Cupra Formentor review: new crossover packing petrol or hybrid power

Published:22 October 2020

Cupra Formentor front action picture
  • At a glance
  • 4 out of 5
  • 5 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5

By Phil McNamara

Editor-in-chief of CAR magazine

By Phil McNamara

Editor-in-chief of CAR magazine

► Cupra Formentor review, prices and specs
► 306bhp four-wheel drive flagship tested
► Details of plug-in hybrids due 2021

Ah, Cupra. Barcelona’s wannabe premium brand has, for its two years of standalone existence, been strapping high-performance engines into and go-faster bodykits onto the cars of its alma mater, SEAT. That all changes with the launch of the Formentor, a fashionable crossover model which will only be available as a Cupra (not a SEAT).

The Formentor will cost from £27,300 for the 148bhp 1.5-litre petrol with front-wheel drive; three more petrol engines and a choice of two plug-in hybrids complete the range. 

Cupra has chosen to launch its ‘coupe SUV’ from the top down, unleashing the ballistic, 306bhp, four-wheel drive model with adaptive damping. This range-topping Cupra Formentor VZ Edition 310PS 4Drive, as it’s known, costs £43,480. On a PCP, you’ll pay £399 a month for a slightly less plush VZ2 version with the same drivetrain, after a £7519 deposit.

While we’ve driven the performance flagship, there’s also plenty to be said about the regular Formentor’s design and cockpit, technology and dynamics. Read on to find out more.

Cupra Formentor front 3/4 cornering

Coupe SUV they say. What’s that, and how big is it?

The Formentor is a midsize crossover, whose rivals include the Volvo XC40 and Audi Q3. The Cupra is a little longer than its Ateca stablemate but notably the roof sits some 100mm lower. That makes it look like a high-riding estate car, on big wheels (18-inch standard, 19s here) pushed out to the corners of the car. The passenger cell is set back, accentuating the length of the bonnet, a classic German premium design trope. It’s a beefy, handsome design.

Long bonnet makes for good Formentor proportions

One peppered with distinctive flourishes, such as Cupra’s trademark matte paint and lavish use of copper tone, even down to the optional Brembo calipers grabbing 18-inch discs. The pale gloss sills and wheelarch trim that contrast with the body colour feel fresh, there’s not an ounce of chrome, and a tiny FORMENTOR script in the rear lamp is the only mention of the model’s name. All good. But using Seat’s grille and headlamp graphics undermines the independent brand message though. 

The new Cupra rides on VW Group’s MQB Evo architecture, the second-generation of the VW Golf/Audi A3/SEAT Leon’s transverse-engined, front- and four-wheel drive components set. That means a choice of rear axles: a torsion beam for the 150PS petrol and a 2.0-litre diesel (which won’t be sold in the UK), and a more sophisticated multilink set-up for other Formentors. 

And what’s it like inside?

Step inside the VZ Edition and you’ll discover a plush, well-built and spacious cockpit, with seating for five. The wide boot stows 420-litres of cargo (450 on the 148bhp petrol due to its more compact rear axle, 345 litres on the hybrids as batteries eat up space). Rear bench occupants have plenty of legroom and headroom.

Cupra Formentor dashboard

This driver’s bucket seat is tailored in blue leather, and feels supremely comfy with its curved back. Drivers who like to get close to the road can, thanks to a decent amount of seat travel. Look around to see VW Group’s stubby gear selector (facilitated by shift-by-wire tech with no mechanical link), and a lovely orange LED strip that circumnavigates the dashboard’s prow. If you have the upgraded Safety and Driving Pack, it also glows more intensely under the side mirrors to signify something’s in your blind spot: a nice touch.

Twin digital displays – and how they work

Twin digital screens – 10-inch customisable instrument binnacle, 12-inch touchscreen – are both standard. The latter runs the standard navigation (with connected features including live updates to traffic, parking and fuel station prices), wireless Apple CarPlay and DAB radio. Also standard are wireless charging, four USB-C charging sockets, keyless entry, cruise control, lane assist and automated emergency braking. On this VZ Edition model, the Formentor’s materials and quality do have a premium feel.

