Cupra Formentor SUV review
“The Cupra Formentor is a quick and fun-to-drive SUV but it’s still heavily influenced by cheaper SEAT models”
- Sharp styling
- Fun to drive
- Firm ride
- Some cheap plastics
- Touchscreen could be better
The Cupra Formentor represents the dawn of a new era for SEAT’s spin-off brand; it’s the first standalone Cupra and one that highlights the brand’s move to offer eco-friendly plug-in hybrids and fully electric cars as well as thirsty petrol models.
Initially, the Formentor arrived with just a high-performance 306bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine, which was already in use in the Cupra Ateca and Volkswagen Tiguan R, as well as a wide array of VW Group performance cars. It’s now been joined by 242bhp PHEV option, shared with the Volkswagen Golf GTE, along with a more affordable 201bhp PHEV and a 148bhp 1.5-litre petrol engine intended to give buyers a more affordable option. The range-topping petrol engine manages 0-62mph in under five seconds, while the plug-in hybrid takes a couple of seconds longer but can manage up to 34 miles of electric-only driving.
For private buyers, the 1.5-litre TSI petrol is still likely to be the best buy, even if it's not the most interesting engine in the lineup. With 148bhp and a 0-62mph time of 8.9 seconds with a manual or DSG automatic gearbox, it's nippy enough for most SUV drivers, and this smooth and refined engine can return just over 40mpg. Its starting price is what's likely to win it the most buyers because it’s significantly lower than that of the range-topping PHEV or 306bhp Formentor.
Despite not having much steering feel, the Cupra Formentor SUV is fun to drive. There’s a huge amount of grip, while versions fitted with a four-wheel-drive system boast impressive all-weather abilities. Body roll is kept to a minimum, even though the Formentor sits higher than the new Cupra Leon. A range of driving modes culminates in a Cupra mode, which introduces a lower, more exciting engine note, a sharper throttle response, the firmest suspension setting and heavier steering.
It may be a brand-new, Cupra-specific model, but the Formentor shares most of its interior with the Cupra Leon, and therefore the SEAT Leon. We’ve no real issues with the familiarity of the interior but the touchscreen definitely could be a bit more intuitive, and some of the plastics don’t quite live up to the Formentor’s £40,000-plus price in top versions. The same criticism is also true of the Volkswagen T-Roc R and the Cupra Ateca.
The Formentor sits in between those two rivals for boot space, with 420 litres. Rear passenger space is good, although those in the back will have to crane around the bulky front sports seats to see forwards. The Formentor often feels like a coupe version of the Cupra Ateca, and despite the slightly reduced practicality, its design is likely to appeal to hot hatch buyers or anyone considering a sporty estate car.
While the 306bhp version arguably suits the Cupra brand the best and the PHEV is likely to go down a storm with business drivers, our pick is the 1.5-litre TSI in the entry-level V1 trim. Its price represents the best value, buyers are still getting the Formentor's enticing design and good handling, and it's also a pleasant engine for most driving.
MPG, runnings costs & CO2
With an SUV body, four-wheel drive and plenty of power, it’s no surprise that the 306bhp version of the Cupra Formentor isn't cheap to run. It manages 33.2mpg when driven carefully, compared to 32.5mpg for the T-Roc R and 35mpg for the BMW X2 M35i, but you’ll struggle to notice a difference between rivals in day-to-day running.
When we tested this model, it was capable of economy in the mid-30s at a motorway cruise but this figure dips to nearer 25mpg when you’re in town. Drive it with enthusiasm and the number drops into the teens.
The 148bhp 1.5-litre petrol engine is less exciting but economy is noticeably better, with up to 44.8mpg officially when combined with a six-speed manual gearbox. CO2 emissions are between 143 and 153g/km depending on the exact spec of the car. This engine is available with a seven-speed automatic but it does make economy slightly worse.
There are two plug-in hybrid versions of the Cupra Formentor if you’d like considerably better official fuel economy. The 201bhp model returns an official figure of up to 235.4mpg with CO2 emissions of 32g/km, while the 242bhp version can manage up to 188.3mpg with CO2 emissions of 35g/km. As with all plug-in hybrids, you have the opportunity to complete shorter journeys on electric power alone if you make sure to keep the battery charged.
The plug-in hybrids are the obvious choice for business users, as the Benefit-in-Kind rate is substantially lower than the petrol - and any of the car’s non-hybrid rivals. VED (tax) is the standard rate for the petrol, while the PHEV is at the discounted rate, although adding any options to the petrol model will push it over the £40,000 threshold, in which case you’ll be paying a significant surcharge until the car’s six years old. The PHEV is expensive, costing around £10,000 more than the entry-level petrol in higher trims.
Engines, drive & performance
The Formentor certainly looks fast, with deep creases and a sleek shape, and its appearance is backed up by scorching performance - in the petrol version at least. Zero-to-62mph acceleration takes just 4.9 seconds, which is faster than all but the most powerful hot hatchbacks, and the top speed is pegged at 155mph. The Formentor uses the same underpinnings as the Volkswagen T-Roc R, so the two cars’ performance is unsurprisingly similar.
