With front-driven hot hatch friskiness in a wagon body and its nice pricing, does Cupra’s Formentor VZ represent the sweet spot of its range?
Despite launching less than a year ago in Australia, Cupra has been quick in growing its local line-up, now offering three models, with the all-electric Born joining early next year. Of the three models currently offered, the Formentor crossover seems to be where Cupra is hedging its bets, with four variants in the range, including the plug-in hybrid VZe.
It’s the mid-range Formentor VZ in the spotlight today, and it sets itself apart from the all-paw entry V and range-topping VZx thanks to the mid-spec version’s front-driven nature.
While some may see this as a negative aspect of the Formentor VZ, having just one driven axle means that it actually is, at 1578kg, the lightest variant in the model range. It also doesn’t hurt that the VZ borrows its running gear from the highly-regarded Volkswagen Golf GTI, and the sportiest version of our 2022 Chasing Cars Car of the Year, the Skoda Octavia RS.
So with less power, but then again, less weight than the Formentor VZx, this front-drive VZ makes a strong case for being the driver-centric sweet spot of the range.
In Australia, the Formentor range starts with the V at $50,690 before on-road costs. This entry-level Formentor is powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine that makes 140kW and 320Nm, which is sent to all four wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. It’s the only Formentor that sits on 18-inch alloy wheels, and gets exhaust cutouts in the rear bumper.
On the inside, it makes use of cloth seats with manual adjustment, but heated leather seats with power adjustment are available as a $2750 option. A power tailgate that replaces the manual one on the V is also included in this package.
A 12-inch infotainment display sits in the centre of the dash, which is flanked by a 10.25-inch digital cluster. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come as standard, as does the wireless phone charging pad. A panoramic sunroof is also an option for an extra $2100.
Next in the Formentor line-up is the VZ tested here, which starts from $53,790 before on-road costs. It makes use of the same 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine, but in this guise it makes 180kW and 370Nm which is sent through the same dual-clutch transmission as the entry-level V grade, but to the front wheels exclusively.
A set of 19-inch wheels are standard on the VZ, as are twin-exit exhausts at the rear. Inside the VZ, standard kit is almost identical to the V, with cloth seats and a manual tailgate, unless the leather package is optioned.
Then comes the Formentor VZe at $60,990 before on-road costs, which is the plug-in hybrid variant. Though also making use of the 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine outputting 110kW and 250Nm, it’s supplemented by an 85kW/330Nm electric motor on the front axle, with peak system outputs sitting at 180kW and 400Nm. Like the VZ, the VZe is exclusively front-wheel drive, but uses a six-speed transmission.
The biggest jump in the Formentor range comes when opting for the range-topping VZx variant, which starts from $61,990 before on-road costs are added. The 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine in this guise makes 228kW/400Nm, which is sent to all four wheels.
Though the entire Formentor range looks extremely similar, the VZx is the easiest to differentiate thanks to its copper-accented wheels and quad-exit exhaust. A set of copper-coloured Brembo brakes are optional for an extra $4150.
As standard, this Formentor VZx comes with the power and leather package that’s optional on the other cars, so it gets heated leather power adjustment seats as standard. It also gets a premium Beats audio system.
With moderate outputs and its front-driven format, the VZ doesn’t look on paper to be an enthusiast-oriented Formentor choice. However, it largely ports running gear from the feisty and popular Volkswagen Golf GTI in a large body style, its relatively light weight conspiring to a promise of similar performance sweetened with a fun chassis. And at a fairly seductive VW hot hatch-rivaling price.
Its 180kW and 370Nm and wet-clutch seven-speed DSG appear fighting fit and, by the Chasing Cars scales, our VZ weighs in at a reasonably lithe 1522kg. And it proved quick at our test track, returning a best 0-100km/h time of 5.98sec. The real eye-opener, though, was that its time bettered a Golf GTI also assessed the same day, the VW’s quickest time a 6.17sec, despite that car being both lighter and sharing this engine. Why did this happen? Likely tyres or slightly superior weight distribution in the Cupra.
The Formentor scrabbles a little for traction, but its broad 245mm tyres hook up well and it wastes no time in gunning for triple figures. While the VZ won’t torque steer its way off the line like hot hatches of old, it can get caught axle tramping at times, which doesn’t make for the most pleasant experience.
Dynamic chassis control – adaptive damping – is standard across the Formentor range, so the ride varies as to which drive mode is selected. In Normal mode, the ride is reasonably smooth, more so than what one would expect from a car as sporty as the Formentor. Though it leans into the stiffer side, I still wouldn’t say it’s anywhere near uncomfortable.
When Sport mode is selected, changes to the ride are subtle, and although it gets a little stiffer, it’s still something that can be lived with. Cupra is where the Formentor gets predictably stiff, and I’d be surprised to hear if anyone might like to live with this on a daily basis.
Despite the rather rough ride offered by the Cupra driving mode, the dynamics benefits are more than worth the compromise. As standard, the Formentor isn’t exactly a couch, but due to its SUV footprint, body is unavoidable. When using the Cupra mode – its most focussed driving mode available – this lateral movement is significantly reduced, allowing drivers to point and shoot to the best of their ability.
I found the steering’s middling standard mode to be right in the sweet spot when it came to engagement and firmness. I’m sure other drivers might prefer the steering in either Sport or Cupra mode, as it gets firmer with each change, but I didn’t see the need for either. One thing that is lacking with the Formentor VZ’s steering is road feeling and the sense of traction levels through the wheel.
