Cupra Formentor long-term test: the eight-month verdict

Published: 29 November 2021 Updated: 29 November 2021

► CAR lives with a Cupra Formentor
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Judge the Cupra Formentor against the closely related VW Golf R, or examine it on its own merits, and either way it stacks up. Just ask reader Jeff Parrington, who judged its design and value ahead of the equivalent Audi SQ2 and BMW X2 M35i and bought a VZ2 like ours.

‘It’s one of those rare cars that seem to do everything it’s meant to do, to a high standard,’ says Jeff, ‘managing to display a degree of originality and panache whilst doing it.’

The VZ2 is the fastest Formentor, with a stonking 306bhp – just 10 shy of the Golf R. Interestingly, the price has risen since the figures quoted for our car, and it now retails at £41,145, a not insignificant £1120 more than the VW. Whether you prefer the Golf’s more restrained polish or the Cupra’s high-riding stance, there’s no arguing with the 4.9sec 0-62mph punch and all-wheel-drive traction.

That performance comes at a price and in these carbon-crunched times it’s hard to stomach the circa-30mpg fuel consumption we averaged. Motorway cruising nudged that up around 35mpg, but figures for many tankfuls began with a ‘2’. Search our long-term test archive online to read a comparison with the Formentor PHEV, which trims those bills rather better.

Nothing broke or fell off and our Formentor was well built, in that upper-volume manner that never quite felt premium. The touchscreen infotainment was a little laggy and slow (though a mid-life upgrade involving a trip back to Cupra HQ seemed to improve things) and the reversing camera would often lay dormant when Reverse was selected. We never quite got to the bottom of that one. Most testers found the ride too stiff, even when the adjustable dampers were set to Comfort. I preferred the more relaxed mode settings, but chose the ‘Cupra’ engine noise for its burbly bark.

The Formentor is surprisingly practical – roomy in both rows and with a decent, tall-hatchback boot. That they’ve put this top hat on the innards of a Golf R is the icing on the cake; it feels a step forward, like the arrival of the Leon 20 VT two decades ago, heralding a great run of bright, fizzy Seat hot hatches. Now it’s Cupra’s turn to move the game on and the Formentor left us quietly impressed.

By Tim Pollard

Logbook: Cupra Formentor

Price £39,830 (£40,385 as tested)
Performance 1984cc turbocharged four-cylinder, 306bhp, 4.9sec 0-62mph, 155mph
Efficiency 31.4-33.2mpg (official), 27.2mpg (tested), 193g/km CO2
Energy cost 17.9p per mile
Miles this month 2214
Total miles 8379

Month 7 living with a Cupra Formentor: roll out!

formentor bamburgh

How’s your 2021 been? I’ve not taken a flight for nearly two years and my travel patterns have become hyper-local since life slowed to a dawdle. But as restrictions have eased in the second half of the year we’ve at least managed a few trips away and the Cupra had a chance to stretch its legs.

On a trip up to Northumbria and the beautiful Bamburgh Castle we found the Formentor’s 420-litre boot a practical shape, managed to stow plenty under the floor in the (space-saver) spare wheel well and poked a long paddle through the ski hatch. The rear seats are accommodating even for six-footers and a quartet of USB-C charge ports means everyone’s digital life is kept topped up even on the longest of journeys.

The Cupra is a capable long-distance express and our VZ2’s adaptive cruise control comes in handy on motorway marathons, expertly maintaining a safe distance to the car in front. I still don’t trust these systems fully, but it’s a handy safety net on a long run. Our biggest gripe? Fuel economy never bettering 32mpg, which is a helluva thirst for a family wagon.

By Tim Pollard

Logbook: Cupra Formentor

Price £39,830 (£40,385 as tested)
Performance 1984cc turbo four-cyl, 306bhp, 4.9sec 0-62mph, 155mph
Efficiency 31.4-33.2mpg (official), 31.5mpg (tested), 193g/km CO2
Energy cost 19.9 per mile
Miles this month 1548
Total miles 6165

Month 6 living with a Cupra Formentor: Cupra mode vs kerb weight

formentor steering wheel

Until the limited-edition 385bhp five-cylinder VZ5 arrives, our 306bhp 4Drive DSG is top Formentor. In day-to-day duties, this is remarkably civilised, sensible family transport – it’s easy to forget its Golf R innards.

