Cupra Formentor V1: long-term test review
Our Cupra Formentor is practical enough for family use, while its sharp styling continues to appeal to many. And, given the long list of equipment that comes as standard, we also think it’s good value.
There’s a usually unwritten rule in car journalism that says we don’t get involved in aesthetics. Where a vehicle’s design has had a direct impact on its packaging or practicality, then it’s worthy of comment. But whether or not we just like the look of a car is pretty much irrelevant – because what we consider beautiful could be what you rate as hideous.
So I’m going to break with convention a bit here when I say that, as the months roll by with our Cupra Formentor, its styling continues to grow on me. From the moment this family-oriented SUV turned up, in deep, rich, metallic Desire Red, I’ve found it a good-looking and striking car – something different in a market that’s pretty saturated with fairly bland creations.
It’s a sign of how highly I rate the car’s looks, in fact, that I’ve occasionally found myself pausing whatever journey I’m on when the light is right, just to photograph the Formentor’s oh-so-seductive lines from yet another flattering angle.
I’m clearly not alone in finding this an appealing car, because over the past few months I’ve had to get used to being asked by strangers about the Formentor. This curiosity – and relative lack of recognition – is both positive for Cupra, and a challenge for the brand as it tries to establish itself.
I certainly think cars like the Formentor are doing more for Cupra’s image than the likes of the Leon, which it shares with SEAT. We recently had one of the company’s Born EVs in for test and again, I was impressed by how the designers at Cupra have given their car a distinct look to set it apart from sister vehicles like the Skoda Enyaq and, in particular, the Volkswagen ID.3.
This seems to be being played out in showrooms, too. I paid a visit to a SEAT/Cupra dealer in Woking recently for a separate feature and was interested to hear the Brand manager, Martin Lang, tell us that for every 10 SEATs his team shift, they sell six Cupras. In other words, the fledgling brand is already approaching the popularity of SEAT, and I can only see that proportion increasing once the Born turns up.
I’m probably the quickest Auto Express staffer at racking up miles on a fleet car, as I dash between photoshoots on a daily basis. But while my car has started prompting me for a service, I’m pleased to report that there have been no major issues so far. The biggest glitch, in fact, is one that my colleague Steve Sutcliffe also noticed with his Cupra Leon: the dim-witted sat-nav.
The problem is that the system is too slow to fire up – with a ‘spinning wheel of death’ on the screen on particularly icy mornings, as if it doesn’t like the cold. The navigation also seems to be missing a number of surprisingly obvious destinations. I’ll certainly inform the workshop of the problem when the car goes in for its service; I’m convinced there must be a software patch available.
Our Formentor is in entry-level V1 trim, which may seem a strange choice. But in fact, the kit list continues to fulfil pretty much all of my needs; it has automatic wipers, LED headlights and tail-lights, Cupra’s take on the VW Group digital instrument panel, the aforementioned infotainment system, rear parking sensors, keyless entry and start, and, in a weird quirk of the spec list, a heated steering wheel.
Right now, heated seats would be about the only option I’d look to fit – but curiously, they’re not offered. You’ll need to jump up to at least V2 to get a warm backside on winter mornings, it seems, and I’m not entirely sure I could justify the £2,000 extra cost.
But as Mr Lang pointed out, the walk-up on finance deals works out at around £25 per month between versions – and V2 is proving a particularly popular choice.
The sporty Cupra Formentor SUV proves its worth as a family load-lugger
My Cupra Formentor’s odometer has just tipped over 8,800 miles, and the sharp-looking Spanish SUV is really starting to prove itself, I’m pleased to say.
Of course, I pushed it into action as my weekly workhorse as soon as it arrived, but the cars I run for Auto Express also have to pass the Gibson family test, and a journey to Scotland on holiday earlier in the year highlighted that, despite its swoopy styling, the Formentor is practical; more so than my previous car, the Ford Puma, but then you’d expect that from a bigger, pricier machine.
It excelled on the trip from our home in Essex to Edinburgh, easily taking the amount of luggage two teenage daughters need for a week away. There was also enough space for them in the rear of the Formentor so that, with only a few stops en route to recharge with coffee and fill up with fuel, their growing legs weren’t too cramped and in need of stretching that frequently.
My daughters also love that the Cupra comes with two power points in the rear so they can charge their phones and tablets on long family drives. There wasn’t any squabbling over the USB sockets, which certainly made my life easier. That’s been made a little harder recently by the Cupra’s sat-nav system, which failed to recognise a postcode in Southend, placing it near Birmingham instead. I’ve contacted Cupra and staff are looking into the issue, which has apparently affected other cars too. I’ll wait to hear if a software update is needed.
In fact, the built-in nav and central control screen are really the only things I can take issue with. As the evenings are getting longer I’m driving more in the dark, and notice that the heating control panel under the main screen isn’t illuminated. It means that it’s a bit distracting trying to change temperatures or the air flow on the move, because swiping across the touch-sensitive bar is not always effective.
