Automobile

2023 Cupra Formentor review: VZ, VZe

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Cupra is finally here. After a protracted teaser campaign and a flashy brand launch, the first members of the sporty Spanish brand’s range have touched down in Australia.

There are three cars on offer at launch, the Formentor is the only ground-up Cupra. Where the Leon and Ateca are versions of cars offered by SEAT, the Formentor is a standalone model with its own design and badge.

It’s comfortably the best-selling Cupra worldwide, and accounts for the majority of expressions of interest into the brand in Australia. When you check it out in person, it’s easy to see why.

It’s a handsome beast, with crisp lines and tight proportions that call to mind everything from the Porsche Macan to the Lamborghini Urus. It has the performance to back those looks up; even the slowest hits 100km/h in a claimed 7.1 seconds, and the flagship VZx takes 4.9 seconds.

Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s a completely bespoke car, though.

Under the skin, the Formentor shares its MQB chassis with the Volkswagen Tiguan. Its engines are all used elsewhere in the Volkswagen Group, and most of the individual parts making up its cabin feature on its corporate partners.

Is the Formentor a worthy flagship for Cupra in Australia, or does it feel like more of the same from the automotive giant that brought you Volkswagen, Skoda, and Audi?

How much does the Cupra Formentor cost?

Cupra is launching with drive-away pricing across its range. The Formentor range kicks off at $54,990 drive-away, and extends to $66,490 drive-away for the flagship VZx.

Pure rivals are hard to come by, given Cupra is pitching the Formentor as a sporty alternative to more practical mid-sized SUVs like the Volkswagen Tiguan and Skoda Karoq.

At the bottom end, it’s priced in line with the Mazda CX-5 GT SP 2.5T AWD ($51,490), while the top-end VZx undercuts the Volkswagen Tiguan R ($68,990).

The plug-in hybrid VZe is aligned with the Ford Escape ST-Line PHEV ($54,440).

2023 Cupra Formentor pricing:

  • Cupra Formentor V: $50,690 ($54,990 D/A)
  • Cupra Formentor VZ: $53,790 ($58,490 D/A)
  • Cupra Formentor VZe: $60,990 (D/A prices range, listed here)
  • Cupra Formentor VZx: $61,990 ($66,490 D/A)

Prices exclude on-road costs unless specified

What is the Cupra Formentor like on the inside?

The Formentor is the first standalone Cupra, and as such its interior looks and feels more interesting than the Leon or Ateca. It still shares bits with the Volkswagen Golf or Audi A3, though.

The driving position is excellent. Every Formentor comes with sporty seats packing more bolstering than is standard in most mid-sized SUVs, and the seats themselves are set low in the cabin. They’re stunning in petrol blue, but that’s for the VZx only.

As you’d expect of a modern Volkswagen Group cabin, screens are the showpiece here. The central touchscreen is a 12-inch unit running Cupra’s take on the software rolling out across the new Golf and Octavia ranges, backed by the same frustrating touch sliders below for volume and temperature control.

Points to Cupra for allowing owners to drop a widget on the home screen to control fan speed for the air-con, and for making shortcut buttons feature prominently at the base of the display – it’s easier to jump around the system than the equivalent in the Golf – but it’s still fiddly at times.

The digital cockpit is handsome, and features unique graphics in keeping with Cupra’s sportier remit. The steering wheel itself feels great in your hands, and has proper buttons instead of the touch controls rolling out elsewhere.

Opting for the VZx gets you a start/stop button and drive mode controller on the wheel; other models bury their drive modes in the touchscreen. The fact you need to dive through a screen for Sport mode in most versions of the sportiest Cupra crossover is hard to understand.

All the fundamentals are solid. The stubby shifter rolling out through the Volkswagen Group features here, and there’s plenty of storage under the dash, on the transmission tunnel, and in the door pockets.

Rear seat space is surprisingly good. The Formentor looks quite compact on the outside, but it has enough headroom with no sunroof for six-seven me to sit without my hair on the roof.

