Cupra Formentor E-Hybrid review: the performance PHEV

Published:03 March 2021

Cupra Formentor E-Hybrid: the CAR Magazine review
  • 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, specs
► From the entry-level, £27k petrol V1...
► ... to PHEV and 306bhp 4wd flagship

Cupra is the upmarket sister brand to Spanish car maker Seat, and it's rolling out its first bespoke model, a crossover-SUV mash-up called the Formentor. It's a distinctive-looking hatchback-on-stilts that will turn heads with its on-tiptoes stance and a badge none of your mates will have seen before.

The range is growing with new cheaper models, extra powertrains from entry-level, 148bhp V1 to the plug-in E-Hybrid models capable of driving up to 37 miles on electric power and a rabid all-petrol 306bhp range-topper.

Read on for our review that tests all the most common engine and spec combinations, to help you find the perfect Formentor for your needs.

Cupra announces five-cylinder Formentor VZ5 with 385bhp

Quick recap: what exactly is the Cupra Formentor? 

For Cupra's first two years of standalone existence, it strapped high-performance engines into and go-faster bodykits onto the Leon and Ateca cars of its alma mater, Seat. Now the brand has added the unique Formentor, which will only be available as a Cupra, with that cartoonish super-hero pincer badge.

Cupra Formentor front 3/4 cornering

The range starts with the entry-level 148bhp V1. Running a 1.5-litre petrol engine mated to front-wheel drive, this 'coupe SUV' costs £27,395 in the UK; three more petrol engines and a choice of two plug-in hybrids complete the range, but there will be no diesels for Britain. That five-cylinder uber-Cupra won't be too far behind, although it will only be available in left-hand drive when UK sales start in late 2021.

Read on to find out more about the Formentor’s design and cockpit, technology and dynamics. 

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 on the 4Drive VZ. 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. 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 148bhp petrol and a 2.0-litre diesel (which won’t be sold in the UK), and a more sophisticated multi-link set-up for other Formentors. 

And what’s it like inside?

Step inside the Formentor 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

The seats are supportive and comfy, with plenty of side support on the basic cloth-trimmed V1 models: the go-faster VZ Edition has sporty buckets tailored in blue leather, which feel cosseting with their curved backs. 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 rings 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 blindspot: a nice touch.

On the road in the entry-level 1.5-litre V1 Formentor

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, 18-inch black and silver alloys, cruise control, lane assist and automated emergency braking.

Let's start in the entry-level V1 model, which feels premium-quality with its copper accents on vents and steering wheel, big, central touchscreen angled towards the driver and well-crafted materials. The seven-speed, dual-clutch DSG gearbox lifts the price to £28,825; the only option fitted here is £880 camouflage green metallic paint. This more than lives up to its billing, disguising itself as grey until sunshine brings out its subtle verdant hue.

Cupra Formentor V1 150PS front view

The 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo engine is familiar from all those VW Group cars listed earlier. It's hushed on a cruise, vacuum cleaner-gruff under load, and winningly punchy across the rev range. Peak torque of 184lb ft is delivered from a nice and low 1500 revs, and it can whisk this base Formentor from stationary to 62mph in 8.9sec. That doesn't sound quick but you want find it wanting in everyday driving.

Ride and handling: Formentor for fun

Cupra is being positioned as a sporty, premium brand, an Alfa Romeo of Spain if you will. And even this base, 1463kg Formentor walks the walk, with a taut suspension that keeps the body well lashed down in corners. Ride quality is firm but not harsh, and this pays back with decent dynamics and handling.   

The steering feels light but lithe, responding nicely to inputs. And the MacPherson strut front end generates loads of grip, and there's an innate sense of stability: line up a sweeping corner, and you can jiggle the steering with adjustments as you get back hard on the power, and the Formentor hauls you through. It's spritely and enjoyable, not tottering and roly-poly like some higher SUVs.