Sport mode is a well-judged, alert setting which I prefer for day-to-day driving cross-country. Flick to Cupra mode and all electronic systems are prepped for imminent gym work: the exhaust note adopts a fake, brassy timbre, lower gears are clung on to and the DSG auto whips up some fizzy downshifts when you brake.

There’s no overcoming the 1644kg kerbweight, though.

By Tim Pollard

Logbook: Cupra Formentor

Price £39,830 (£40,385 as tested)
Performance 1984cc turbocharged four-cylinder, 306bhp, 4.9sec 0-62mph, 155mph
Efficiency 31.4-33.2mpg (official), 32.4mpg (tested), 193g/km CO2
Energy cost 19.1 per mile
Miles this month 693
Total miles 4617

Month 5 living with a Cupra Formentor: all becomes clear

formentor cornwall

It’s been a long time since I’ve had a complete change of opinion on a car, and I’ve just experienced exactly that with the Formentor – for the better.

I borrowed the Cupra for a trip to Cornwall. I needed a car with a big boot and bearable road noise on the motorway; Tim Pollard, the Cupra’s usual keeper, had been politely hinting he’d really quite like a go in my Toyota GR Yaris, so we traded cars for a week.

On the journey down I decided the Cupra definitely wasn’t for me. The laggy touchscreen is infuriating, and the sat-nav simply doesn’t work at times. At one point in Devon, it calmly requested we turn right through a dry-stone wall and across a field to reach our destination; at others it just couldn’t find the destination. Linking your smartphone to the screen would be the way forward if it didn’t keep forgetting the connection mid-journey, whether linked by cable or Bluetooth.

And yet by the end of the trip I’d grown to really appreciate the Cupra in every other respect. It handles beautifully when you’re not in a traffic jam, and is calming and simple to drive when you are. Initially I found the extremities of the curved bonnet difficult to judge but in the traffic-and-people bull-run hellscape that is holiday-season St Ives it was a surprisingly easy car to thread through millimetre-to-spare pinch-points.

Unlike some faux-coupe SUVs, there’s genuine space in the back and vision out of it, and to my eyes it looks great too. It turned a lot of heads in Cornwall (although nobody we spoke to could identify the badge). It has great seats and a decent driving position for a long journey, too. In fact, media screen and oddly laid-out controls aside, it’s the most enjoyable crossover I’ve driven. Shame this one’s so pricey, with VZ2 spec, all-wheel drive and the 306bhp engine.

Proof, I suppose, that the more miles and situations you put a car through, the more chances for its talents to shine through.

By James Taylor

Logbook: Cupra Formentor

Price £39,830 (£40,385 as tested)
Performance 1984cc turbocharged four-cylinder, 306bhp, 4.9sec 0-62mph, 155mph
Efficiency 31.4-33.2mpg (official), 34.1mpg (tested), 193g/km CO2
Energy cost 18.4p per mile
Miles this month 986
Total miles 3924

Month 4 living with a Cupra Formentor: nearly all good, most of the time

formentor inteiror

The Formentor is an easy car to live with and the interior is family-friendly. Part of the advantage of its on-tiptoes stance is that it’s easier to slide in and out of than a low-slung hatchback, without being quite as high-riding as an SUV. It’s comfy in both rows, but watch out for a chunky transmission tunnel bisecting the rear footwell owing to the all-wheel-drive hardware.

The latest VW Group infotainment has been pilloried in some quarters and I agree some aspects are fiddlier than they need to be (it’s slow to boot up, the destination history defaults to weird longitude/latitude if you’ve used UK postcodes) but the tech is pretty easy to use on the whole.

So many features are operated by that screen that the rest of the cockpit is remarkably free of physical buttons. I like the stubby gearlever, and the electro-handbrake works well, flying on and off on demand.

Worst cabin feature? The leather-trimmed floor mats whose denim hide constantly gets mucky. It’s the kind of feature you see in a concept car that just doesn’t work in the real world.