Legroom behind normal-sized drivers is impressive, and the air vents and dual USB-C ports make it quite child-friendly – although the rising belt line limits outward vision relative to the more upright Tiguan.

There’s also a fold-down central armrest with a ski port back there. The bench folds 60/40, expanding boot space from 345/420/450 litres (VZe/VZx/all others) to accomodate bigger items.

What’s under the bonnet?

Each member of the four-strong 2023 Cupra Formentor range comes with its own powertrain. We drove the VZ and the VZe at the launch; they’re detailed below. For more on the V and the VZx, check out our price and specs breakdown here.

The Formentor VZ is powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol engine shared with the VW Golf GTI, producing 180kW and 370Nm driving the front wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic.

Claimed fuel economy is 6.9 litres per 100km on the combined cycle.

The Formentor VZe mates a turbocharged 1.4-litre four-cylinder engine with an electric motor, for total system outputs of 180kW and 400Nm. It uses a six-speed wet dual-clutch auto.

Claimed electric range from the 12.8kWh lithium-ion battery is around 50km, and claimed fuel economy on the combined cycle is 1.9L/100km – although as with all PHEVs, that’s very dependent on battery level.

We saw 3.7L/100km on a 46km drive across city, highway, and mountain roads, having hopped into a car with just below 50 per cent battery.

How does the Cupra Formentor drive?

Our time was spent in the Formentor VZe plug-in hybrid, and the Golf GTI-powered VZ. Alborz has already driven the VZx on track; check out his thoughts here.

Cupra’s pitch is that it offers a sportier edge than the likes of Volkswagen and Skoda, and the Formentor delivers on that promise.

The powertrain in the VZe has been around for a while in the Volkswagen Group world, but it’s new to Australia. It makes a good first impression, too.

Claimed electric range is around 50km depending on how your drive, and there’s a 1.4-litre petrol engine (shared with the Volkswagen Golf) on hand to power the wheels (either alone, or in conjunction with the e-motor), or to charge the lithium-ion battery.

In its default hybrid mode, the car defaults to the e-motor off the mark. It’s able to do a convincing EV impression up to around 80km/h, offering decent performance and allowing the driver to dip relatively deep into the throttle pedal’s travel without the petrol engine firing.

When it does fire, the engine is nicely refined. The handover is smooth by PHEV standards, and the VZe packs some tricks to deliver a smooth, punchy feel from behind the wheel.

Put your foot down and sometimes it’ll run through the gears, but it’s also capable of keeping the engine revs constant and leaning on the electric motor for extra punch.

Accelerating uphill from 80 to 100km/h it sat at a constant 2000rpm, with the electric motor providing the extra shove required to accelerate instead of the petrol engine. The brake pedal occasionally has the wooden, slightly awkward feel that plagues most PHEVs, but it’s generally nice and linear.

It can’t match the immediate shove of a pure EV nor the aggressive character of high-output 2.0-litre engine, but the PHEV in the Formentor is smart enough, and offers enough performance, that it doesn’t feel like a poor relation.

It handles better than you’d expect of a 1700kg car, too. Some plug-in hybrids feel heavy and loose due to the weight of their batteries, but the Formentor feels keen at the front end on turn in, and doesn’t have the same safe but slightly dull balance you get in regular versions of the Tiguan.

The ride and handling balance is impressive. The roads around Wollongong have seen better days thanks to Sydney’s soaking year, but the VZe didn’t feel terse over potholes and hastily-repaired roads. It also didn’t feel floaty, or wallow around like some of the other plug-in hybrid SUVs we’ve reviewed recently.

Someone at Cupra HQ in Barcelona has done an excellent job tuning the suspension, regardless of which mode it’s in.

As for the VZ? It’s not as clever as the VZe, but it’s more fun. It feels a bit lighter on its feet, and the 2.0-litre engine (shared with the Golf GTI) delivers a healthy shove in the back when you put your foot down.

