The Seat Arosa arrived in 1997 as a replacement for the Seat Marbella. The difference between the pair couldn’t have been more stark.
One was based on the ancient mechanicals of a Fiat Panda, while the other was built in the very German city of Wolfsburg. It must have been like jumping off a donkey and riding a thoroughbred.
Actually, that’s a bit of a stretch, because although the Arosa represented a huge step forward for Seat and its smallest car, it lacked flair and imagination. For Volkswagen’s ‘Spanish Alfa Romeo’ division, this was a little unfortunate, although not surprising given the car’s German roots.
Volkswagen unleashed the Seat Arosa like some kind of sacrificial lamb. Going against the stereotype, Seat laid down its beach towel a year ahead of the Volkswagen Lupo, with an entry-level price tag of just £6,995. An attempt to iron out any quality issues and gather feedback from the press and customers before the launch of the Lupo? Probably.
Although the Arosa and Lupo were broadly similar, the Volkswagen had a cuter face and a more appealing badge. It also spawned the brilliant Lupo GTI, which channeled the spirit of the Mk1 Golf GTI, long before the arrival of the Up GTI.
Volkswagen denied us a hot version of the Seat Arosa, although the Arosa 1.4 Sport was at least an alternative to the Lupo Sport. Zero to 60mph in around 10 seconds, with a top speed of 117mph. Less siesta-inducing than the 1.0-litre version, but not as racy as the Lupo GTI.
Horsepower shouldn’t have been a problem. As the Ford Ka demonstrated, a decent chassis is the key to having fun in a small car – power isn’t everything. The German-designed and built Seat Arosa just felt too mature for a city car. The little Ford remained the Ka of choice for youngsters and pensioners in search of cheap thrills.
Still, it was affordable. At a fiver under £7,000 in 1997, the Seat Arosa was the cheapest car you could buy with power steering, although the system did its best to rob what little power the 1.0-litre engine offered. The 1.4-litre engine was better, but even that launched with a power-sapping automatic transmission. A manual gearbox arrived later, as did a diesel engine.
All of which means this 1998 Seat Arosa 1.4 automatic isn’t going to set many hearts racing. What it demonstrates is that time has been kind to the styling of the Spanish city car. Squint really hard and the chopped-off tail has a hint of Lancia Y10 about it. You may have to squint harder than that. Harder. A little more.
The original corporate nose is preferable to the facelift, which always looked like it was trying too hard to be an Ibiza. Also note the position of the rear wheels, which are mounted so far back, they’re practically in the car behind. The mitre-shaped rear wheelarch is a subtlety you may not have noticed. Still want that Hyundai Matrix?
It’s a shame that this one-owner, 23,000-mile example is an automatic, but beggars can’t be choosers when it comes to finding a minty-fresh Arosa. You’ll have your own opinion on the price tag. Click the link to discover what it is. [clickbait]
The paintwork looks free of blemishes, the interior appears to be fresh out of the showroom, and the original ‘SEAT F2 WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONS’ text is present on the rear window. Small details matter.
Cars like this Seat Arosa often fall through the cracks when it comes to preserving cars for future generations. Only the rare, exotic and performance versions tend to survive in decent numbers.
Exciting? Not really. Arousing? Certainly not. One of the best examples in the country? Probably. Do you have to be loopy to drop this amount of cash on Seat’s version of the Lupo? That’s up to you to decide.