By Tim Pollard

Logbook: Cupra Formentor

Price £39,830 (£40,385 as tested)
Performance 1
984cc turbocharged four-cylinder, 306bhp, 4.9sec 0-62mph, 155mph
31.4-33.2mpg (official), 28.7mpg (tested), 193g/km CO2
Energy cost
20.6p per mile
Miles this month
Total miles

Month 3 living with a Cupra Formentor: a genre that defies pigeonholing

formentor front tracking

The Cupra Formentor is a likeable car in the not-quite-a-crossover-more-a-tall-hatch segment that defies pigeonholing. I’m all for this blending of genres: the Cupra feels less roly-poly than SUVs, a dash more practical than regular hatchbacks. I don’t quite know how to describe it, but I like what I see.

After living with a Honda E for half a year, it’s quite a shock returning to the combustion fold. Our Formentor VZ2 has a startling 306bhp from its turbocharged 2.0-litre Golf R innards and the performance is as brisk as it sounds on paper, with 0-62mph in 4.9sec and a thirsty 29mpg average. I’m still learning to tune the acoustics via driving modes; this is not a nice-sounding engine, but in Cupra set-up it takes on all sorts of synthesised rorty overtones for a sportier exhaust note.

It’s decent to drive, the DSG transmission is finger-flicking quick and 4wd manages all that grunt most effectively, but I wish the ride were 30 per cent softer, as it can feel a bit bobbly and bouncy and never truly settles down. I’ve also yet to find anyone who can correctly identify the brand. This is a progressive, modern and quite distinctive kind of hot hatch.

By Tim Pollard

Logbook: Cupra Formentor VZ2 TSI 4Drive

Price £39,830 (£40,385 as tested)
Performance 1984cc turbocharged four-cylinder, 306bhp, 4.9sec 0-62mph, 155mph
Efficiency 31.4-33.2mpg (official), 29.5mpg (tested), 
193g/km CO2
Energy cost 21.1p per mile  
Miles this month 556
Total miles 2051

Diary update: Cupra Formentor, Audi Q4 e-Tron and the art of the haunch

Cupra Formentor and Audi Q4 e-Tron: haunches ahoy!

Had a go in the new all-electric Audi Q4 e-Tron and when parked up next to my Formentor long-termer was struck by the similarities of proportion and surfacing of these two distant cousins. Two clearly distinct designs from different corners of the Volkswagen empire, but the rear haunches share a lot of DNA: bulging wheelarches and artful styling lines blistering the shoulder to subtly dramatic effect.

Both are crossovers that are modishly on trend, mixing an elevated ride height with a hatchback-on-stilts vibe that plots a fine line between full-blown SUV and sportier hatch. Plunging rooflines help here, sacrificing outright practicality in the name of sporting dynamism. 

The two are very different in character though: the e-Tron all sensible EV with a dose of Audi polish applied to the common MEB hardware shared among the group’s new breed of family EVs, the Formentor very much an old-school MQB bruiser with turbocharged 306bhp punch, all-wheel drive and sporting pretence, especially in pop-bang Cupra mode where the exhaust note synthesiser kicks in and the twin-clutch auto blips on downshifts and clings on to lower gears.

Cupra Formentor sunset

The good news is that this sporting vibe doesn’t blunt the Formentor’s usefulness day to day. Fully grown adults can get comfortable in both rows, despite the lowered roofline, and the boot is well shaped and sized. It’s equally at home in Normal mode where it spends most of its time. 

Maybe the new genre of sporting crossovers/SUVs/SAVs/insert-TLA-here aren’t as evil and pointless as critics first feared…

By Tim Pollard

Month 2 of our Cupra Formentor long-term test: comparing it with the PHEV

Cupra Formentor petrol vs plug-in hybrid PHEV

This new Cupra is named after a remote beach on Mallorca, nestling on the northern outcrop of the Mediterranean island at the end of a snaking mountain pass that drops from the sprawl of Pollença. A few years back, I was enjoying a family holiday thereabouts when who did I bump into? None other than CAR editor-at-large Ben Barry. Small world etc.

This time my surprise encounter is with an even closer family member: it’s the Formentor’s new plug-in kin: the E-Hybrid downsizes our VZ2’s 2.0-litre TSI for a smaller 1.4 paired with an 85kW electric motor with a choice of 201bhp or 242bhp system output. We’re in the brawnier version.

