It’s been four years since the Cupra name was hived off from the main Seat family but the marque still seems to struggle a little with an identity crisis.
It was launched as a standalone performance brand - beside but not part of the mainstream Spanish brand - but, even now, most of its models remain rebadged and retuned versions of Seat models.
The Formentor is different, though. It’s the first bespoke Cupra model and it shows. While the Ateca and Leon make do with bigger wheels, lower suspension and some bronze badging to mark them out, the Formentor looks different from anything else from the Spanish stable - and it looks great.
Sold as a coupe-crossover, it is far lower and sleeker than the larger Cupra Ateca and manages not to simply look like a squashed SUV - something others in the segment struggle with.
It looks purposeful and dynamic thanks to the shark-like nose and overall low roofline, with its performance aspirations hinted at by aggressive air intakes, pinched lines over the wheel arches and meaty 19-inch alloys.
The bronze details on the exterior badging are a Cupra hallmark and are mirrored inside, where little coloured details such as the air vents and dash trim help in Cupra’s efforts to form its own identity away from Seat.
The interior, overall, is an impressive set-up. A low-slung dash gives great forward visibility, aided by the slightly raised ride height, but you don’t feel like you’re sitting up high. The sports seats are brilliantly comfortable yet supportive and grippy and the overall layout is modern and slick with decent, if not quite premium, materials. There’s plenty of space up front and a surprising amount of room in the rear seats, plus a family-friendly sized boot.
There is a but, however. The infotainment system, housed in a 12.3-inch touchscreen is a disaster. The screen is big and crisp and colourful but it’s sluggish and the menu structure and operation are unnecessarily complicated. The interface feels like it was designed by someone who has never driven a car before. It’s not a problem exclusive to Cupra. The whole VW Group is cursed with the same flawed HMI and we can only hope they’re working to improve it.
Ignoring that mess and focusing on the business of driving, the Formentor feels on more solid ground.
The ride is definitely firmer than your average family SUV but not unliveable and the handling is superb. It feels smaller and lighter than it is thanks to quick, direct steering and an agile chassis, and is really fun to punt along some twisting roads. Not just numbly fast in the way that a VW Golf R is, but actually lively and communicative, which is often a rarity in modern “hot” cars.
It’s a real shame, therefore, that our particular test car’s motor can’t quite match the chassis. The 148bhp petrol is the entry point engine and just doesn’t feel that quick. Acceleration is fine but not spectacular and the seven-speed automatic transmission, even in sport, doesn’t feel particularly fast-shifting. Switching to manual mode allows you to more easily find a sweet spot but even then the engine doesn’t feel the most flexible or torquey.
In short, it feels like a brilliant chassis crying out for a better engine/gearbox and, thankfully, there are other options. These range from a 187bhp 2.0-litre petrol to 1.4-litre hybrids with 201 or 242bhp and the range-topping all-wheel-drive version which uses the same 306bhp four-pot found in the Golf R and Audi RS3.
Choosing the lower-level engine means a lower list price. In the case of our second-tier V2 trim that means £33,125 including options, which in this day and age doesn’t seem unreasonable. Spec-wise every car, even base V1s get three-zone air conditioning, full LED lights, a 10.2-inch digital instrument display as well as the 12.3-inch touchscreen, plenty of USB ports, wireless Apple CarPlay, wireless phone charging and a suite of driver assistance systems. For an extra £2,000 I’d spec the V2 for the heated steering wheel, leather power adjustable memory seats and the hands-free powered tailgate.
As I tested it, the Formentor felt like a good looking, great handling car held back by its drivetrain and a dreadful infotainment system. Speccing a more powerful engine will give it the performance to match its sporting promise and if you can suck up the media system issues you’re looking at a high-spec, fun-packed alternative to mainstream family SUVs.
Cupra Formentor 1.5 TSI V2
Price: £32,410 (£33,125 as tested); Engine: 1.5-litre, four-cylinder, turbo, petrol; Power: 148bhp; Torque: 184lb ft; Transmission: Seven-speed DSG; Top speed: 126mph; 0-62mph: 8.9 seconds; Economy: 39.2 - 41.5mpg; CO2 emissions: 155g/km