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 is the beginning of a new era for SEAT’s spin-off brand; it’s the first standalone Cupra model and one that highlights its transition from thirsty petrol cars to more eco-friendly plug-in hybrids and fully electric cars.
Initially, the Formentor comes solely with a 306bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine, which is very familiar as it’s also found in most of the car’s rivals and a wider array of VW Group performance cars. It’ll soon be joined by a 242bhp PHEV option, shared with the Volkswagen Golf GTE. The petrol engine manages 0-62mph in under five seconds, while the plug-in hybrid won’t be as quick but will manage around 30 miles of electric-only driving.
Despite not having much steering feel, the Cupra Formentor SUV is fun to drive. There’s a huge amount of grip, thanks in part to the four-wheel-drive system, and 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 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 cabin but the touchscreen definitely could be a bit more intuitive, and some of the plastics don’t quite live up to the Formentor’s circa-£40,000 price. That’s true of the Volkswagen T-Roc R and the Cupra Ateca too, though.
The Formentor sits in between those two for boot space, with 420 litres. Rear passenger space is good as well, although those in the back will have to crane around the bulky front seats to see forwards. The Formentor feels like a coupe version of the Cupra Ateca and will appeal to some hot hatch and hot SUV buyers alike.
MPG, runnings costs & CO2
With quite a large SUV body, four-wheel drive and a powerful engine, it’s no surprise that the petrol Cupra Formentor won’t be 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.
At least a plug-in hybrid Cupra Formentor is coming if you’d like better fuel efficiency. No official consumption figures have been announced yet but this engine in the Skoda Octavia vRS estate is said to manage 188mpg - getting near that figure completely depends on the types of journeys you’re going to do and ensuring the battery is always charged. What’s perhaps more relevant is the ability to drive around 30 miles on battery power alone, so you could even commute to and from work on cheap electricity and then save the petrol power for special occasions. The plug-in hybrid will be a no-brainer for business users too, as the Benefit-in-Kind rate is set to be substantially lower than the petrol - and any of the car’s rivals. Tax costs £150 a year for the petrol and £140 for the PHEV, although adding any option to the petrol model will push it over the £40,000 threshold, in which case you’ll be paying an extra £325 a year until the car’s six years old. We’d expect the PHEV to cost more to buy than the petrol, so this surcharge is likely to affect all plug-in Formentors.
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 fo the time, and the changeable weather during our drive showed that the Formentor can be just as fast in more wintry conditions. The lack of steering feel is common but doesn’t matter too much because the Formentor manages to be fun anyway.
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.
We’ve not driven the plug-in hybrid just yet but we’ve sampled the powertrain in the new Skoda Octavia vRS estate and, in truth, we were a little underwhelmed. The batteries add 250kg to the Octavia’s kerbweight, blunting the 0-62mph time and making it feel a little stodgy to drive.
Interior & comfort
Cupra’s trademark styling touch is copper 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 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.
There’s plenty more tech to enjoy, with the Formentor packing a digital cockpit, a powered tailgate, smart ambient lighting, a reversing camera and parking assistance as standard.
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.
Production by the VW Group means that anything other than a five-star safety score is highly unlikely, and the Cupra Formentor gets Front Assist with auto emergency braking and pedestrian detection. The kit list won’t stop there, but full safety details have yet to be revealed.