First impressions count, and on that score Volkswagen’s Cupra brand made a very positive start to its Australian tenure with the Formentor crossover.
It’s a truly sharp-looking car, with a sporty stance, slick light signatures, and curves in all the right places. No wonder it was far and away the brand’s top-seller across its first year here.
While there are four variants available, we’re kicking to tyres on the Formentor VZe plug-in hybrid (PHEV) – making it quite unique in the VW Group Australia stable.
There’s clearly strong interest from Cupra’s early clientele, with the first batch selling out in rapid time. Interesting, given Australia’s reticence to really embrace PHEVs without Europe-style tax breaks.
To give this content, pure EV sales in 2022 across Australia tallied 33,410 units, while regular (Toyota-style) hybrids found 81,786 buyers. PHEVs however languished with just 5937 sales.
Perhaps that means the deliberately niche-focused Formentor – bought by people who clearly do their homework – lends itself to such a bridging technology?
At $60,990 plus on-road costs, the Formentor VZe PHEV costs $7200 more than the petrol-only Formentor VZ and $1000 less than the VZx performance flagship.
That’s a reasonable impost in context of the wider market, but both those alternatives are faster, and only notably less fuel efficient so long as you keep your VZe battery charged.
But it’s also worth considering what pure EVs are available at this price, including the Hyundai Kona Electric Extended Range (from $60,500), Kia Niro EV (from $64,450), Tesla Model 3 (from $63,900), and Cupra’s own Born hatch ($59,990).
2023 Cupra Formentor pricing:
- Cupra Formentor V: $50,690
- Cupra Formentor VZ: $53,790
- Cupra Formentor VZe: $60,990
- Cupra Formentor VZx: $61,990
Prices exclude on-road costs
The Formentor is the first standalone Cupra, though as expected it still shares a few parts with the Volkswagen or Audi stables.
It makes a real impact with its well-bolstered bucket seats – I’m happy with cloth trim and manual adjustments, but you can upgrade to powered seats with leather trim – and the lashings of copper inserts and stitching break up all the monotonous grey.
The steering wheel is a work of art with perforated hand grips, just beautiful leather, and tasteful paddle shifters. Moreover, unlike some other VW Group products, it has easy-to-operate buttons and rollers on each spoke rather than stupid piano black haptic touchpads.
That enormous Cupra logo finished in copper colouring sure looks interesting. You’re hardly apt for forget what you’re driving anyway… While nominally a crossover SUV, you sit low in the seat and look out over the sculpted bonnet, giving it a vaguely coupe-like feel.
The digital cluster is great in all VW applications, with myriad display options and information-rich menus to scroll through via the wheel buttons. I tend to keep it simple: centre-mounted tacho with digital speedo, Spotify status on the right, energy use on the left.
Incidentally there are some very spiffy live animations of the PHEV system in operation, alongside brash ambient interior lighting signatures.
The centre touchscreen is big at 12-inches in diameter and while it runs VW Group hardware and software, Cupra’s dev team have given the screen menus their own brand flavour and design – meaning it’s respectively different to a VW Tiguan, Skoda Karoq or Audi Q3.
While there are no buttons and knobs, there are shortcut icons and widgets running along the bottom and top, to direct you more quickly to the requisite sub menu. And features don’t tend to disengage when you’re on the move either, which is good.
The reversing camera is respectably clear, loading speeds seemed quick, and the phone mirroring functions and satellite-navigation proved reliable and snappy respectively.
Yet like the VW Golf 8, there are those frustrating touch sliders below for volume and temperature controls, with insufficient lighting.
I also think there should be a dial or button bank for shortcuts to changing driving modes, since these are behaviours exhibited while on the move.
The stubby shifter rolling out through the Volkswagen Group features here, and there’s plenty of storage under the dash, on the transmission tunnel, and in the door pockets.
Rear seat space is surprisingly good for what is a fairly compact vehicle (4450mm long, 1510mm tall).
The Formentor looks compact on the outside, but has enough headroom with no sunroof for six-four (194cm) me to sit without my (small amount of) hair touching the roof.
