Meet Cupra. The latest automotive brand to hit the crowded Australian car market. The name is derived from the words ‘Cup Racing’ and is a nod at the brand’s glorious past in rallying. It also means copper in Latin, a trademark of the brand’s liberal use of copper highlights.
Created as a high-performance off-shoot of Volkswagen Group-owned Spanish brand, SEAT, its first model, the Seat Ibiza Cupra was released in 1996.
It went on to win three straight Manufacturers’ titles in the FIA 2-litre World Rally Cup that propelled the little Spanish hatchback from a left-field budget proposition to rally-bred hot hatch.
In 2018, Cupra became a standalone performance brand. It arrived in Australia last year with the Cupra Formentor and Ateca SUVs, and Leon hatchback.
With a brief history of the brand out of the way, let’s dive into the Formentor’s review.
What is it?
The hunkered down Cupra Formentor is the first fully fledged Cupra model that isn’t just a rebadged SEAT. In fact, you wouldn’t find it in any SEAT showrooms all; not that we have one here in Ozzie land.
No, it isn’t a completely bespoke vehicle from the ground up. Being part of the Volkswagen Group, it shares the same fundamentals as the Volkswagen Tiguan – basic chassis, gearboxes, and electrical architecture.
It’s longer and lower than the Ateca and stands out from the crowd not just with its copper colour ‘Transformer’ badge but also its sharp looks, wide stance and curvy ‘coupe-SUV’ silhouette. It’s a handsome beast and is by far the brand’s best-seller in its first full year here.
Available in four variants, our test car is the fuel-savvy plug-in hybrid (PHEV) Formentor VZe priced from $60,990 plus on-road costs.
It costs $10,300 more than the entry-level VZ, $7,200 over the similarly powered petrol only Formentor VZ and is $1,000 less than the high-performance VZx flagship with 228kW and all-wheel drive.
What do you get with the Formentor VZe?
The Formentor VZe comes standard with a healthy spec sheet. Standard equipment includes:
- LED headlights
- LED taillights with scrolling indicators
- 19-inch alloy wheels shod in 245/40 R19 Bridgestone Turanza tyres
- Mode 2 and 3 charging cables
- Heated, power-folding side mirrors
- Keyless entry and start
- 3-zone climate control
- Auto dimming rear view mirror
- Cloth upholstered sport bucket seats
- Heated leather steering wheel
- Aluminium pedals
- Copper-accented trim
- Roof-mounted spoiler
- Black roof rails
- 25-inch digital instrument cluster
- 0-inch infotainment touchscreen
- Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
- Wireless smartphone charger
- AM/FM radio (no digital radio here!)
- Voice control
- Reverse camera
There are just two options on offer:
- Panoramic sunroof – $2,100
- Leather and Power package – $3,250
- Leather sports seats
- Heated front seats
- Power driver’s seat
- Memory for driver’s seat and mirrors
- Hands-free power tailgate
What is it like on the inside?
You know the Cupra is a Volkswagen Group product the moment to hop in. The mood is sombre although lashing of copper inserts and stitching helps break up the monotony.
It’s also great fun playing the ‘spot-the-parts-bin’, err parts with your like-minded passengers. There are plenty of course, from the window switches, column stocks, and electronic gear lever to the infotainment system (albeit with some Cupra-specific) graphics and pages.
Even the well-bolstered front buckets feel and look familiar. They are draped in cloth trim and manually adjusted although can be upgraded to powered seats with leather trim for $3,250.
But there’s much to like about the Formentor’s interior with good fit and finish, a high-resolution 12.3-inch touchscreen infotainment that is responsive and good ‘ol buttons on the steering wheel (yay!).
The VW Group-powered digital instrument cluster is excellent, with plenty of customisation option in a Cupra flavoured design.
There is excellent legroom and headroom in the rear, and generous luggage space with a reasonably low loading sill.
Despite being billed as a SUV, the Formentor’s driving position is pleasantly car like where you sit low in the seat.
However, the touch-sensitive pads for the climate control are unlit at night and rather fiddly to operate when the car is bouncing around in town.
What’s underneath the bonnet?
The eco-conscious VZe comprises a 1.4-litre turbo-petrol engine with 110kW and 250Nm familiar from the VW Golf and Tiguan married to an electric motor with 85kW and 330Nm, and a 12.8kWh lithium-ion battery.
The combined system puts out a meaty 180kW of peak power and 400Nm of peak torque – almost exactly the same as its petrol-powered Skoda Kodiaq RS cousin’s 180kW/370Nm, or for that matter, the Volkswagen Golf GTI.
Power is channelled to the front wheels via a six-speed DSG for a zero to 100km/h dash of 7.0 seconds flat.
Cupra says the Formentor has an electric-only range of 58km and combined fuel consumption of 1.9L/100km, but as always, these varies dependent on road conditions and driving style.
On test, our VZe manages around 47km on each full charge before troubling the petrol engine.
What is the Formentor like to drive?
