8.0/10Score

Score breakdown

7.5

Safety, value and features

8.0

Comfort and space

8.0

Engine and gearbox

8.5

Ride and handling

8.0

Technology

Things we like

  • Great cabin
  • Strong drivetrain
  • Excellent ride and handling

Not so much

  • Annoying buttons under touchscreen
  • Drive mode select malarkey
  • Some options should be standard

8.0/10Score

Score breakdown

7.5

Safety, value and features

8.0

Comfort and space

8.0

Engine and gearbox

8.5

Ride and handling

8.0

Technology

Things we like

  • Great cabin
  • Strong drivetrain
  • Excellent ride and handling

Not so much

  • Annoying buttons under touchscreen
  • Drive mode select malarkey
  • Some options should be standard

It’s a brave company that approaches the crowded Australian automotive market with anything less than extreme caution. Australians buy a lot of cars but we’re not keen on weirdos.

Every brand has a hardcore fanbase, but brands that can sell cars by the millions in Europe can’t catch a break here.

Peugeot, Renault and Citroen all spring immediately to mind, but so does SEAT, the Volkswagen group’s Spanish builder of value-packed machinery. They were here for a while in the nineties with the much lamented (okay, a bit lamented) Leon and Toledo.

Sank without a trace, sadly. Even sadder was when my friend Mal’s Toledo was T-boned – he was heartbroken and having had a few rides in it, I can understand why.

So when Cupra announced its foray into the Australian market, it seemed to be with a clear, dead-eyed focus. Whereas the SEAT brand would be cutting Skoda’s lunch, Cupra is only going to nibble here and there at niche products from its Group stablemates.

The Leon is obviously a Golf GTI in sci-fi drag, but the Formentor, a sporty SUV-type thing? This could have legs.

JUMP AHEAD

  • What is the Cupra Formentor?
  • How much is it, and what do you get?
  • How do rivals compare on value?
  • Interior comfort, space and storage
  • What is it like to drive?
  • How is it on fuel?
  • How safe is it?
  • Warranty and running costs
  • VERDICT
  • Specifications

Related videos


What is the Cupra Formentor?

Cupra is the performance arm of Spanish company SEAT, which in turn is the southern European leg of the mighty Volkswagen Group. Complicated? A little.

Cupra’s main reason for being is to take SEAT models – such as the Leon – and make them go faster. The Cupra Leon is here alongside the the Ateca.

The Formentor is different, though. It’s only sold as a Cupra and not obviously based on a SEAT. There are, of course, plenty of shared parts with other SEATs and, indeed, many other VW Group cars, but it’s its own thing. Its exclusivity as the brand’s one-make model will fall next year when the Cupra Born EV arrives.

While it claims to be an SUV, it’s not a high-rider like the Ateca. I like to think of it as an Audi A5 Allroad, where the suspension is only slightly higher and a bit of tough cladding is added. Except it’s on the MQB platform rather than MLB and it’s not all-wheel drive, at least not in this spec, but those are all nerd details.

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How much is it, and what do you get?

The Cupra VZ is the second Formentor variant in a four-strong range, priced at $53,790 before on-road costs or $58,490 drive-away. It’s packed full of stuff, too.

19-inch alloy wheels Heated and folding rear vision mirrors
10.25-inch digital dashboard Auto wipers
12.0-inch central touchscreen Heated leather steering wheel
Tri-zone climate control LED interior lighting
Keyless entry and start Reversing camera
Auto LED headlights with high-beam assist Front and rear parking sensors
Satellite navigation Adaptive cruise control
Wireless phone charging Space-saver spare
Wireless Apple CarPlay Wireless Android Auto

The 12.0-inch touchscreen is quite nice, with a big clear set of obvious and easy-to-identify buttons, along with a little Spanish to remind you of its origins.

The much (and slightly unfairly) maligned VW media system has been successfully re-skinned by Cupra. The only problem is, the volume and temperature control shortcut buttons are right in the way when you’re selecting things on the screen.

Metallic paint costs a further $475, which for a Euro is pretty good going. The sunroof is $2100, which wouldn’t bother me personally because no thank you, but that’s a lot of money for a hole in the roof.

The $2750 Leather and Power option pack – not sure I would call it that – brings with it leather seats, heated front seats, a power-adjustable driver’s seat with position memory for it and the side mirrors, and a hands-free power tailgate. All of that is very nice but pitches the car over sixty grand.

It would be nice if powered front seats were standard, which is pretty much de rigeur at this level.

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How do rivals compare on value?

While this is called an SUV, it’s not immediately obvious what you’d compare it with.

I guess sticking with my Audi theme you could say it was roughly comparable to the A4 Allroad – except for the Cupra’s obvious lack of all-wheel drive – which retails at $78,100 before on-road costs.

A turbo-powered Ford Escape ST-Line might be somewhere near the Cupra for performance and it handles okay but comes in at a much lower $42,490 before on-road costs.

Despite the Ford being quick and having all-wheel drive, it doesn’t have the obvious sportiness of the lower, sleeker Cupra.

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Interior comfort, space and storage

Let’s start with the outstanding front seats. They look fantastic and play the part of sporty buckets, right down to the stitching and embossed Cupra logo.

They’re obscenely comfortable and, in the test car, had leather and heating. I’m no enemy of cloth, but the optional leather in the Formentor is quite nice.

The stitching effect on the dash and seating really looks great in a coppery hue. The dash is one of the more exuberant efforts from the VW Group, which isn’t saying much given how reserved most of them are. Whoever chose the materials and colours is a dead-set genius; it really looks and feels great in here.

There are some obvious carry-over parts like the toddler tongue shifter, but worse things happen at sea.