Legroom behind normal-sized drivers is ample, and the air vents and dual USB-C ports make it quite child-friendly – although the rising belt line limits outward vision relative to the more upright Tiguan. There’s also a fold-down central armrest with a ski port back there.
One letdown is the boot space, which in the VZe is just 345L – compared to 450L for the VZ.
Broadly speaking the PHEV drivetrain comprises a familiar (from the Golf and Tiguan) 1.4-litre turbo-petrol engine with 110kW and 250Nm, a 40L fuel tank, a six-speed DSG, an electric motor with 85kW and 330Nm, and a lithium-ion battery with 12.8kWh capacity.
System outputs are listed as a meaty 180kW of peak power and 400Nm of peak torque, channelled through a front-wheel drive configuration for a zero to 100km/h sprint time of 7.0 seconds.
Cupra claims an electric-only driving range from the battery of 58km for daily commutes, and a combined-cycle fuel consumption figure of 1.9L/100km (95 RON) over the first 100km when starting with charge. As always, these figures vary based on driving style and weather.
At 1708kg (tare mass), the Formentor VZe weighs between 61kg (VZx) and 139kg (VZ) more than the rest of the range, which is quite minimal by PHEV standards.. It’s rated to tow 1500kg, between 100kg and 300kg less than the others.
Those who crave more straight-line punch can get the similarly-priced Cupra Formentor VZx with its 228kW output and all-wheel drive (AWD), slashing to 0-100km/h time to 4.9 seconds.
Meanwhile the (Golf GTI-engined) 180kW and 370Nm Formentor VZ takes 6.8s.
Cupra’s pitch is that it offers a sportier edge than either Volkswagen or Skoda, and the Formentor delivers on that promise with its driving character as well as its looks.
Claimed electric range is up to 58km depending on how you drive, and there’s a petrol engine on hand to power the wheels when needed, turning the vehicle into a regular hybrid using regenerative braking to harvest energy between charges.
In its default hybrid mode, the car defaults to the e-motor off the mark. It’s able to do a convincing EV impression up to around 80km/h, allowing the driver to dip relatively deep into the throttle pedal’s travel without the petrol engine firing.
The Formentor leans on the battery management system to tap into petrol power when most efficient to do so. In the end I used half a litre of petrol over a 50km daily commute.
My best pure EV range in the E-mode was around 45km, which is on the short side and trails the claim, though it’s worth noting that the Cupra’s smallish battery keeps the weight and charging times down too. Ditto cost.
Over a 300km period with the vehicle, charging it a few times over week from a wall plug in my driveway, I averaged 5.5L/100km. But if you do short commutes daily and charge after each trip, you’ll probably average half this figure.
To test out the worst-case scenario, I did a 128km loop starting with a depleted battery, and the mild-hybrid efficiency was 7.0L/100km – against a WLTP claim of 6.5L/100km.
As with all PHEVs, you need to charge them overnight to yield their upside, otherwise you’d be better serviced buying the Formentor VZ and spending your savings on rooftop solar. This isn’t a Cupra thing, it’s a plug-in hybrid thing.
When it does fire, the engine is kept fairly refined (save in ‘Cupra’ mode which amplifies the sound heard from inside) and the handover is smooth by plug-in hybrid standards, although not so much as those PHEVs that operate as a series, rather than a parallel, hybrid.
Put your foot down and sometimes it’ll run through the gears – swiftly and smoothly as with all DSGs once moving – but it’s also capable of keeping the engine revs constant and leaning on the electric motor for extra punch. I actually bettered the 7.0-second claim by two-tenths.
The brake pedal occasionally has the wooden, slightly awkward feel that affects many EVs and PHEVs, down to the interaction between regenerative braking and regular braking.
Some plug-in hybrids feel heavy due to the weight of their batteries, but the Formentor feels keen at the front end on turn in, due to a good chassis but also variable-ratio progressive steering. Its 12.8kWh battery pack is small by PHEV standards, and therefore light.
