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Why Spanish upstart Cupra might find traction Down Under

It might seem mad to launch another car brand here, but Cupra is different. It's got some spunk and the backing of the massive Volkswagen Group

Anthony Crawford
Anthony Crawford
Senior Road Tester

Think of incoming Spanish carmaker Cupra as a performance brand for the people, but with a sprinkling of Habanero peppers on top, and you can see why the team charged with launching the marque in Australia has a spring in their step.

I know it’s a far cry, but look at the images of the Formentor in particular and there’s a bit of Lamborghini influence, from the angular exterior to the hexagonal accents inside and sports seats. Baby Urus?

With a staggering 60-plus individual automotive brands currently operating, Australia remains one of the most competitive markets on the planet – so it’s only right to question the rationale of anyone who presses the launch button in a market as small as ours.

The last thing we need is another car brand is something we hear time and time again, whenever there’s an inkling of someone looking to have a crack here.

Nine times out of 10 they’d be right, but Cupra looks different, with edgy designs, red-hot engines, and the backing of its parent, the giant Volkswagen Group.

Clearly Cupra isn’t for everyone, and that’s straight from the mouth of Ben Wilks, brand director in Australia, who outlined the game plan this week.

“We’re not a brand for everybody. We’re not a brand designed to be liked by everyone, we’re a brand designed to be loved by some,” he said.

So don’t expect to see a Cupra every time you pull up at a set of traffic lights. If you currently drive a Camry, this isn’t for you.

That’s also a strategy highlighted by Cupra’s eclectic range of ambassadors, with the likes of Nathalie Emmanuel from Game of Thrones and Loyle Carner, a hip-hop artist who runs a cooking show for kids with ADHD.

These are interesting people, approaching their art in different ways.

There’s also Kamasi Washington, a saxophonist who composed a score for the Cupra Leon while in isolation via satellite link with his crew in Los Angeles, and Hollywood star, Daniel Bruhl, who hails from Barcelona, the very home of the Cupra brand.

Apparently these individual artists personify what the Cupra brand is all about.

Barcelona FC is another brand partner that needs no explanation and lists the Cupra Formentor as its official car, while the climate-friendly motorsport series Extreme E and Pure ETCR attracts Cupra entries.

There’s a boating collaboration, too, with Barcelona-based De Antonio Yachts, in a bid to explore the creation of a hybrid yacht, to be called, you guessed it… the D28 Formentor.

Remember, this is a new brand that only kicked into life in 2018, but it’s already notched up nearly 30,000 global sales in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, with five successive record sales months currently rolling globally.

All of that has come from just three models; the Cupra Formentor and Ateca crossover SUVs and the Cupra Leon hatchback and wagon range.

Nevertheless, introducing a new brand to Australia is never going to be easy, especially when you could say they’re competing with Volkswagen’s already well-established GTI and its popular go-fast R badges.

But, Mr Wilks is upbeat and confident that with the backing of Volkswagen Group Australia the young Cupra brand can gain a foothold.

Cupra will have the benefit of a strong back-end to be able to deliver a product through its network of ‘Cupra Garages’, which we’re told could be in the form of pop-up sales outlets, as well as outlets based in high-profile retail precincts.

Buyers will also be able to order their cars online, too.

We also know Cupra cars will be serviced within selected outlets in the Volkswagen Group network and covered by a factory-backed, five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty with service plans announced closer to the local launch in 2022.

However, we still don’t know a lot about pricing and specifications outside powertrains and outputs, other than the fact they’ll be priced from just north of $40,000 and top out at just above $60,000.  

Mr Wilks is tight-lipped about future product, but there’s a cool-looking Leon e-Hybrid Sports Tourer in the mix, as well as the all-electric Cupra Born with a range of 548km.

There’s also the possibility of the Cupra Tavascan, an electric car styled on an Extreme E off-road racer. It’s only a concept, but you get the feeling it’s ready to roll.

Let’s not forget Australia’s love of performance vehicles, and the fact two out of three private sales are SUVs, which might give Cupra a fair shot in Australia.

Stay tuned, but this is definitely a brand with a difference. I’m quietly confident.

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Anthony Crawford
Anthony Crawford
Anthony Crawford is a Senior Road Tester at CarExpert.
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