Arosa was launched in 1997 as 1.0 MPi and 1.4 MPi with power steering, tinted glass, immobiliser, radio/cassette and split/folding rear seats. Options include Electron pack (central locking, electric windows), Comfort pack (height adjustable front seats, centre console, uprated trim, rear parcel shelf), and Safety pack (ABS, airbag) and air-con. Models from April 1999 were re-badged S and SE. The entire range got new headlamps and a new look grille in 2000 and 1.4 16v Sport and 1.4 TDi models were added.
The hatchback handles confidently; it can be thrown round corners and has precise steering and a snappy gearchange. Because of its short wheelbase, the ride in town is harsh, while on the motorway Arosa wallows.
The seats in most models adjust for height – similar to larger Seats, which makes for a comfortable driving position. All switches and buttons have a ‘soft’ feel to them and controls are well weighted. Engine noise is a bit intrusive on the 1.0, but other engines do better and the cabin is well insulated against wind and road noise. The rear is cramped and will only really seat two children. It’s popular with couples, who can think of it a two-seater (this gives the front passenger more legroom). However, the tiny boot struggles to carry a couple of overnight bags, let alone the weekly shop; rear seats do fold for extra space. No clever cubbyholes or storage tricks.
The engine line-up is kicked off with a 50bhp 1.0-litre. It’s willing around town, but outclassed on the motorway. The three 1.4s (60 bhp and 100 bhp petrols and a 75 bhp turbodiesel) are competent in all areas and suit Arosa better. The 1.7 SDi is off the pace and gives no better mpg than the 1.4 TD.
Euro NCAP awarded the VW Lupo (which is built alongside the Arosa) four stars for crash safety, which puts it among the safest in its class. The Seat should perform similarly, but was not tested separately. Deadlocks and remote central locking are standard on most models.