The ride and handling balance is impressive in that the VZe rarely feel harsh over potholes but also also didn’t feel floaty, or wallow around like some of the other plug-in hybrid SUVs we’ve reviewed recently.
The Dynamic Chassis Control adjustable dampers really add a degree of differentiation to the drive modes.
Formentor VZe highlights:
- Mode 2 and 3 charging cables
- LED headlights
- LED daytime running lights
- LED tail lights and dynamic indicators
- Dusk and rain sensors
- 19-inch wheels
- 245/40 R19 tyres
- Tyre repair kit, in lieu of spare
- Roof spoiler
- Black roof rails
- Copper-accented trim
- Heated, power-folding side mirrors
- Proximity key access
- Metallic Paint
- Nevada White
- Magnetic Tech
- Midnight Black
- Asphalt Blue
- Cloth sport bucket seats
- Leather steering wheel, heated
- 3-zone climate control
- Auto-dimming rear-view mirror
- Paddle shifters
- Aluminium pedals
- 6-speaker audio
- 12.0-inch infotainment touchscreen
- 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster
- 4 x USB-C ports
- Wired and wireless Apple CarPlay
- Wired and wireless Android Auto
- Wireless phone charger pad
- Voice controls
- AM/FM bandwidths
- Reversing camera
- Panoramic sunroof – $2100
- Leather and Power package – $2750
- Leather sports seats
- Heated front seats
- Power driver’s seat
- Memory for driver’s seat and mirrors
- Hands-free power tailgate
The Cupra Formentor has a five-star ANCAP safety rating, based on Euro NCAP testing conducted in 2021.
The Formentor scored 93 per cent for adult occupant protection, 88 per cent for child occupant protection, 68 per cent for vulnerable road user protection, and 80 per cent for safety assist.
All models come standard with the following safety features:
- AEB with Pedestrian, Cyclist detection
- Adaptive cruise control incl. stop/go
- Travel Assist
- Adaptive cruise control
- Active lane centring
- Driver fatigue monitoring
- Emergency Assist
- Lane departure warning
- Lane keep assist
- Blind-spot monitoring
- Rear cross-traffic alert
- Front, rear parking sensors
- Reversing camera
- Safe exit warning
Formentor VZx adds:
Cupra’s warranty is five years with unlimited kilometres, extending to eight years or 160,000km for the lithium-ion battery in PHEV models.
Servicing intervals are annual or 15,000km. Cupra is offering buyers a three-year service pack free of charge, with a two-year top up (taking the cover to five years) adding $1400 – $200 more than the non-PHEVs.
In terms of charging, that largely depends on your energy plan. My home three-prong plug would charge up the car in about 5 hours, while a home wallbox would cut this back by a lot.
As with most non-Mitsubishi PHEVs, there’s no CCS attachment for DC public charging, which is fine given the small battery and ICE backup sort of defeats the point.
A price survey from December 2022 shows the average electricity rate is 21c/kWh in Victoria and 36c/kWh in South Australia – meaning the respective cost of recharging a Formentor PHEV in these scenarios would be about $2.70 and $4.70.
The final cost factor to consider is outside of Cupra’s control. I live in Victoria, where the government imposes a road-user charge for PHEVs of 2.1 cents per kilometre, on top of paying fuel levies every time you top up the tank.
Not to mention, PHEVs get none of the State rebates that EVs do.
The Cupra Formentor range is a real winner for a new-to-market brand, offering reassuringly familiar hardware wrapped in a designer body with a decent price tag attached.
It has sporty driving dynamics, a well-crafted and high-tech interior with only a few gripes to be found, a strong ownership story, and in the case of the VZe the ability to drive emissions-free over short hops.
As with all PHEVs you have to commit to honing your charging habits to get the best out of it – something people with driveways and shortish commutes like yours truly may be able to manage.
I personally think the Formentor VZ represents better value, and the VZx with its Golf R-matching pace is clearly more appealing to performance enthusiasts at a fractional impost.
Do your homework, but be sure there’s a Formentor for you regardless of which path you take.
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