Even in Comfort mode there’s a decent bark to the exhaust note in the cabin, and the default suspension tune balances ride and handling well enough that you don’t need to go diving into the car’s infotainment system to change mode if a sudden urge to drive fast strikes.

Traction is decent, although aggressively pulling away with some steering lock applied will get the front wheels spinning, and the dual-clutch transmission is every bit as quick and clever as we’ve come to expect from Volkswagen.

Is it the sweet spot in the range? You could certainly make that argument, although we’ll need to spend some time with the VZx on-road to know for sure.

What do you get?

Formentor V highlights:

  • 18-inch black-and-silver alloy wheels
  • Heated, power-folding exterior mirrors
  • LED headlights and daytime running lights
  • Fog lights with cornering function
  • Automatic high-beam
  • Automatic headlights
  • Rain-sensing wipers
  • Rear privacy glass
  • Adaptive dampers
  • 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster
  • 12-inch touchscreen infotainment system
  • Satellite navigation
  • Wireless phone charging
  • Wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay
  • Two front and two rear USB-C ports
  • Cloth upholstery
  • Tri-zone climate control
  • Leather-wrapped, heated steering wheel
  • Paddle shifters
  • Keyless entry and start

Formentor VZ adds:

  • 180kW/370Nm turbocharged 2.0-litre engine
  • Front-wheel drive
  • 19-inch Exclusive Sport black-and-silver alloy wheels
  • 18-inch space-saver spare

Formentor VZe:

  • 180kW/400Nm 1.4-litre turbocharged plug-in hybrid powertrain
  • Tyre repair kit
  • Mode 3 charging cable

Formentor VZx:

  • 19-inch Exclusive Sport black-and-copper alloy wheels
  • Hands-free power tailgate
  • Quad exhaust
  • Petrol Blue leather upholstery
  • Heated front seats
  • Power driver’s seat with memory
  • Mirror memory
  • Nine-speaker Beats sound system
  • 360-degree camera system
  • Supersports leather-wrapped steering wheel with additional buttons

Is the Cupra Formentor safe?

The Cupra Formentor has a five-star ANCAP safety rating, based on Euro NCAP tests conducted in 2021.

The Formentor scored 93 per cent for adult occupant protection, 88 per cent for child occupant protection, 68 per cent for vulnerable road user protection, and 80 per cent for safety assist.

Standard safety features include:

  • AEB with pedestrian and cyclist detection
  • Lane-keep assist with highway lane centring
  • Blind-spot monitoring
  • Safe exit warning
  • Reversing camera
  • Front and rear parking sensors
  • Emergency Assist
  • Adaptive cruise control
  • Driver fatigue monitoring

A surround-view camera is newly standard in 2023 VZx models.

How much does the Cupra Formentor cost to run?

The Cupra Formentor is covered by a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.

Cupra also includes three years of free servicing in the purchase price, covering up to 45,000 kilometres.

CarExpert’s Take on the Cupra Formentor

Yes, the Formentor is a worthy flagship for Cupra.

Of the three cars on offer at launch it feels the most bespoke, with an exterior that turns heads and a cabin that does a good job of making its shared DNA with the VW Golf and Skoda Octavia feel a bit more special.

There’s no hiding its roots, but the Formentor does a good job distancing itself from the crowd of SUVs on offer elsewhere in the Volkswagen Group on the road, too.

It feels lighter on its feet than a Tiguan, and even the VZe with its heavy plug-in hybrid powertrain has a chassis that encourages you to get stuck in when the road gets interesting.

What’s the sweet spot in the range? We’ll need to spend some more time with the VZx to know for sure, but the VZ is a pretty appealing package with its Golf GTI engine, luxurious interior, and sharp starting price.

Cupra has some pretty bold goals in Australia, and the Formentor will need to succeed if it’s to meet them. On first impression, it’s more than good enough.

Click the images for the full gallery

MORE: Everything Cupra Formentor



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