This flagship Formentor has five drive modes (or profiles, in Cupra-speak): Comfort, Sport, Cupra, Individual and Off-Road. You can toggle through them using the circular button on the bottom left of the sporty steering wheel, which irritatingly only cycles in one direction. 

Another bugbear is that the tiny graphic which displays which mode you’re in gets overlaid with sat-nav instructions, making it impossible to change drivetrain, chassis and suspension profiles when directions are coming thick and fast – unless you poke through touchscreen menus. 

Okay, enough pre-amble. What’s the 310PS 4Drive like to drive?

We start in comfort mode. The steering is light and direct, and pleasingly pointy at low speeds making the Formentor easy to manoeuvre. You may have a turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine at disposal, mustering 306bhp and capable of a 4.9sec 0-62mph sprint, but in Comfort the Formentor can feel a docile thing.

The suspension conveys an underlying tautness, but generally the adaptive dampers (fitted from the mid-level VZ1 trim up) ensure an acceptable ride, though that’s a matter of personal taste. The Bridgestone Turanza tyres can grumble on rough tarmac at 30mph, but that’s accentuated by the mode’s generally quiet demeanour. 

On the motorway at 70mph, the 19-inch wheels only occasionally thump through craters or over crests, there’s an underlying hum of rubber on road and the engine cruises quietly at 2100rpm. A coast function lets it slumber briefly, if you lift off. 

Cupra Formentor rear 3/4

Jam down the accelerator pedal and things change dramatically. The Formentor squirts forward like toothpaste being expelled by the force of an elephantine stomp, accompanied by a baritone drilling which eases into tenor as you change from second to third gear. It’s ferociously, incessantly fast, on demand. The brakes bite hard to wipe it off too. 

The blown 2.0-litre has catapulted a host of Volkswagen Group cars – Golf R, T-Roc R, Audi SQ2 and the Cupra Ateca. This Formentor shades them all on peak power, but offers the same relentless wave of propulsive torque as its peers, through a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission feeding all four wheels when need arises.  

Sounds ballistic. What happens when you turn it up to 11?

Engage Sport, and you immediately notice the accelerator become more responsive, eliminating the extra travel needed to launch the crossover. The software also holds the revs higher, eliminating the occasional lowdown blip of whistly turbo spool-up in Comfort. Similarly Sport eliminates the steering’s lightness, injecting a little more directness and heft to the rack. 

Switch it up again and Cupra turns the steering into a nightclub doorman – heavy-set but surreptitiously alert. It reminds me of piloting RS Audis. The exhaust comes alive, relaying a constant, percussive burble into the cabin and, under load, an urgent roar. But it doesn’t pop and snarl like a Mercedes A45 AMG or the T-Roc R with the Akrapovic exhaust. 

Cupra Formentor clings on well in corners

The damping also becomes pretty fierce, lashing down the body and transmitting the road’s contours like a stone being dragged across the seabed. There’s an Individual mode too, where you can mix the parameters, and use a slider to select from 15 damper settings. But you’ll need patience and a seismometer to detect the differences. The grades allow multiple cornering attitudes from the stability programme too.

So there’s plenty of customisation available. Personally I’d default to the tactility of Sport’s steering and throttle settings, though the downside is the rev-happy transmission map: the simple workaround is to shift via the switchblade-quick steering wheel paddles. 

Four-wheel drive for good traction in bad weather 

High-performance Volkswagen Group cars are unimpeachable on wet, greasy roads, a capability built on four decades of all-wheel drive mastery. The Formentor’s computer-controlled, electro-hydraulic 4Drive system can decide within milliseconds if it needs to send torque to the rear axle, by engaging a multi-plate clutch between the end of the prop shaft and the rear diff. The Cupra can also optimise traction across an axle, by braking a wheel if it detects any slip and channeling power laterally.