The sheer athleticism of the Formentor’s chassis is accentuated in VZ form. Its ability to change directions and carry speed through corners is something that’s not common in the midsize SUV/crossover segment. Despite its front-driven nature, the VZ will really move its rear end around once the driver pushes on, in much the same fashion as the VW Golf GTI.
Considering that this Formentor falls beneath the Volkswagen Group umbrella, it shouldn’t be a surprise to hear that all this drivability is bundled into an extremely refined package.
Road noise is kept to a minimum in the cabin, and the active exhaust seems to work in a very linear fashion between drive modes. In other words, it gets progressively louder between normal and Cupra, and while it will pop on deceleration, it’s still reasonably quiet and easy to live with.
There’s no denying that the interior of the Formentor VZ has a premium feeling about it. Soft-touch materials cover most surfaces, and this is contrasted with black plastic. In saying this, it isn’t the same piano black that the Volkswagen Group loves to use through its cabins, but instead, an inoffensive matte-finish black plastic.
Cabin technology is another area where the Formentor shines, with two crystal clear displays that are very easy to use.
In the centre of the dash sits the 12-inch infotainment display that supports wireless Apple Carplay and Android Auto as well as featuring satellite navigation. Phone connection aside, the standard operating system is great to use, to the point that I was happy just keeping my phone connected via Bluetooth, instead of a mirroring system.
Behind the multifunction steering wheel sits a 10.25-inch digital cluster that offers an impressive level of customisation. It’s hardly cutting edge in content and design, but it looks very modern and I can imagine that many owners will enjoy the personalisation.
One slight disappointment of the Formentor VZ’s cabin were the climate controls beneath the infotainment screen. It seems Volkwagen’s love of haptic touch panels has crept into the Curpa crossover and the strange slider panels are a pain to use. These can be avoided via using the climate controls within the screen above, but that’s the more distracting option on the move.
Thankfully, this influence wasn’t transferred through to the multifunction steering wheel, as it has retained physical buttons.
The cloth bucket seats that come standard in the Formentor are certainly comfortable enough, but some might find them a little low rent for a car of the Formentor’s stature. With the $2750 leather and power package selected, the powered leather bucket seats feel classier, but probably aren’t necessary.
While space across the second row is reasonably plentiful, the sloping roof of the Formentor means that passengers seated back there might feel a little claustrophobic. This isn’t to the degree of something like a Toyota C-HR, where rear visibility is severely impeded, but the Formentor doesn’t offer the same rear seat experience as something like a Volkswagen Tiguan, either.
It’s also worth noting that middle seat passengers will have to deal with quite a large transmission tunnel that runs down the spine of the car.
Because the Formentor comes standard with tri-zone climate control, there’s a pair of air vents as well as fan and temperature control. There are also a pair of USB-C chargers in the back of the centre console.
Another area where the Formentor VZ trumps the other variants is with luggage space, as it hasn’t got a rear differential, or a battery that impedes it. Where the other Formentors get 420 litres, the VZ stretches this to 450 litres with the rear seatbacks in place.
As standard, the Formentor VZ gets Cupra’s full safety suite with all the active systems that you’d expect to see. These include things like adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, and lane-keep assist among others. Because the Volkswagen systems are carried over into the Cupra, they are some of the best in the segment, and offer assistance rather than taking control.
In 2021, the Cupra Formentor was given a five-star ANCAP rating, with an especially impressive score of 93 per cent in adult occupant protection.
Cupra claims a combined fuel economy figure of 6.9l/100km for the Formentor VZ, which is the second-best in the range behind the plug-in hybrid VZe. During testing, the best we could manage was 7.2l/100km, which was with a route made up of a combination of highway, urban, and back-road driving.
The fact that the VZ only needs 95 octane to run as opposed to 98 in the VZx should also be taken into consideration.
Cupra is currently offering the first three years of servicing free, with the option of adding an extra two years for $1200. Compared to the rest of the segment, this is exceptional value, but according to the Cupra Australia website, is only in place until the 31st of December 2022.
Service intervals for the Formentor sit at 15,000km or 12 months.
On the warranty front, Cupra Australia offers a five year, unlimited KM warranty across its whole range.
I genuinely believe that the VZ is the sweet spot of the Formentor range.
In my opinion, it’s the Formentor that best fits with the Cupra ethos of upholding fun dynamics in an extremely refined package. It’s got an incredibly strong engine, and the 180kW feels like the right amount of power to balance the chassis through the turns.
Performance wise it doesn;’t hang about, and this is backed up nicely by engaging steering and addictive dynamics.
Some may find issue with the standard cloth interior, and the $2750 jump to a leather interior feels a little steep, especially for a car that already costs almost $60,000 driveaway.
In saying this, there aren’t many other SUVs at this price point that not only look as good as this Formentor, but also offer excellent driving dynamics that are sure to put a smile on any driver’s face.
For $13K more than VW’s highly popular (and hugely capable) Tiguan 162TSI R-Line, you can have a red-hot Tiguan R, featuring the same oily bits as the new-gen Golf R
The Volkswagen Golf GTI is famous for a reason: it’s the Swiss Army Knife of cars. Big enough to be useful, small enough to be truly agile, the new GTI delights in many ways, while frustrating in just a few.
Variant tested VZ
Key specs (as tested)
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Cupra Garage retail stores to open in Australia in August 2022, most models available to order online now
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