SEAT Arosa (1997 - 2005) review

BY ANDY ENRIGHT

Introduction

Nothing seems to split motorists opinions more than the desirability of city cars. You either love them or hate them, and there seems to be no middle ground. SEAT's offering in this sector, the Arosa, has been quietly carving out an enviable market share against offerings such as the Ford Ka, Fiat Seicento and its VW Group sister, the Volkswagen Lupo. Given that these cars see a lot of punishing city driving and are obviously built down to a budget, does a used Arosa hold any allure? Find out here.

Models

Models Covered: 3dr hatch [1.0, 1.4, petrol, 1.7 diesel. base, S, Sport, SDi]

History

When the Arosa was launched in September 1997, the British public was just coming round to the idea of super compact city cars. The Fiat Cinquecento had paved the way and the Ford Ka was, after initial public shock at its styling, beginning to sell in volume. In many ways, SEAT were not entering this sector completely afresh, as the sub-basic SEAT Marbella, based on Fiat's old Panda, had been their offering for years. The Marbella, however, did not fit in with the Volkswagen Group's ideas of what a SEAT should represent, and most are now enjoying their retirement on the Costa del Crime. Upon launch, the Arosa range consisted of the 1.0 manual, boasting a hardly terrifying 50bhp, and the 1.4 litre from which it is said experienced drivers could extract 60bhp. Shortly afterwards, in January 1998, the Arosa 1.7 SDi was launched with a manual gearbox and a 60bhp output from its tiny turbodiesel unit. This was for some time Britain's most fuel-efficient car, returning 78.5mpg on the official EC combined test cycle. March 1999 saw the arrival of S model designations for the 1.0, 1.4 and 1.7 litre cars, and for a short while a further SE designation. All this changed in early 2000, when SEAT rationalised the range, adding a 16V Sport model with a 100bhp 1.4 litre engine. The range then consisted of 1.0, 1.0S.1.4 S Auto, 1.7 SDi and 1.4 16V Sport. In 2001 the range was facelifted with a restyled nose, tail and interior giving the Arosa more personality and better quality fittings to leapfrog the model ahead of the VW Lupo.

What You Get

Surprising SEAT. Okay, so the tagline may have been purloined from another manufacturer, but it's a fact. Anybody expecting the Arosa to be little more than a motorised Anderson shelter would be in for a vast shock. The interior quality is deeply impressive. Whereas radio telescopes can pick up faint echoes of Fiat Seicento doors that were slammed three years ago, shut the door on an Arosa, and there's a reassuring thunk, Like an Audi in fact. All models come fitted with power steering, making one wonder how we ever managed without it in days gone by. There's also an adjustable steering wheel, driver's airbag, face-off stereo and VW's comprehensive 12-year bodyshell warranty. There's also the three year unlimited mileage warranty to factor into the equation. There is just about enough space for four adults inside, but don't expect to be able to carry their luggage with any great success. Nervous passengers are best sat in the front, as the rear seats can get worryingly close to traffic if it chooses to tailgate. The S variants received electric front windows, better quality upholstery, central locking and body coloured bumpers. If you want to make a statement, a Neon Yellow 1.4 16V Sport is the model to plump for. This came with 14-inch alloy wheels, front spotlights, lowered suspension, a lairy exhaust, sports seats, dual airbags, a leather rimmed steering wheel and blue instrumentation.

What You Pay

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What to Look For

Swiss watches. The sun rising tomorrow. The Irish winning the Eurovision Song Contest. All of these pale compared to the reliability of VW Group products, and the Arosa is no exception. As many Arosas were purchased as post-driving test presents, check for parking bumps. On the 16V Sport model, ensure that the front tyres aren't sizzled. Aside from that, the usual caveats of insisting on a fully stamped up service history and a good clutch action, crucial on a car which may be traffic bound for most of its life.

Replacement Parts

(approx based on an Arosa 1.0) No great horrors here. Arosa parts prices are generally reasonably priced, with a clutch assembly costing around £100, a full exhaust in the region of £140, front brake pads £35, and rear brake shoes £15. An alternator retails for approximately £170, and a starter motor £100. A replacement headlamp unit will set you back £65.

On the Road

The first impression upon driving the Arosa is of class-leading refinement. It may sound like a cliche, but it is one of those cars that genuinely does feel larger and more expensive than it is. You won't feel the need to flog it to death around every corner, as even the 1.0 litre engines are reasonably relaxed. One of the reasons for this is that manufacturing that quality feel invokes a weight penalty, and the Arosa doesn't have the playful puppy demeanour of Fiats' Seicento. The flipside of this is improved safety. The Arosa is eminently crash-proof, and provides such niceties as ISO-fix child seat mounting points so you won't have to wrestle with seatbelts. The 1.7 litre turbodiesels are the most pleasant option, generating that great capability that only a small car with a relatively big engine can serve up.

Overall

A carefully selected SEAT Arosa is, alongside the Ford Ka, the best value used buy in the supermini class. Less costly than a VW Lupo, and more durable than a Fiat Seicento, the Arosa is a measured choice. Pick of the range is the frugal 1.7 SDi, which offers great returns at the pump and a less than puny feel at the wheel.