Front-seat passengers get those great seats, two cup holders, two USB-C ports, a wireless charging pad, storage in the console under the armrest and good door pockets with bottle holders.

Moving to the rear you get a good deal on legroom but the most surprising thing is the available headroom. I’m just under 180cm but had plenty of space. From the outside, it looks like it should be tight with its swooping roofline, but designers are devilishly clever people.

You get your own climate zone along with air vents, two more USB-C ports, door pockets and a large fold-down armrest with cup holders. The middle seat is compromised by the centre console pushing into the space where your shins go, so shorter kids will be the go here.

Cupra Formentor boot space

Boot space in the VZ tested here is 450 litres, which is the highest figure of the Formentor range. The VZx and VZe sacrifice space to stick subwoofers or batteries.

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What is it like to drive?

The basics

2023 Cupra Formentor VZ specs
Drive: front-wheel
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch
Power: 180kW @ 6500rpm
Torque: 370Nm @ 1600-4300rpm

Eagle-eyed VW fans will see this is a familiar set of figures.

I can go so far as to say that this is basically the Golf GTI’s engine, which is good because it’s a great unit. Eager to rev and happy to pull from low revs, it’s also very quiet and easy to get on with.

In fact, you’d say it’s too quiet but the emissions rules have robbed us of popping and banging via the necessary evil of petrol particulate filters. I just made the noises myself, so in the end, it’s a reasonable trade-off.

Similarly familiar is the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, which for the most part is very smooth. You still know it’s a dual-clutch, but most of the irritants associated with this particular type of transmission have largely been banished.

Once you’re all set up, this really is a great car. The engine is strong and does a great job of pulling you along

Throttle response is a little mushy in Comfort mode, however, so I was rarely in anything other than Sport mode. The ride doesn’t suffer too much with the stiffer adaptive damping set-up in Sport – actually, it’s still not bad in the sharpest Cupra mode – so that’s a good compromise.

Getting it into Sport mode is a bit silly, though, with a three-click process that will get a bit tiring. The VZx has a steering wheel selector that really should be here on the VZ.

Once you’re all set up, this really is a great car. The engine is strong and does a great job of pulling you along, aided and abetted by a non-confrontational traction and stability control calibration that keeps you moving rather than stranding you like some still do.

The steering has a lovely weight to it and sending the Formentor down a bendy road is a confidence-generation exercise, with good brakes ensuring you stay out of trouble and a gearbox keen to have you in the right gear on the way out.

But it’s also just nice to just ride around in. As an everyday car with a sporty SUV vibe, the ride quality is really impressive, especially in Comfort mode. Some sporty SUVs are not much fun on the school run or commute but the Formentor nails the brief as an all-rounder few can match. This one is straying dangerously close to a shut-up-and-take-my-money proposition, which I don’t say very often.

Every once in a while the ride can deteriorate and feel a little busy, but that’s usually in Sport or Cupra mode and is hardly a massive drama.

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How is it on fuel?

2023 Cupra Formentor VZ fuel consumption
Fuel economy (claimed) 6.9L/100km
On test (trip computer) 8.8L/100km
Fuel tank: 50 litres
Fuel type 95 RON

The Cupra’s 8.8L/100km on test held up reasonably well against the claimed 6.9L/100km of the ADR combined cycle.

That’s not bad going given the Cupra was driven, shall we say, with vigour by a number of testers in company with the VZe and Leon. I’ve little doubt a mid-sevens figure is quite possible when driven normally by normal people.

However, the fuel tank feels a little small for a car of this size at 50 litres, but you’ll still get a decent open road range with that.

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How safe is it?

The Cupra Formentor scored five ANCAP stars in 2021 as a result of that organisation’s agreement with EuroNCAP.

2023 Cupra Formentor VZ safety kit
Seven airbags Safe exit warning
ABS and stability controls Reversing camera
AEB with pedestrian and cyclist detection Driver fatigue monitoring
Lane-keep assist with lane centring Two ISOFIX points
Blind-spot monitoring Three top-tether points

The seven airbag count includes a centre front airbag to prevent head clashes in side impacts.

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Warranty and running costs

Each Cupra is covered by a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty with roadside assist.

Part of the package is three years of free servicing included with the purchase price, covering up to 45,000 kilometres. Service intervals, as you’ve probably already guessed, run at 12 months or 15,000km.

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VERDICT

The Cupra Formentor is an excellent car. Refined, quick and dramatic to look at, it does a lot of things very well and for a price tag that isn’t as stiff as I was expecting.

Cupra might be a new brand to Australia but it brings with it the might of the massive VW Group with SEAT’s sense of fun and excitement.

Cupra has created the kind of car everyone in a family can appreciate – it’s easy but fun to drive, has plenty of space for four (five at a pinch) and a decent-sized boot. It doesn’t cost a bomb to buy or own and it’s got a little bit of “ooh, what’s that?” about it.

With a lot of very same-same SUVs on the market, it’s always great to see something a bit different that also delivers on its visual promise.

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2023 Cupra Formentor VZ specifications

Body: 5-door, 5-seat medium SUV
Drive: front-wheel
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch
Power: 180kW @ 6500rpm
Torque: 370Nm @ 1600-4300rpm
Bore stroke (mm): 82.5 x 92.8 mm
Compression ratio: 9.6 : 1.0
0-100km/h: 6.8 sec (estimate)
Fuel consumption: 6.9L/100km (ADR combined)
Weight: 1569kg (tare)
Suspension: MacPherson struts front / multi-link rear
L/W/H: 4446mm/1839mm/1520mm
Wheelbase: 2679mm
Tyres: 245/40 R19 Bridgestone Turanza
Wheels: 19-inch alloy (spae-saver spare)
Price: $58,490 drive-away

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