Cupra is billed as a sporty brand and the Formentor, even in plug-in hybrid guise, certainly delivers on that promise.
Off the mark and in default EV mode, the Formentor makes a good impression of a hot-SUV with strong off-the-mark acceleration, albeit in complete silence. In fact, you could be forgiven for thinking you’re in the Leon hatch with its low set driving position and cocooning front bucket seats.
The electric drivetrain handover to the petrol engine relatively seamlessly while the engine is fairly refined when cruising.
There are five drive modes to choose from, including the ‘Cupra’ mode which amp up the engine notes via the speakers along with more immediate response to the steering, throttle and transmission (the other driving modes include Comfort, Normal, Sport and Individual). Like the latest Golf R, you can also alter the ride comfort endlessly by fiddling with the slider. It’s all terribly motorsport-like.
Speaking of which, the Formentor ride and handling is one of the best we have sampled in its class, striking a fine balance between comfort and handling. It rarely feels harsh over poor surfaces yet is composed around the bends.
Its variable-ratio progressive steering is responsive and well-weighted. Along with its small – and thus, lighter – 12.8kWh battery pack, the Formentor VZe feels light on its foot.
We couldn’t fault the familiar Volkswagen Group twin-clutch either. It’s crisp, rapid and smooth. The only gripe we have is its tardiness in switching between forward drive and reverse when parking, but that’s not uncommon in DCT-equipped cars.
The wooden brake pedal malice, which tends to plague some other PHEVs and EVs, seem to be well suppressed in the VZe, as the system juggles the task of braking and regenerative braking.
On the whole, it’s fun and engaging, and is essentially a Golf GTI’s high-riding, polar bear hugging cousin.
How long does it take to charge the Formentor VZe?
It takes approximately 3.5 hours to top up the Formentor VZe from empty from a high-voltage public charger.
However, if like me you plug it in overnight at home, you’ll have a full tank of electrons in the morning (after about 5 hours of charging) that will last you around 45km.
Over the course of our test, we averaged just 2.0L/100km in combined fuel consumption.
How safe is the Formentor?
The Cupra Formentor comes with a five-star ANCAP rating.
Standard safety gear on all models includes:
- AEB with pedestrian and cyclist detection
- 10 airbags including front centre airbag
- Adaptive cruise control with Stop & Go
- Travel Assist with active lane centring
- Driver fatigue monitoring
- Emergency Assist
- Blind-spot monitoring
- Lane keep assist
- Lane departure warning
- Rear cross-traffic alert
- Safe exit warning
- Front and rear parking sensors
- Reversing camera
What is the Formentor’s running costs?
As with Cupra’s wider range, the Formentor comes standard with five years, unlimited kilometre warranty, extending to eight years or 160,000km for the lithium-ion battery.
It needs a service every 15,000km or 12 months, whichever occurs first. A three-year service pack costs $990 and covers the first three scheduled services, while a five-year service pack comes in at $1,990 and includes the first five services.
Design & Comfort
Performance & Handling
Equipment & Features
- Fuel-savvy plug-in hybrid
- Well-equipped and spacious
- Good balance between comfort and handling
- No DAB+ digital radio
- Expensive compared to others in its class
The 2023 Cupra Formentor VZe is built on a tried and tested VW platform that shows in the way the car drives and handle. While its plug-in hybrid engine is new to Australia, it too, has been proven overseas in various VW group products.
It’s stylish, fun, and engaging to drive and you certainly standout from the vast sea of SUVs that are on our roads today.
And for those who don’t like haggling or dealing with a car salesman, buying a Cupra is just a few clicks away!
2023 Cupra Formentor VZe pricing and specifications
|Price (excluding on-road costs):||From: $60,990|
As tested: $64,240
Leather and Power Package – $3,250
|Warranty:||5 years/unlimited kilometre|
|Battery Warranty:||8 years/160,000 kilometre|
|Warranty Customer Assistance:||5 years roadside|
|Service Intervals:||12 months/15,000km|
|Country of Origin:||Spain|
|Engine:||1.4-litre turbocharged, in-line 4-cylinder direct injected petrol:|
110kW @ 6,000rpm, 250Nm @ 1,550-3,500rpm
|Electric Motor:||85kW, 330Nm + 12.8kWh lithium-ion battery|
Combined Power: 180kW, 400Nm
|Power-to-Weight Ratio (kW/t):||105.1|
|Combined Fuel Consumption (L/100km):||Claimed: 1.9/Tested: 2.0|
|Electric Driving Range (NEDC) (km):||Claimed: 58/Tested: 47|
|Fuel Capacity (L):||40|
|Body:||5-door SUV, 5 seats|
|Boot Space (min/max) (L):||345/1,475|
|Tare Mass (kg):||1,712|
|Towing Capacity (kg):||Braked: 1,500/Unbraked: 750|
|Entertainment:||12.0-inch colour touchscreen, AM/FM/, Bluetooth, Wireless Apple CarPlay & Android Auto, USB-C, AUX, 6-speaker Sound System|