The afternoon of our test day is blighted by torrential rain, but that’s of no concern to the Formentor. Long stretches of wide, straight carriageway offer the possibility to hurtle past multiple cars at a time, the fourpot bellowing vigorously. 

Up comes a sodden roundabout. An ageing silver CLK convertible gingerly creeps forward like a reluctant coastal swimmer on a chilly day; the Formentor tips in beside it, the front wheels find ceaseless grip, and the rear end gracefully pirouettes around following the nose’s lead. Then you power on in third gear. The adhesive but ballistic Formentor is among the best of VW’s high-performance SUVs.

Fuel consumption might have you pondering hybrid 

There’s a downside to all this performance: low fuel economy. On the WLTP test cycle, the Formentor 310PS 4Drive VZ Edition returns 31.4 to 33.2mpg. The best we managed in a couple of days was high 20s on the trip computer. And given the Formentor only has a 55-litre fuel tank, you’ll be on very good terms with your local fuel station. Carbon dioxide emissions are a whopping 193g/km.

Cupra has yet to reveal fuel consumption figures for the 1.5-litre petrol, or the 187bhp 2.0-litre petrol. Both will be bested by the plug-in hybrids. They combine a 148bhp 1.4-litre petrol engine with electric motor assistance, driving the front wheels through a dual-clutch transmission. 

The Formentor VZ e-Hybrid musters 245PS (242bhp) from the engine and an 85kW motor, powered by a 13kWh battery pack. The lower output e-Hybrid yields 201bhp, with peak torque dropping from 295lb ft to 258lb ft. Expect a pure electric range of around 31 miles, and deliveries in spring 2021.

 

Verdict

What to make of the first bespoke Cupra? The coupe SUV concept is very zeitgeisty, and with its vast rear passenger space and 420-litre boot, practicality has not been sacrificed for style. It’s a distinctive bodystyle wrapped in a cool design, and feels well-crafted and genuinely premium in this range-topping spec. 

But as much fun as a 300 horsepower, four-wheel drive, all-weather conquering hot hatch is, it feels anchored in Cupra’s past as SEAT’s trim level on Leon hot hatches. A past Cupra needn’t hang onto – with its near 200g/km of carbon emissions and boy racer baggage – if it’s consistent about forging a distinctive new brand that speaks to alternative thinkers, people for whom Germany’s combustion-engined, horsepower arms race is outdated. 

Cupra has two strong cards to play in its bid for recognition: design and electrification. To these eyes, the Formentor looks handsome and fresh, with a nicely-crafted interior too. Its bodystyle and colour palette do stand-out. And we await the plug-in Formentors with interest. 

That’s where the distinctive design meets vogueish drivetrain. The Cupra Formentor 310PS 4Drive VZ Edition is great fun, and a true appetite-whetter. But the make-or-break for Cupra’s future will be the more populist versions: bring them on. 

Specs

Price when new: £43,480
On sale in the UK: Now, deliveries December '20
Engine: 1984cc 16v turbo four-cylinder, 306bhp @ 5450-6600rpm, 295lb ft @ 2000rpm
Transmission: Seven-speed DSG transmission, four-wheel drive
Performance: 4.9sec 0-62mph, 155mph (ltd), 31.4-33.2mpg (official), 193g/km CO2
Weight / material: 1644kg/steel
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 4450/1839/1511

Photo Gallery

  • Stubby gear selector on Cupra Formentor autos
  • Cupra Formentor 310PS 4Drive has plenty of grip
  • Cupra Formentor rear 3/4 action
  • Cupra Formentor 2020 cornering shot
  • Cupra Formentor rear action shot
  • Cupra Formentor petrol blue matte paint
  • Cupra Formentor dashboard
  • Cupra Formentor 19inch Sport alloys copper-coloured
  • Cupra Formentor front seats in blue Nappa leather
  • Cupra Formentor steering wheel with Cupra profile mode button
  • Plenty of space in Cupra Formentor rear seats

By Phil McNamara

Editor-in-chief of CAR magazine

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