Get ready for the launch of a new “connoisseur’s brand” for a small market already teeming with options.
Volkswagen’s performance brand Cupra, a spin-off of Spanish brand Seat, will announce its Australian plans later in June 2021.
The brand has previously confirmed it’ll launch here in 2022 and Ben Wilks, formerly the general manager of Volkswagen Passenger Australia sales, has been appointed Australian brand director.
The announcement should give us an indication of what models will be offered here and how they’ll be sold.
Spokespeople remain tight-lipped on these details so we don’t yet know, for example, whether Cupra cars will be offered conventionally through existing Volkswagen dealers, or if the brand will take a different tack like an agency sales model.
The brand’s niche focus would give Volkswagen a good testbed for an agency sales model.
A Volkswagen Group Australia spokesperson said Skoda has now become a mainstream brand alongside Volkswagen, so therefore it makes sense to bring a very focused, enthusiast brand like Cupra to Australia.
“It’s a connoisseur’s brand, and we’re bringing it in because we can,” said a spokesperson from Volkswagen Group Australia.
“I think Australians will particularly get it… It is not for everyone, and I think that’s what exciting about it. It’s actually really focused. Really focused on people who read CarExpert, on people who ‘get’ cars and make informed decisions.”
Once merely a performance trim level used on Seat (Volkswagen’s Spanish brand, like a sportier take on Czech company Skoda), Cupra was spun-off into its own sub-brand in 2018.
It sells fettled versions of Seat products but is also offering an increasing number of Cupra-exclusive models.
It also offers all-electric models (the MEB-based Born), plus plug-in hybrid versions of the Forementor and Leon.
While we’re waiting until 2023 at the earliest to see an all-electric Volkswagen and plug-in hybrids remain off the table for Audi, Volkswagen and Skoda in Australia, the Cupra brand’s lower scale and premium positioning potentially opens the door for electrified models.
However, VGA has made clear the lack of government CO2 emissions standards has pushed us far down the priority list.
The plug-in e-Hybrid Leon and Formentor both use a turbocharged 1.4-litre four-cylinder engine and are available in different tunes, producing up to 180kW of power and achieving an all-electric range of up to 60km.
Australia will be a beachhead for the upstart brand’s global expansion beyond its European homeland, though it has already announced its entry into New Zealand as well.
Cupra products won’t be joined on the boats by regular, Seat-badged models, which were last seen in Australia in 1999 but have since reappeared across the pond in New Zealand.
The Cupra range currently consists of tuned versions of the Leon small hatch and wagon and the Ateca small SUV.
The company will also put into production the Tavascan concept revealed in 2019, an electric performance SUV based on Volkswagen’s MEB all-electric architecture.
It’ll reach Europe and “overseas markets” in 2024.
In New Zealand, all Cupra models are currently powered by turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engines mated with seven-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic transmissions.
The Leon hatchback and Ateca both produce 221kW of power and 400Nm of torque, though the former is front-wheel drive and the latter is all-wheel drive.
The Leon wagon (“Sportstourer”) and Formentor both feature all-wheel drive and a more powerful 228kW tune.
The Formentor is also available with a less powerful 140kW/320Nm turbo 2.0-litre.
There’s a spicier Formentor VZ5 that borrows the 2.5-litre turbocharged five-cylinder engine from the Audi RS3 and RSQ3, producing 287kW of power and 480Nm of torque, though it unfortunately is available only in left-hand drive.
There are some Seat models that Cupra hasn’t gotten its hands on yet.
The Cupra name first debuted on the second-generation Ibiza light hatch and was sold here after Seat’s 1998 relaunch until its withdrawal in 1999.
However, the current (fifth) generation of Ibiza isn’t offered as a Cupra even though a concept was revealed in 2018.