Cupra Formentor V1 150PS rear 3/4 view

On our 62-mile test route mixing motorways, B-roads and urban spurts, the Formentor V1's trip computer averaged just over 30mpg. Some way off the 39.2 to 42.2mpg consumption ratified for this model, which emits 151g/km of CO2, even though a couple of cylinders take a siesta to save fuel under light load.

The Formentor's pretty quiet on a 70mph cruise, with the odd whistle of wind around the front pillars, or grumble of Continental EcoContact 6s on scarred surfaces. If you fiddle with the Drive Profile menu, Sport slightly boosts steering weight and changes the engine map to keep you closer to its sweet spot, but that's largely it. Nothing too techy like adjustable dampers – if you want maximum tunability, it's time for the steroidal 4Drive VZ Edition.

Base Cupra Formentor V1 rear seat

Cupra Formentor E-Hybrid review

We've now tested the first plug-in hybrid models too – with a choice 201bhp or 242bhp models. That's total system output, and the 85kW electric motor is standard in both, supplementing the 1.4-litre 148bhp TSI petrol engine. Three-quarters of hybrid buyers are set to pick the less powerful model.

A 13kWh lithium-ion battery sits under the boot floor, with enough capacity for a claimed all-electric range of 34 miles (201bhp E-Hybrid) and 37 miles (242bhp). We tested the more powerful model and found this to be typically optimistic, managing 21 miles on e-power in mixed rural and town driving in winter. We suspect if you creep around a city centre at lower speeds in summer, you'll stand a decent chance of getting closer to those claims.

These plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) are front-wheel-drive only (4Drive is not possible in the electrified MQB Evo platform), and the acceleration on offer is quite startling in the 242bhp model: it feels quicker than the 7.0sec 0-62mph claim, and there is a noticeable squirm and torque steer if you stand on the throttle with a full charge, even with the XDS electro-braking to manage traction. It's riotously quick when needed, but driven more sensibly the E-Hybrid impresses, as it metes out the power from its twin motors sensibly and subtly. You're rarely aware which engine is propelling the car.

Cupra Formentor E-Hybrid PHEV plug-in hybrid review

When you consider that 94% of UK journeys are less than 25 miles, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, the Formentor E-Hybrid makes a lot of sense. It is quite pricey to buy, but we'd put it at the top of our list of favourite Formentors – which is good, since it's likely to account for half of all models sold globally. 

What didn't we like about the PHEV? We couldn't find a regenerative braking mode, which is strange since equivalent Volkswagens offer this, and it was a shame we never saw more than 23 miles on the e-range. 

What’s the 306bhp 4Drive range-topper like to drive?

This flagship Formentor (for now) 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. 

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, though the 150PS V1 didn't best that by much. The Formentor VZ Edition has a 55-litre fuel tank (five litres more than the base car), so you’ll be on very good terms with your local fuel station. Carbon dioxide emissions are a peaky 193g/km.

If your top priority is good fuel consumption, consider 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. 

Verdict

What to make of the first bespoke Cupra? The coupe SUV concept is very zeitgeisty, and with its vast rear passenger space and big 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. 

The 300 horsepower, four-wheel drive, all-weather conquering VZ Edition is great fun, even if it feels anchored in Cupra’s past as SEAT’s trim level on Leon hot hatches. A ballistic crossover is a minority pursuit, but the good news is that the bum-basic fourpot V1 doesn't leave you short-changed for dynamics, equipment or interior quality.

The world doesn't need another car brand. But if you fancy something different, with a sufficiently sporty driving experience wrapped in a handsome and fresh body, then the Cupra Formentor is worthy of consideration. 

More Cupra reviews by CAR magazine

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

Rivals

Other Models

Photo Gallery

  • The Cupra Formentor E-Hybrid PHEV is available with 202bhp or 242bhp outputs
  • 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
  • Cupra Formentor V1 150PS front view
  • Cupra Formentor V1 150PS rear 3/4 view
  • Cupra Formentor V1 150PS dashboard
  • Cupra Formentor V1 150PS rear seat

By Phil McNamara

Editor-in-chief of CAR magazine

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