Four-wheel drive and sticky tyres mean the Formentor offers an incredible amount of grip, and we were impressed with how little body roll you get during cornering. That in turn means the car feels stuck to the road more of the time, and the changeable weather during our drive showed that the Formentor can be just as fast in wintry conditions. There's a lack of steering feel but this is common in rivals and doesn't get in the way of having fun behind the wheel.
Everything gets more intense when you put the car into Cupra mode, which can be accessed straight from the steering wheel. The steering becomes heavier, the throttle response is sharper and the engine noise becomes a lot menacing. It’s fantastically grumbly when you step off the throttle, rather than popping and banging like a lot of the hardcore hot hatches. The noise isn’t synthesised through the speakers, either - an actuator in the bulkhead and the exhaust provide the sound.
With 148bhp and the choice of a six-speed manual gearbox or optional seven-speed DSG automatic, the 1.5-litre TSI is also a well-known engine. It's a stalwart of the Golf range for a start and here it gets the Formentor from 0-62mph in 8.9 seconds, with a top speed of 127mph.
The PHEV uses a 1.4-litre petrol turbo engine and electric motor, getting the Formentor from 0-62mph in seven seconds - not especially quick by Cupra standards. It doesn't sound very inspiring if you accelerate hard but in Cupra mode the sound system will take over and reproduce a five-cylinder engine noise.
Interior & comfort
Given Cupra's sporty image and reputation for hardcore hot hatchbacks, you'd be forgiven for expecting the Formentor to have a very stiff and uncompromising ride. Instead, it's rather more sophisticated and smooth than that, even with 19-inch alloy wheels shod in low-profile tyres. Thanks to its multi-link rear suspension, it feels communicative rather than unforgiving
Cupra’s trademark styling touch is copper-coloured detailing - you’ll notice the badges and wheels have a metallic tinge - and that continues inside. It feels classy and less brash than some of its rivals, and the interior does feel more special than that of a standard SEAT Leon. The leather upholstery, copper stitching and dash padding helps too, but look further down and you’ll see plastics that were designed for less expensive SEAT models. Overall, it feels more suited to its price than the VW T-Roc R’s interior, which is a sea of hard plastics.
The dashboard is dominated by a 12-inch touchscreen that provides a sleek, minimalist look. A quest for a minimalist design has led the VW Group to do away with nearly all the physical buttons in many of its cars, but in some scenarios these would actually be easier to use than having to prod the touchscreen multiple times. It’s too hard to access even basic functions in our opinion, so you might find you’re taking your eyes off the road for longer than you’d like.
Even in V1 trim, there’s plenty more tech to enjoy, with the Formentor packing a digital cockpit, a 12-inch touchscreen, 18-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry, rear parking sensors and three-zone climate control. V2 adds 19-inch alloys, Nappa leather bucket seats with copper stitching, heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, front parking sensors and a rear-view camera.
Step up to the VZ2 trim and the 19-inch wheels and sports seats are fitted, along with a bodykit, adjustable dampers, a rear-view camera and all-round parking sensors. VZ2 versions get Nappa leather upholstery and the same interior upgrades as the V2 trim, while VZ3 versions get a model-specific 19-inch alloy wheel design and Brembo high-performance brakes.
Practicality & boot space
Coupe-SUVs are really on-trend at the moment, and they generally trade a little bit of practicality for style. The Formentor can be thought of as a sleeker version of the Cupra Ateca (albeit with a very different interior), and as such the boot doesn’t carry quite as much as the Ateca. The difference isn’t huge, though, and the Formentor’s 420-litre boot is that bit bigger than an Audi S3 or Cupra Leon’s boot. There are a couple of tethering points and a ski hatch in the middle of the split-folding rear seats.
With a longer wheelbase than the Ateca, the rear seats are quite spacious, and all but your tallest friends will be happy to sit in the back. There’s a good amount of headroom and legroom - even with those chunky front seats - and it shouldn’t get too claustrophobic in the back. The Formentor also features a number of storage cubbies for various bits and pieces.
Reliability & safety
The Volkswagen Group isn’t scared to share parts between its brands, and the Cupra Formentor has plenty carried over from other cars, which should mean everything is tried-and-tested. SEAT owners reported a roughly average number of faults in the first year. The brand itself came 14th out of 30 manufacturers (above parent company VW) and, with even the styling being similar, Cupra will surf on SEAT’s coat-tails while it’s still establishing itself.
Despite being the first standalone model from the Cupra brand, the Formentor was awarded a convincing five-star safety score by Euro NCAP. Its ratings included 93%, 88% and 80% in the adult occupant, child occupant and safety assist categories respectively. Standard safety features for the Cupra Formentor include Front Assist with auto emergency braking and pedestrian detection, along with side and exit assist, emergency steering, junction assist, lane assist and e-call that will alert the emergency services if the car is involved in a heavy collision.