The Cupra Formentor and I have a bit in common…
We’re both of mixed heritage – with one part being Catalonian – we both have multiple siblings, and we’re both athletic but with a fuller figure, if you will.
During a recent trip to Spain, I visited my mother’s home town of Balsareny, about an hour’s drive from the region’s capital of Barcelona. On the way there I passed the municipality of Martorell – incidentally the place where the Formentor, as well as a variety of other Cupra and SEAT models, are manufactured.
Being a local product, there were plenty of Formentors getting around. It was the first time I had seen any Cupras or SEATs in person, and I had been itching to drive one ever since.
So, you can imagine how excited I was when I was thrown the keys to the Cupra Formentor VZx, the flagship performance variant of the line-up, as my first taste of the brand on local roads.
Does this new Spanish performance SUV cut its own niche in the Australian market, or is it too much of a derivative VW Group product to make a meaningful impact?
Well, only one way to find out…
The flagship Formentor VZx now lists for $61,990 plus on-road costs or $66,990 drive-away, $500 more than at launch due to the addition of a surround camera system for the 2023 model year.
Our tester’s optional Brembo brake package ($4150) and Petrol Blue matte paint ($2000) up that to $73,140 drive-away.
If that’s a little exxy for you, the range starts at $54,990 drive-away for the Formentor VZ, which runs a 140kW 2.0 TSI drivetrain shared with the likes of the Audi A3 40 TFSI quattro, Skoda Karoq Sportline and Volkswagen T-Roc R-Line, though retains the bulk of the VZx’s standard specification.
There’s also mid-tier VZ and VZe versions, the former running the VW Golf GTI’s 180kW 2.0 TSI powertrain with front-wheel drive, the latter debuting the VW Group’s 180kW 1.4 TSI plug-in hybrid drivetrain in Australia with a claimed EV driving range of up to 58 kilometres.
While the Formentor’s starting price across the range appears higher than equivalent VW Group models on paper, its high standard specification and range-wide drive-away pricing means it generally works out more affordable than the equivalent-spec Audi, Skoda or Volkswagen – even with the latest EU6 powertrains with petrol particulate filters.
2023 Cupra Formentor pricing:
- Cupra Formentor V: $54,990
- Cupra Formentor VZ: $58,490
- Cupra Formentor VZe:
- $63,990 (ACT)
- $64,990 (QLD)
- $65,990 (NSW, SA)
- $66,490 (VIC)
- $66,990 (WA)
- TBD (TAS, NT)
- Cupra Formentor VZx: $66,990 (+$500)
Prices are drive-away
There’s an air of familiarity about the Formentor’s cabin, given a lot of it is a mix of VW Golf, Skoda Octavia and Audi A3.
You get the stubby little shift-by-wire selector, the free-standing 12-inch touchscreen infotainment system, and 10.25-inch Digital Cockpit that’s common to some extent across all MQB Evo products, and it’s almost identical to the cabin of the Leon hatchback – itself a very close relative to the three vehicles mentioned above.
While the interior is something of a Frankenstein of parts – Golf shifter and headlight controls, Octavia electric park brake, Audi-esque digital cluster, Audi TT and R8 on/off and drive mode buttons on the steering wheel – it doesn’t feel like a parts bin collaboration. In fact, it comes together quite well and has its own distinct personality.
Cupra’s signature bronze theme is reflected in the cabin, with the brand’s bull-shaped logo proudly stamped on the steering wheel in bronze, while the air vent surrounds and various trim accents also don the Spanish brand’s hero colour. There’s bronze stitching for the seats, steering wheel, doors and dashboard as well.
I’m a big fan of the VZx’s Petrol Blue leather trim, standard and exclusive to the top-spec variant. It matches the Petrol Blue matte exterior paint, and is certainly one of the more unique interior colours available in the mainstream market.
