SEAT's Tarraco becomes more interesting in PHEV plug-in hybrid form. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.
There aren't too many spacious family-sized SUVs with plug-in hybrid tech, but this is one of them, the SEAT Tarraco FR PHEV. You lose the 7-seat option with the electrified tech but you do get Volkswagen Group engineering, sharp styling, plenty of interior space and, the Iberian maker hopes, a dash of Spanish flair. Which this car will need to stand out in its segment.
You would have expected that the first non-premium Volkswagen Group brand to launch a plug-in hybrid SUV would have been Volkswagen. After all, that marque virtually pioneered plug-in tech for the volume market with the Golf GTE back in 2015. And in 2016 announced a Tiguan GTE concept model that looked set to extend that tech into crossover territory. But curiously, that Tiguan GTE concept never made it to production. And it was left to SEAT to be the first maker from the Volkswagen conglomerate to introduce SUV buyers to plug-in motoring with this Tarraco FR PHEV model, launched in early 2020.
This is one of six electric and plug-in SEAT and CUPRA models the Spanish group has developed using technology from its Wolfsburg parent company, this Tarraco also sharing its PHEV powerplant with a plug-in version of SEAT's Leon family hatch.
The powertrain here is much the same one that features in Volkswagen's Golf GTE and Passat GTE models, a 1.4-litre TSI 150PS petrol engine mated to an 85kW electric motor powered by a 13kWh lithium-ion battery. Total output is 245PS with 400Nm of torque, which gives this substantial 'D'-segment SUV a decent turn of speed, with 62mph from rest occupying just 7.4s en route to 135mph. More significant is the WLTP-rated all-electric driving range of 31 miles.
Various driving settings allow best use of the PHEV tech. There's a pure-electric option but 'Hybrid' mode is the one you'll most commonly default to, a setting that sees the battery and the engine working together, seamlessly cutting in and out. Throughout, the characteristics of an electric motor mean that the full power is available instantly, unlike in an internal combustion unit where the maximum output is only available when it reaches a certain engine speed. There's also a 'Battery Hold' option (so you can save battery charge for later in your trip - say urban driving you might have to do at the end of a lengthy journey). And a 'Battery Charge' option (which allows you to charge the battery via the TSI engine - though it's much more efficient to charge the battery from a plug point).
There's very little visual differentiation to set this PHEV model apart from its more conventionally-engined Tarraco showroom stablemates, but this plug-in variant will still stand out from most other volume versions of this SUV model line. That's because SEAT has chosen to launch it with sporty 'FR' trim, which gives the looks of this family crossover quite a lift. The exterior design is enhanced with wider wheel arches, a sporty rear spoiler and FR-specific 19-inch alloy wheels. At the back, the 'coast-to-coast' full-width rear tail lamp treatment further highlights the FR look. This remains a fairly substantial SUV by mid-sized 'D'-segment class standards. Measuring in a 4,735mm long and 1,658mm tall, it's 38mm longer than its Skoda Kodiaq class cousin.
That and the 2.8m wheelbase facilitate a roomy cabin. And quite a sophisticated-looking one, thanks primarily to a 10.25-inch digital instrument binnacle and the placement of a 'floating' 9.2-inch infotainment screen on top of the dashboard. The 10.25-inch digital instrument display you'll view through the steering wheel allows drivers to access everything from classic information found on analogue dials through to full-colour maps and navigation. Controlling the information provided is simple and requires the driver to merely press the steering wheel-mounted 'View' control button to scroll through the three different available main displays. What else? Well 2nd row seat room is aided by that long wheelbase, but because of the rear under-floor battery placement, you unfortunately can't have the third seating row that features in other more conventional Tarraco models. Out back, there's 700-litre of luggage space, which increases to 1,775-litres when all the seats are folded.
You'll need a premium budget for this PHEV Tarraco - think around £40,000, which is probably more than you might ever have thought to be paying for any sort of SEAT. A key extra for likely buyers is the option to upgrade to larger 20-inch wheels. A fresh colour option - 'Fura Grey' - is also available.
The 'FR' trim package offered with this plug-in model delivers quite a lot. As well as the body styling items, there's black roof rails, Adaptive Cruise Control, keyless entry, a 'Park assist' auto parking system. Plus there's cloth and alcantara-trimmed front sports seats, with the driver's chair being electrically-adjustable. The Tarraco claims to be extremely well connected too, thanks to its brand's 'Full Link' technology built into its centre-dash infotainment screen, which incorporates 'Android Auto' and 'Apple CarPlay' smartphone-mirroring. Access to calls, messages, music and voice recognition as well as a bespoke 'SEAT Drive' App, means that the Tarraco allows you to network wherever and whenever. In addition, Amazon Alexa is also available to help you manage your personal schedule, play music, navigate to points of interest, request personalised news or find the nearest SEAT dealership.
Safety-wise, 'Front assist with bicycle detection', 'Lane assist', 'Pre-Crash Assist', 'Rollover Assist' and Emergency Call are all standard. And SEAT offers a plethora of additional systems too, including 'Emergency Assist', 'Blind Spot Detection and 'Exit Assist', 'Traffic Sign Recognition', 'Traffic Jam Assist' and 'Light Assist' as options.
One of the main reasons you might want this PHEV model is to reduce your Benefit-in-Kind taxation exposure. Well this Tarraco plug-in variant's WLTP-rated CO2 return of well below 50g/km should manage that for you all right. Obviously, another big draw is the 31 mile WLTP-rated all-electric driving range, which means that if the vehicle is only used for short commutes and re-charged regularly overnight, it's conceivable that this Tarraco PHEV could be run almost entirely on off-peak electricity, costing pennies rather than pounds to consume.
The extent to which you can charge this car up from the mains is also obviously going to make quite a difference to your overall running costs. Doing so inevitably takes a lot less time than it would in a comparable full-electric car - say something like a Nissan LEAF. That's because the batteries of a Plug-in hybrid car like this one are much smaller. Powering this SEAT up from a domestic socket would take around five hours, but most owners will want to find an extra few hundred pounds to install a wallbox charger in their garages. Use such a wallbox - or indeed plug in to one of the many public charging points springing up around the country - and you'll be able to reduce your charging time period from empty to around three hours and thirty minutes.
One day, possibly quite soon, plug-in hybrid technology will be accessible to a far wider section of the market than it is now. For the time being though, relatively high pricing is the elephant in the room here. But if you can make that work for you - say on an affordable finance deal - then there's an awful lot to like about this Tarraco PHEV.
It's arguably the most spacious plug-in hybrid model on the market for less than £50,000, which ought to be a draw for family folk. And it's quiet, well equipped and (in FR form) actually quite good looking too. Plus of course, as with any PHEV, there's the appeal of low BiK taxation and the prospect of virtually fuel-free commuting mileage too. In short, it's a logical extension of the brand's 'enjoyneering' philosophy.
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