Charging the 13kWh lithium-ion battery every night means we manage 21 miles on silent e-propulsion before the petrol engine awakes (not matching the claimed 34-mile e-range). It seamlessly juggles both power sources, acceleration feels brisker than the claimed 7.0sec 0-62mph and there’s a surprising wriggle of torque steer under full throttle.

Because 94 per cent of UK journeys are shorter than 25 miles, the Formentor E-Hybrid makes more sense than our thirsty VZ2.

By Tim Pollard

Logbook: Cupra Formentor VZ2 TSI 4Drive

Price £39,830 (£40,385 as tested)
Performance 1984cc turbocharged four-cylinder, 306bhp, 4.9sec 0-62mph, 155mph
Efficiency 31.4-33.2mpg (official), 27.1mpg (tested), 193g/km CO2
Energy cost 21.2p per mile
Miles this month 535
Total miles 1495

Month 1: the start of our Cupra Formentor long-term test

Keeper Tim Pollard and the CAR magazine Cupra Formentor

A new arrival has joined the CAR magazine long-term test fleet – and few members of the public have a clue what it is. We’ll be living with the Cupra Formentor for the next six months and you can follow all the action and commentary right here, in our daily driver diaries, with monthly reports and extra bonus snippets and observations.

Badge of dishonour
Recognise the badge? Your mates will be baffled and bemused in equal measure, we suspect: the Cupra logo might have won little cut-through with the public since launch in January 2018, but it looks like it could slice off a super-hero’s hand with that sharpened angry nunchucker vibe that looks straight out of a comic book. It’s the newly spun-off standalone brand from Seat, which is attempting to win where DS (Citroën’s offspring), Infiniti (Nissan) and Abarth (Fiat) have in different ways struggled to win traction. 

An athlete at heart
In keeping with its sporty positioning, we’re testing the Formentor in muscular 306bhp form. It’s the top-dog 4Drive DSG model powered by the VW Group’s 2.0-litre TSI turbocharged four, so a mildly detuned VW Golf R in Spanish finery, and that means performance figures to make you sit up and take notice: Cupra claims 0-62mph in a Porsche-bothering 4.9 seconds and top speed electronically capped at 155mph. Other engine choices are 1.5 TSI petrols and a 1.4-litre PHEV that we’ll be sampling in the weeks ahead.

A chassis to match
The engine isn’t the only thing plundered from VW HQ: the Formentor is naturally based on the MQB hardware that underpins most of the Golf-class progeny. This brings the familiar all-wheel-drive set-up and independent suspension, which should be handy to tame the 295lb ft torque plateau all the way from 2000 to 5450rpm. It’s early days, but I can already tell this is going to be a fast car, especially with its rapid-shifting seven-speed twin-clutch DSG transmission. It feels blink-and-you’re-past quick.

Cupra Formentor VZ2

Props department
The badge might be daft, but the rest of the Formentor’s package is more mature. It’s a modish mash-up of a design, a tall hatchback on tip-toes, with just enough crossover vibe to make it stand out from the Leon brigade without quite having the SUV aesthetic of the Ateca. An in-betweener, then. Nobody knows what it is, and I like that – and they like what they see. It’s a contemporary design, which promises decent practicality too. Ours looks smart in Midnight Black, the sole optional extra at £555.

Specs, price and kit
Our Cupra Formentor arrived in the depths of winter in one-rung-down-from-top VZ2 spec, which boosts the standard 18-inch wheels to 19s, adds soft-touch nappa leather hide and electric operation to the sports seats, plus heating for your bum, hands and door mirrors. It also bundles in the Safety and Driving Pack XL, which reads road signs, auto-dips your main beam and uses cameras and sensors to keep you safe. Those Golf roots mean you get all manner of digital gizmos, too.  

Logbook: Cupra Formentor VZ2 310PS 4Drive DSG

Price £39,830 (£40,385 as tested)
Performance 1984cc turbocharged four-cylinder, 306bhp, 4.9sec 0-62mph, 155mph
Efficiency 31.4-33.2mpg (official), 193g/km CO2
Energy cost n/a
Miles this month 75
Total miles 960

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By Tim Pollard

Group digital editorial director, car news magnet, crafter of words