Cupra Formentor review: an excellent first standalone effort

The Cupra Formentor is the Seat’s sister brand’s first standalone product
Cupra Formentor review: an excellent first standalone effort

Curpa Formentor Hydrid





from €41,630 - €52,407 as tested


a 1.4 litre petrol is supplemented by an 85-kW electric motor

The Spec

very upmarket and a different world from what SEAT owners will recall


excellent first standalone effort from Cupra

Time was when SEAT made pretty terrible cars.

That was back in the days after it was founded back in May 1950 as a joint venture between the Spanish government, the Italian car maker Fiat and a couple of private Spanish banks. Indeed, up until 1986 when the government decided to sell it to the Volkswagen Group, it became pretty good at making terrible cars.

The Spanish fell out with the Italians in 1982 and SEAT started making cars on its own shortly thereafter, although there was considerable grief when its first standalone car, the Ronda, sparked a lawsuit because of its similarity to the Fiat Ritmo. VW quickly stepped into the breech, initially with a couple of co-operative ventures and then, in ’86, with a full-blown buy-out.

While the output of the company and the quality of its products quickly improved to the point that SEAT was getting rave reviews for cars such as the Ibiza, the Leon and many others. The access it had to the VW parts bin for engines, gearboxes and other running gear effectively transformed the brand.

However, it never really shook off its past and while the quality of the product it made was unrecognisable from what had gone before, punters always seemed to treat SEAT products in the same way they would those from a charity shop.

This was particularly unfair as their engineering standards had gone stellar and the sudden longevity of their cars made them unrecognisable from past efforts. There was, however, a feeling among outsiders that the brand needed something vital and new to reboot it.

The introduction of Cupra as a standalone brand under the SEAT umbrella in 2018 suggested that change was afoot and, hey presto, in September this year it was finally announced that by 2030 the SEAT brand itself would cease to exist, to be replaced solely by Cupra models.

People questioned the whys and wherefores of such a move, but the simple truth was that the new Cupra label was completely untainted in peoples’ minds by the chequered past SEAT had endured and was, effectively, a clean sheet of paper for the company.

So, how has Cupra differentiated itself from SEAT? Well, the most obvious thing in the five years of its existence has been the quality of the product and the dramatic repositioning of the brand in the minds of customers.

Curpa Formentor stylish interior
Curpa Formentor stylish interior

It describes itself as “an unconventional challenger brand, based on stimulating style and contemporary performance that inspires the world from Barcelona with progressive cars and experiences,” and, to be honest, that’s much more of the truth than normal PR guff.

We have moaned in these columns about the lack of penetration Cupra has thus far made into the public consciousness – and especially so as the quality of the product is so good – but it is coming along quickly and this week’s tester is possibly one best things the brand has done thus far.

What we have here is the Cupra Formentor and the one we tested was the e-Hybrid version. The car itself is a midsize SUV with nominal competitors such as the Volvo XC40 and the Audi Q3 – both premium products and that gives you an idea where Cupra are going here.

The thing about the Formentor is that while it is nominally classified as an SUV – and one of the dreaded SUV Coupes, at that – it is actually more like a high riding estate car than anything else, seemingly taking a few cues from such as the new Peugeot 408 or its sister car the Citroen C5X, both of which seem to have re-written the rulebook when it comes to SUV design.

It is longer than its sibling, the Ateca, but has a lower roofline and a much longer bonnet. It sits on 18” alloy wheels which have been pushed out to the corners, while the trademark Cupra copper-coloured flourishes from the badging to the flashes on the wheels contrast beautifully with the car’s Magnetic Tech metallic paint.

Looking like a quality product is one thing, though, while being one is an altogether different matter. This is a trick the Formentor pulls off with ease as not only does the exterior suggest its elevated status, the interior rubberstamps it.

The cockpit is truly plush and while the front bucket seats might be off-putting to some, they are, in fact, truly comfortable and have a massage function as well. Copper trimming throughout adds a sense of upmarket-ness and the finish of the dash, the centre console and the steering wheel confirms that suspicion.

A considerable amount of cross-fertilization with VW products is to be expected and there’s a lot of commonality to be seen in the cabin – the ‘nub’ gear selector, the infotainment and the digital instrumentation, all of which is good apart from the ‘slider’ controls for such as volume and temperatures, whose faults are well documented by now. 

Curpa Formentor Hydrid
Curpa Formentor Hydrid

On the road the Formentor is taut and direct and without vice. The 1.4 petrol engine produces 150 bhp on its own and the 85-kW motor adds another 115 bhp, giving a total system output of 245 bhp, a top speed of 205 km/h and a 0-100 km/h time of 7.9 seconds, all of which is suitably brisk. The gearbox is a six-speed auto.

The 54 km all-electric range is just about on the handy side of useful and if your daily commute is shortish then you’ll manage on electric only, but it does evaporate quickly. As ever, the consumption claims for the petrol end of things are ludicrous, but you should see a return of 5.2 l/100 km (53 mpg).

But the combination of this powertrain and the sports suspension makes for a very pleasing car to travel in and the ride and handling are very much of the sporty variety.

It has been suggested that the whole Cupra plan has been along the lines of creating a Spanish Alfa Romeo and, on this evidence, the brand seems well on the way to achieving just that – a sporty, premium product, but without the Italian propensity for letting you down.

Tying in a sporty character with one which is also hugely reliable sounds to me like something that will tickle a lot of punters and draw a growing number of them into the Spanish fold.

Although undoubtedly an ambitious project and one which is only really in its infancy, this is something which definitely has the potential to turn into something very good indeed if it is handled properly. And there is nothing going on in the VW Group’s history to suggest it will be done in any other way.

That fact makes Cupra’s future look rather bright and the Formentor – as the brand’s first standalone product – also points in that direction.

More in this section


The best food, health, entertainment and lifestyle content from the Irish Examiner, direct to your inbox.

Sign up
Cookie Policy Privacy Policy Brand Safety FAQ Help Contact Us Terms and Conditions

© Examiner Echo Group Limited