Not even Cupra is trying to hide the fact that what’s going on in its first brand-exclusive model is by and large familiar. The Formentor gets a unique look and some new features, but the 310hp range-topper also inherits components like the EA888 four-cylinder motor and MQB underpinnings from the wider VW Group. Its maker insists that it is the Formentor’s unique blend of these constituent parts, along with some bespoke extras on top, that create a machine capable of appealing to a customer base not yet catered for by its stablemates.
The gap it is aiming for seems to get smaller by the day. Where’s a youthful, 310hp crossover priced just below £40k supposed to go when there is a T-Roc R? Or a Cupra Ateca? The answer, unsurprisingly, lies in the details: the Formentor is lower and wider than the VW Group's other crossovers, while being 62mm shorter than even the T-Roc. Its look is more jacked-up hot hatch than downsized SUV, and its character is intended to fit to that description.
Things get off to a good start. Inside, it’s smartly designed with high quality materials on the touch points. While there are familiar buttons and the same small but tactile gear selector now deployed elsewhere, there are Cupra-specific bits too like very supportive sports seats and a new interface for the infotainment system. In fact, the menus are a strong point for the Formentor; no doubt the back-end stuff is unchanged, but the experience of flicking through the pages and tweaking the car’s settings is enhanced by a better-looking front end. It’s neatly laid out, too, and quickly becomes intuitive to use. Scoff if you like but it's important stuff, given the model’s target audience.
The old school measurables are good, too. The seating position features a lower hip point than you'd typically find in a VW Group crossover - not hatchback low, but closer to the ground than you'd be in a T-Roc or Ateca. Press the wheel-mounted start button and the engine fires up with a surprisingly bassy rumble, almost certainly thanks to synthesised notes playing through the speakers, but it does at least signal the Formentor’s intent. You have to press the other wheel-mounted button with the Cupra logo to select a quieter drive mode.
This being a sort-of crossover, you’re given a ‘terrain’ setting (which gets hill descent control), alongside ‘road’ and ’sport’ and the more aggressive ‘Cupra’ mode. Predictably, there’s also ‘Individual’ which allows practically any combination of damper, powertrain, steering and engine tone. Opt for the quickest end and you get an all-wheel drive car capable of hitting 62mph in 4.9 seconds. Which is not too shabby.
There’s no questioning that off-the-line time, although when rolling the Formentor doesn’t initially feel as quick as the output suggests. Despite 295lb ft available from 2,000-5,450rpm, in this 1.6-tonne application the normally willing engine asks for more revs before you’re really shifting. The rate of acceleration builds in unison with its revs, and the seven-speed dual-clutch is (as ever) obligingly quick - even if you do the job yourself via (loud applause) much larger shift paddles than the VW Group typically deigns to fit. It all feels authentic, too, because there is no crackle and pop fakery from the exhausts, just the occasional quick clearing of throat off-throttle beside the usual EA888 drone.
There’s much to like about the way the Formentor goes down a road, too. The suspension keeps the moderately tall body under tight control in all drive modes without ever letting the ride quality get overly brittle. It’s so good, in fact, that once out of an urban setting (Milton Keynes in this case; ignore the press pics), PH never ventured lower than ‘sport’ on the DCC dial. The chassis permits a judicious amount of roll through corners, so you can begin to feel it load up, which helps to disguise the customary absence of steering feel. This is useful because Cupra has kept the Formentor’s limits in surprisingly easy reach.
Which is obviously not to say that it pushes dramatically on in corners or becomes wildly unstable; it’s fully capable of keeping up with some serious commitment. But clearly the handling is tuned to indulge some tinkering with the car's balance. Go into a bend on throttle and there’s a smidge of safety understeer; hammer in off throttle and it'll flick toward the apex; do the same with a trailed brake and even you'll provoke a modest four-wheel drift. It’s safe, smartly enjoyable stuff.
Affirmation that this playfulness isn’t there by accident is evidenced by a prominent ESP button on the transmission tunnel, just ahead of the gear selector. Pressing it quickly engages the ‘sport’ setting, which allows for quite a lot of slip on both axles before intervening. Or you can hold it down and switch it out completely. The brake pedal is nicely modulated, too, and there’s no shortage of accuracy in the steering or bump absorption in the springs. It makes for a lot of confidence on UK roads.
As Cupra was hoping it might, the Formentor adds up to roughly the sum of its parts. It's seemingly well put together, comfortable and with five adult-accomodating seats and a 420-litre boot, as practical as it needs to be. Nothing about it is necessarily going to set your hair on fire, but it does begin to win you over with its rounded way of doing things . That feeling is no less familiar than it was in the VW Group products we’ve already mentioned, but the modest step away from them is just about noticeable in the Formentor's modified way of doing things. That's good news for both it and Cupra in general - it suggests that there might be more to come from a brand required to carve its own path with borrowed tools.
CUPRA FORMENTOR | SPECIFICATION
Engine: 1,984cc, 4-cyl, turbocharged
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 310@5,450-6,600rpm
Torque (lb ft): 295@2,000-5,450rpm
Top speed: 155mph
Weight: 1,644kg (including driver)
MPG: 36.6 (WLTP combined)
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