anything it is identity. I could have been sitting in a Tiguan and while the simple dashboard layout suited me Peugeot has pushed the boundaries with its futuristic and stunning i-cockpit, superb engines and an even better SUV package.

Seat Ateca Xcellence 4Drive

Engine: 2.0 litre; 184bhpPerformance: 0-62mph, 7.5 secs; 132mphEconomy: 53.3mpg combinedEmissions: 136g/km. Road tax £130Insurance group: 21Price: £29,990