Cupra Formentor VZN long-term test: a fun but thirsty family car
Final report: did this hot SUV tempt our EV evangelist back to petrol power?
Changing hands mid-term has shown the Cupra’s good and bad points. It’s a worthy family car, and great fun to drive – but with chunky fuel bills. Our man is looking forward to swapping ICE f0r EV again soon.
- Mileage: 4,985
- Economy: 30.9mpg
It's always interesting to inherit a car mid-way through its time on the Auto Express fleet. Whether it’s a change in circumstances, or the departure of a colleague to pastures new, the ability to compare notes by reading past reports often adds a different perspective on things.
That’s exactly what happened recently, when associate editor Sean Carson handed me the keys to our Formentor VZN, shortly before leaving the Autovia offices for the last time. I’d recently given back my Volcano Orange MG4, so volunteered to take the super-cool Cupra for the rest of its loan.
First impressions were good. While I’m probably the biggest EV advocate to grace these pages in recent times, it felt great to be back in a characterful, petrol-powered crossover. The Formentor is essentially a Volkswagen Golf R in a fancy frock, and it’s razor sharp to drive, with a suitably sporty soundtrack and limpet-like grip.
Indeed, on a recent trip to the Lake District and in the midst of Storm Debi, the Cupra still felt as solid as a rock. No amount of wind or rain could knock it off course – something that was particularly evident on the long slog up the M6 motorway. Big patches of standing water were no problem for the Cupra’s excellent all-wheel drive system.
The Formentor has been a worthy family car for me, my wife, and three-year-old daughter too. We squeezed in all we needed for a weekend away, and with one of the rear seats down, we managed to slot in a small armchair we’d been gifted by my in-laws. The front bucket seats are comfy, and despite the car’s big wheels and low-profile tyres, the ride isn’t too firm either.
Reading back over some of Sean’s notes, it seems there’s plenty we agree on. I, too, find myself clicking the end of the indicator stalk to deselect the lane assist the moment I get in. Although it’s better than the set-up in my old MG4, it seems these systems still need tweaking if they’re to work seamlessly for the majority of daily driving duties.
And just like our ex-associate editor, I’ve also found the tailgate has a mind of its own. Sometimes I’ll press the bumper-mounted button above the number plate, and while the boot will unlatch, it takes an additional forced prod for the hatch to open. Using the key mitigates this, but it’s an unwanted frustration when your hands are loaded with shopping, or – as I found out last weekend – a six-foot Christmas tree.
And then there’s the fuel economy. As mentioned above, this Cupra is, too all intents and purposes, a rebodied, higher riding Golf R. That means it has 306bhp and 400Nm of torque at its disposal, fed to both axles. However, with no electrification at all – not even the mildest of mild-hybrid tech – it’s a rather thirsty beast.
I’ve averaged around 31mpg over some 2,000 miles, but seen as little as 18mpg on short urban journeys. Some may consider that a fair trade-off for the performance on offer, but when you’re used to charging at home – even on a normal domestic tariff of 31p/kWh, brimming from empty to full for £84 is a tough pill to swallow.
It’s definitely made me miss my old EV. On that journey up to Cumbria, I had to stop to fuel the Cupra three times. Assuming I’d have been able to charge my MG at a hotel overnight, I reckon there’s a good chance I’d have spent less time – and almost certainly less money – filling the Chinese hatchback with electric charge than I did topping up the Cupra with unleaded. Especially when you add in the fact that, over 650 miles and almost 12 hours at the wheel, I needed more than the odd comfort break. Time that could have been spent charging, as well as filling my face with food.
So while I have enjoyed my time with the Cupra, my next EV can’t come soon enough.
Cupra Formentor VZN: second report
The Cupra Formentor is earning its wings, but pre-flight checks frustrate
- Mileage: 2,739
- Economy: 32.3mpg
I like my Cupra Formentor long-termer, I really do. But after a few months I’ve found one really big issue that’s put it into the danger zone – for me, at least.
Maybe it’s due to the hoops Euro NCAP makes manufacturers jump through to get the highest safety ratings, but the Formentor’s assistance systems always default to on once you restart the car. This means I have to do my best fighter-pilot impression and go through a number of pre-flight checks before I feel ready to take off in the Cupra.
Firstly, I have to push the end of the indicator stalk to pull up the driver-assist menu. Then I have to deselect the lane assist, because on the country roads to my golf club (not very Top Gun, I know) it’s forever pushing me towards the verge on the narrow lanes of my route. Then I have to opt for the speed limiter instead of the adaptive cruise because I like the hard deck limit to make sure I stick to the right speed in towns and villages.
