Test Drives

Seat Arona FR 1.0 review: Arona Therapy

Tumbling COE prices mean that buyers looking for a $100k family car are now spoilt for choice. Read on to find out why Seat’s baby crossover, the Arona, is one of our top picks

SINGAPORE — Seat might not be a name that immediately comes to mind to an average family man looking to buy a new car in Singapore, but we say: ignore the Spanish brand at your peril. By and large they’re essentially Volkswagens with a sprinkling of extra spice; just as capable, a tad more exciting and somehow slightly cheaper to boot.

Case in point, the Seat Arona. It’s based on the Ibiza supermini, but is a compact crossover, so it’s taller and longer, and has the potential to give other small SUVs (like the Toyota C-HR and Honda HR-V) as well as regular hatchbacks (like the VW Golf) a damn good scare.

That’s mainly due to the Arona finding a good balance between form and function; its styling is a clear indicator of that. Seat’s corporate styling themes make it a crisp looker, far more interesting than the slightly dull (or overly-familiar?) Golf, and far more restrained than the schizophrenically-styled C-HR.

Painted in this metallic Desire Red, the Arona is subtly eye-catching yet doesn’t scream out for attention.

An upright side profile also pays dividends in terms of practicality. Ok, the HR-V’s Tardis-like interior has the Arona beat in terms of space, but it’s miles more roomy (and easier to see out of) than the cramped and claustrophobic Toyota, and feels no less spacious than the larger Golf.

There’s also a great range of adjustability for the steering and seats, meaning it’s incredibly easy to find a comfortable driving position.

Like all other non-premium VW Group brands, the Arona’s style is far more conservative on the inside, but is also equally well screwed together. A lot of the switchgear may be derivative from previous-gen VWs and Audis, but the dashboard’s centrepiece certainly isn’t: the 8-inch infotainment screen.

Though it’s not as intuitive to navigate as VW’s premium system, it’s just as slick looking, and a delightful surprise to find at this price point: even the more expensive Golf makes do with a weeny 5-inch affair.

The compromise between performance and comfort is also very well judged. Too many manufacturers these days equate youthful desirability with big wheels and stiff suspension (for the sake of “handling”), which leads to a lot of new cars being overtly harsh-riding. The Arona is not like that. Its rims and tyre profile are of a sensible size and the tall suspension is on the comfortably supple end of the scale. Ok, that does mean it rolls around a fair bit in the corners, but it’s still a fun thing to hustle along.

As with a number of other small cars, it comes across as enthusiastic thanks in large part to the engine. Here it’s the same 1.0-litre three-pot as in the Golf, but on paper makes slightly more horsepower (115hp versus 110). It certainly feels perkier than the one in the Golf, though whether it’s due to those five extra horses, or slightly different drivetrain calibration, we’re not sure.

As is usually the case with tiny triples, this little unit emits a pleasing thrum when driven hard, though it starts to feel breathless above 5000rpm.

The Arona maybe a little gem to pilot, but most buyers will find true joy in the spec list, as the Arona provides lots of toys for the money: this FR spec ($105,400 with COE) nets you adaptive cruise control, LED headlights, 17-inch rims, keyless access, and blind spot detection, but even in basic Style trim ($95,400) there’s that 8-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, Park Assist, auto headlamps/wipers, a reverse camera and automatic emergency braking.

It’s easy to be jaded by the sheer number of cars flooding the market making outlandish claims about “style” and “youthfulness” and “sportiness”, so it’s nice to come across one that has its ambitions in check.

The Arona doesn’t try too hard to be “trendy”, and therein lies its appeal: it’s sharp looking without being overly-styled, has a practical shape and good visibility, and doesn’t set out to give a “sporty” drive. It has a flair without being flamboyant, and that’s why driving the Arona is the therapy that helps make mini-crossovers feel relevant again.

Seat Arona FR 1.0 TSI

Engine 999cc, inline 3, turbocharged
Power 115bhp at 5000-5500rpm
Torque 200Nm at 2000-3500rpm
Gearbox 7-speed dual-clutch
Top Speed 182km/h
0-100km/h 10 seconds
Fuel efficiency 5.0L/100km
Price $105,400 with COE
Availability Now

about the author

Jon Lim
CarBuyer's staff writer was its fourth historical Jonathan. Old-fashioned in all but body, he thinks car design peaked in the '90s and is enthusiastic about vintage cars and old machinery.