I’m also finding the single screen to control all of the car’s functions over- complicated in its current form. When you’re parked up and not moving it’s fine, but on the move you need to devote too much attention to even some simple tasks. Thankfully the voice-recognition set-up is good enough to control functions, and the Android Auto phone system is a positive bonus when you spend as much time behind the wheel as I do.
Of course, after my holiday it was straight back to work, as you can see above, and the Cupra was again tasked with its bread-and-butter role of carrying my photography kit to all corners of the country.
The Formentor is fundamentally great at that job, I’ve come to realise, and the 148bhp 1.5-litre turbocharged engine copes with the motorway miles fairly well, offering enough grunt. However, although the dual-clutch automatic gearbox is smooth, when you need the car to accelerate hard the engine does become a bit droney, even if there is an acceptable level of performance from what is the entry-level model in the range.
This Formentor V1 comes with standard seats, unlike the sportier chairs fitted in the more powerful V2 version, but over my big mileage so far, including trips for work and pleasure, I’ve still found the seats give me enough support, so that I’m comfortable, even after undertaking long trips.
Overall, I’m loving it. I think the firm is on to a winner with its first bespoke model. The Formentor is a great-looking low-slung SUV with some lovely styling touches. It’s striking on the move and when parked, from the sharp rear light bar that spans the width of the boot lid to the crisp lines on its sides that distance it from other VW Group products. If I can learn to live with the tech it’s going to be hard to give up the Cupra.
We ask questions of the new Cupra Formentor – the brand’s first standalone model
When is an SUV not really an SUV? And when is a Cupra not really a SEAT? These and other mysteries will hopefully be solved over the coming months, as I probe a bit more deeply into the qualities of the latest car on our fleet, the Cupra Formentor.
Up to now, you see, everything that’s come out of SEAT’s “premium” brand has been, well, a derivative of an existing model, like the Ateca and the Leon. But with the Formentor, the Cupra badge finally gets a vehicle all to itself. And, you could argue, a bodystyle, because whereas the Ateca is very much a conventional SUV, the Formentor really is like a jacked-up family hatch, and quite a swoopy one with it.
Initial impressions were very favourable indeed when the Formentor arrived on my driveway. It’s very striking, particularly in our car’s Desire Red paint job and sitting on 18-inch alloy wheels. The bodystyle really pulls the cabin back in the profile, extending the bonnet and giving it that elusive “coupé-SUV” look.
As a brand, Cupra has priced its cars to sit somewhere north of VW but south of Audi, and sure enough, you can run a Formentor up to comfortably clear of £40,000 if you want. But our road testers suggested that the entry point to the range, V1 trim, could actually be something of a bargain, so that’s what we’ve gone for.
My car has the VW Group’s well regarded 1.5-litre petrol engine, producing 148bhp and 250Nm of torque, linked to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. It costs from £29,805, which seems a pretty reasonable figure for this size of family car.
It wouldn’t be so appealing if Cupra had scrimped on standard kit, admittedly, but then, V1 really does bring almost all of the basics. Apart from those 18-inch wheels, our car comes with three-zone air-conditioning (including a control panel in the rear that is already helping me to avoid family arguments), LED headlights and tail-lights, a 10.25-inch digital instrument panel, a 12-inch infotainment system with wireless Apple CarPlay and wireless smartphone charging, sports seats, rear parking sensors, auto wipers and adaptive cruise control.
You even get interior ambient lighting, including the option to change the colour via the central touchscreen. So my car’s only option is the aforementioned paintjob, which, as one of the “premium” finishes in the line-up, costs a little bit more than most shades, at £810. It’s worth it, I’d say.
Performance is acceptable, rather than brisk, with the Formentor clocking up a 0-62mph time of 8.9 seconds. But then, this is a family SUV, so it’s quick enough. In any case, I’m probably keener to see how many miles I get to the gallon on longer motorway runs. At least the 1.5-litre motor can switch off two cylinders to help save a bit of fuel.
Thoughts from early outings? You get an awful lot of looks in the Formentor, and if you’re parked up, people tend to ask, “Is it still a SEAT?”, before conceding that the reason for their curiosity is that they like the styling, regardless of the brand.
Inside, there is a mix of proven VW Group parts, but it’s well laid out, and while there are some hard surfaces, in general it’s nicely finished. The Formentor’s ride is a teeny bit firm, perhaps – I wouldn’t want the larger 19-inch wheels that are available – but the Cupra handles most surfaces well, and the light steering and decent body control make driving down B-roads fun.
The boot swallows my camera gear without complaint, but the jury’s still out on a full family trip; we’ve a holiday to Scotland coming up, so that could well be the Formentor’s first true test.
*Insurance quote from Admiral (admiral.com) for a 42-year-old in Banbury, Oxon, with three points.
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