Build quality feels typical VW Group solid, with soft-touch materials adorning the upper and middle tiers of the cabin, and all the switchgear (though limited) feels well-damped and high quality. I’ll note the brushed metal-look bits are plastic, and the transmission tunnel is lined with harder, scratchier plastics.
The driver is faced with a slick steering wheel, complete with a thin, perforated leather-trimmed rim. I personally would appreciate a bit more girth (size matters, right?), but myself and colleagues were impressed with the look and feel, as well as the ergonomics of the multifunction controls – no touch-capacitive stuff here.
What isn’t so great are the steering-mounted paddle shifters, which are small, stubby, and a bit plasticky. Volkswagen has larger paddles fitted to its R products, and even those units would have been a welcome improvement.
I was more impressed by the Digital Cockpit display behind said steering wheel, which is closer to Audi’s virtual cockpit in look and feel rather than the Volkswagen or Skoda equivalents.
There’s an available central tacho layout which is very previous-gen Audi S and RS, and there are a couple more different configurations than you get in a T-Roc or Tiguan R, for example. It just feels a little bit more high end.
The link to Audi isn’t a coincidence – Cupra’s parent SEAT was owned by the four-ringed marque during the 2000s, and has a history of offering Audi-based products.
Up front the sports seats are comfortable and supportive, and in the case of the VZx offer standard electric adjustment with memory. They hug you nicely without feeling too snug, a stark contrast to the rib-breaking hugs I used to get from my Avia (Catalan for grandmother) when I was a youngling.
The driving position is surprisingly low for a crossover, in fact it genuinely feels like a regular hatchback from behind the wheel. I would have loved to see an extendable base cushion, but that’s a nit-pick really as that sort of feature is usually reserved for the premium marques.
The large touchscreen unit is almost identical to the VW Golf on first impression, though the Cupra/SEAT interface was a little more intuitive in our experience.
Yes, it’s still entirely touch-based and the volume and temperature sliders beneath the displays aren’t backlit (groan), but the array of shortcuts and widgets dotted around the place mean it’s much easier to find what you’re looking for, particularly on the move if you’re in the car by yourself.
The iPhone-like tile icons are always there and allow you to toggle between native system functions and smartphone mirroring quicker and easier, and the Cupra-specific menus and layout are refreshingly different from other VW Group brands – though some sub-menus require a bit of digging to toggle certain settings.
I was expecting a little more from the Beats nine-speaker audio system too. It’s fine and offers clear sound, but it’s not quite as deep and bassy compared to some other premium-branded systems on the market.
The rear seat looks a little snug because of the dark colours and the fat front seats, but being based on the Leon (as well as the Golf and A3) there’s ample room for two adults to sit behind adults. I’m 6’1 and I fit behind my own seating position just fine.
Like the Golf, the Formentor gets a third zone of climate control with directional air vents, as well as two USB-C charging points for mobile devices. Other amenities include a fold-down centre armrest with cupholders, ISOFIX and top-tether anchors for your child seat, as well as rear map pockets and bottle holders in the doors.
Behind the second row is a 420-litre luggage area with the rear seats upright. Cupra doesn’t quote a figure for when the seats are folded, but there’s a pretty smooth transition between the boot floor and seatbacks even if it isn’t completely flat.
That gives the Formentor a meaningful bump in cargo volume than its hatchback equivalents within the VW Group stable, such as the Audi S3 Sportback (325L), Cupra Leon VZx (380L) and Volkswagen Golf R (374L). Further, it also offers more capacity than the VW T-Roc R (392L) though is a little off the boxier Cupra Ateca (485L).
Power in the Formentor VZx comes from the Volkswagen Group’s ubiquitous ‘EA888’ 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine, mated with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission and all-wheel drive.
In this implementation, the four-cylinder engine generates 228kW (5450-6500rpm) and 400Nm (2000-5450rpm) – aligned with the Audi S3 Sportback and Sedan.
Cupra claims the Formentor VZx will dash from 0-100km/h in 4.9 seconds.
Unlike the bulk of the Volkswagen and Skoda ranges, the Cupra Formentor and its stablemates run the latest powertrain technologies from the Group, meaning all engines are EU6 with petrol particulate filters (PPFs).
The VZx requires 98 RON premium unleaded, and claims to drink 7.7L/100km on the combined cycle. Fuel tank capacity is quoted at 55 litres, and CO2 emissions are rated at 175g/km.
The Formentor fires up with that familiar EA888 rumble, something I’m quite accustomed to with my Golf GTI.
In Comfort mode it’s as agreeable and cooperative in daily driving as any other MQB-based Volkswagen, with the adaptive dampers lending a properly comfortable ride in this setting despite the big 19-inch alloy wheels.
Even in its tamest setting the Formentor VZx has a subtle growl to the exhaust note, though the cabin is nicely muted from the outside world unless you’re on coarse-chip bitumen – fairly typical of a vehicle like this.
But you really want to know how it feels when you dial it up, right?
Well, that steering-mounted Cupra button allows you to shuffle through the various drive modes; Comfort, Sport, Cupra and Individual. Annoyingly, it will default to Comfort every time you start it up, unless you switch on the ignition minus the engine start-up and change the mode then.
In the most aggressive Cupra setting, there’s a distinct change to the engine sound in the cabin, thanks to some synthesised assistance via the cabin speakers. Like the Golf R’s assisted soundtrack, it’s not a dissimilar note to an Audi five-cylinder engine.
The ride firms up too, though unlike some other VW Group products the firmest setting isn’t too firm. In fact, you could leave it in Cupra for normal driving and not break your back or chatter your teeth out over tram tracks or road joins, for example.
Get it out in the twisties though, and that’s where the real magic happens…
I went for a drive with some mates through the Victorian hills out far east, on a mix of roads near Healesville and Myers Creek. A lot of these roads are tight, twisty and uneven, while having signed speed limits of 80-100km/h. Perfect test bed, then.
Our cohort of vehicles included a new Mini JCW Clubman as well as a couple of current Toyota Supras, and none could keep up with the Formentor in the higher speed twisty stuff.
Even I was amazed at just how much grip and pace the Formentor offers, irrespective of poor road surface or patches of moisture from a recent downpour. You just point and shoot, and it feels just about as quick and confident as an Audi S3 or Golf R. The optional Brembo brakes offered strong, confident stopping power too.
During the spirited stint I took manual control via the paddle shifters behind the steering wheel, and while they don’t look all that fancy or feel super tactile, they’re your ticket to rapid upshifts and downshifts on the fly.
Between 3000 and 4000rpm the exhaust will pop and bang on overrun, and the Formentor’s quad-tipped rear end also cracks as you snap through upshifts under hard throttle. It’s so much fun.
The steering weighs up in Sport and Cupra settings too, feeling almost a little too assisted in Comfort like an Audi, but it’s very accurate and fluid when you’re going hard, inspiring confidence to keep pushing. Even though I didn’t drive the Formentor on track, I have no doubt it would be a right hoot on a circuit.
When you’re not going hell for leather, the Formentor’s VW Group lineage means it’s just as well equipped as any other MQB product when it comes to assistance technologies and features.
Travel Assist – VW-speak for its semi-autonomous highway mode combining adaptive cruise control and active lane centring – comes as standard on all Formentor models and like other vehicles fitted with this feature, works pretty darn well. I’d go as far to say that this system is up there with the best.
I will say that the adaptive cruise control is a tad more conservative than previous iterations, e.g. my 2019 Golf GTI, meaning particularly in Comfort mode it will brake or drop speed quite early and leave a larger gap than you might want. Sure, it’s great for a safe following distance, but in Australia where people are so ready to cut you off at any given moment, it can prove annoying on higher-traffic commutes.
Side Assist (blind-spot monitoring) and rear cross-traffic alert also help to compensate for the Formentor’s thick C-pillars, and there’s Light Assist (auto high-beam) that likewise is a handy inclusion. Shame there’s no Matrix LED headlights like you get on the Audi SQ2, S3, VW Golf R, T-Roc R and Tiguan R though.
Formentor V highlights:
- 140kW/320Nm 2.0 TSI 4Drive
- 18-inch black-and-silver alloy wheels
- Heated, power-folding exterior mirrors
- LED headlights, daytime running lights
- Auto headlights
- Auto high-beam
- Fog lights with cornering function
- Rain-sensing wipers
- Rear privacy glass
- Adaptive dampers
- 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster
- 12-inch touchscreen infotainment system
- Satellite navigation
- Wireless Apple CarPlay, Android Auto
- Wireless phone charging
- 2 x front, 2 x rear USB-C ports
- Cloth upholstery
- Tri-zone climate control
- Leather-wrapped, heated steering wheel
- Paddle shifters
- Keyless entry, start
Formentor VZ adds:
- 180kW/370Nm 2.0 TSI FWD
- Front-wheel drive
- 19-inch Exclusive Sport black-and-silver alloy wheels
- 18-inch space-saver spare
Formentor VZe adds:
- 180kW/400Nm 1.4 TSI PHEV FWD
- Mode 3 charging cable
- Tyre repair kit
Formentor VZx adds:
- 19-inch Exclusive Sport black-and-copper alloy wheels
- Hands-free power tailgate
- Quad exhaust
- Supersports steering wheel incl. additional buttons
- Petrol Blue leather upholstery
- Heated front seats
- Power driver’s seat incl. memory
- Side mirrors incl. memory function
- 9-speaker Beats premium sound system
- 360-degree cameras
Leather and Power Package (V, VZ, VZe): $2750
- Leather sports seats
- Heated front seats
- Power driver’s seat
- Memory function for driver’s seat, mirrors
- Hands-free power tailgate
Panoramic glass sunroof: $2100 (all models)
Brembo brake package: $4150 (VZx only)
- Nevada White
- Magnetic Tech
- Midnight Black
- Asphalt Blue
Premium metallic finishes: $475
- Desire Red (excludes VZx)
- Graphene Grey
- Dark Camouflage
Matte finishes: $2300 (VZx only)
- Petrol Blue (as tested)
- Magnetic Tech
The Formentor wears a five-star ANCAP safety rating, based on Euro NCAP tests conducted in 2021.
It 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.
Standard safety features include:
- 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:
- Surround-view cameras (MY23)
The Formentor is covered by a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.
All Cupra models will include three years of scheduled servicing with purchase, with a two-year top-up pack adding $1200 ($1400 for PHEV models). Not bad for five years of maintenance on a European performance car.
For reference, the three-year service plan alone for the Volkswagen Golf GTI and R costs $1600-1700.
Real-world fuel consumption, meanwhile, sat closer to 9-10L/100km in mixed driving including plenty of high-traffic CBD commuting and some more spirited stints, a bit off Cupra’s 7.7L per 100km claim.
The Formentor is a delicious thing; fun, fast and turns heads for the right reasons.
Further, the Spanish brand’s distinct design language and more refined takes on the VW Group infotainment and tech suite give the Formentor a distinct personality and feel, so it doesn’t feel like a parts bin special.
There’s not much to not like, unless you don’t like the Petrol Blue leather, or you’re longing for the uprated engine tune and torque-splitting rear differential offered in the Golf R. I also think the $4000-plus spend for the Brembo brake package is a bit rich.
We’d like to see the temperature and volume sliders under the infotainment display backlit or subbed out for proper switchgear too, but other than that the Formentor doesn’t really put a foot wrong. I wish the soundtrack was as loud and in your face as the exterior design too – but personally, I think it’s enough for most.
It’s certainly one of, if not the most complete performance crossover-SUV I’ve driven at this end of the market, and is priced competitively against rival models within the VW Group umbrella. Even better, you don’t have to spend a dime on servicing for the first three years of ownership.
T’estimo, el Formentor…
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