After this, I have to then toggle back to my chosen view on the digital dash by pushing the ‘View’ button three times to return to the layout with the rev counter in the centre. At least all of this tech and info on show makes you feel just a little bit like you’re in a fighter jet, but the problems are just another extension of the poor user interface in this generation of VW Group cars. With VW rectifying these problems with its new ID.3 (and others), I’m hoping that Cupra’s facelift for its Formentor will help too.
I’ve been really enjoying the car’s sportiness recently, though – so much so that, just like Maverick, I often feel the need for speed. As with the F-14 Tomcat that starred in the film, the Cupra is agile for its size, and threading it through some tight bends I sometimes forget that this is a family SUV, it’s that much fun to drive. But the ride is also great in Comfort mode – in fact, I had my dad in the car the other day and he commented on the Formentor’s refined feel when it comes to how it deals with bumps.
However, it’s hasn’t all been clear skies for the Cupra. I’ve struggled with the remote boot release on the keyfob. Maybe it’s me double locking the car when I leave it parked up, but returning to it with armfuls of bags and other items – when you need the convenience of the remotely-operated and powered tailgate the most – it seems hit and miss as to whether it will work. As I say, it’s probably user error, so I’ll investigate further.
Another problem presented itself just the other day, when the Formentor was subject to a strike by some Foreign Object Debris, as they say in the aviation world. In other words, a stray nut on the M25 was flicked up by a car in the middle lane. It then bounced up and smacked into the Cupra’s windscreen as I was cruising in the inside lane. It made the most almighty crack – not just when it came to the sound, but also the damage to the windscreen, which I will have to get sorted quickly.
Cupra Formentor VZN: first report
The Cupra Formentor has joined our fleet and is full of bright ideas
- Mileage: 1,659
- Economy: 30.1mpg
Sometimes a second chance can be a brilliant opportunity. I remember the first Cupra Formentor Auto Express ran on its fleet some 18 months ago: a 1.5 TSI 150 in a lower-spec trim level. I liked it, but there was something missing for me.
As good as it looked, as nice as it was to drive and as well as it covered all the bases a family SUV needs to, it never quite wowed me. Not so with this new Formentor that’s just pulled into the office car park.
That’s not because it has more power, even though the 2.0-litre turbocharged engine’s 306bhp means the Cupra lives up to its sporty billing in terms of performance. No, this time the Cupra has grabbed my attention with its near-premium level of quality and some cool features – and on the latter point, the use of light is a big one.
I like the LED lighting signature at the front and rear of the car. The thin strips of bright white and glowing red at either end of the Formentor give a hi-tech look. I also like the puddle lights from the door mirrors, even if I still can’t quite work out what the depiction of the Cupra logo picked out on the pavement is meant to represent? To me, the brand’s badge looks like either an action hero’s helmet-clad head (think Wolverine from X-Men) or one of those dead animal skulls people sometimes put in glass cases.
Inside, the neat use of LEDs continues. The strip that encircles the front of the cabin on the dash is a nice feature. Depending on the mode, it changes colour (or you can set it to a preferred option in the menu), and it’s a good visual clue as to which setting you’re in if you’ve been playing with the drive mode button on the steering wheel.
In Cupra mode, the LED bar shines red and elongates from the centre towards each extreme of the dash panel, stretching further the more throttle you use. It is a bit of a gimmick, and I don’t like the artificial engine note in Cupra, so I prefer the Individual setting with the “Pure” exhaust note instead.
I also like the way the LED bar turns orange on either the driver’s or passenger’s door to warn you of a car in your blind spot – it’s a nice touch. However, despite the Formentor’s rakish look, rear three-quarter visibility isn’t actually that bad.
When it comes to light, one area I’m not so enamoured with is the glow from the infotainment screen in the evening. Even when dimmed it’s too bright, and there doesn’t seem to be a night mode for the display, which is annoying, because the bright white glow from the sat-nav’s map can be very distracting. I’ve already taken to using Android Auto anyway, because the Cupra’s native system is far from the best.
On the subject of tech, I also had to chuckle when I first hooked up my phone to the Formentor’s Bluetooth. The system comes up as “My SEAT 9010”, so as much as Cupra is a standalone brand, there are still clues as to its heritage.
While I like the look of the headlight signature, and even though the high-spec VZN trim features matrix-LED units, they don’t seem to be quite as bright or as powerful as those in the Audi that I ran previously. Still, being able to flick the left- hand stalk on to full beam and let the car take care of the rest – not dazzling oncoming drivers but still keeping the road ahead illuminated – has been great, especially in the atrocious weather we faced in July.
On another point of comparison with the Audi SQ5 I ran, it’s easy to identify Cupra’s positioning as somewhere between mainstream and genuinely premium. The Formentor feels much nicer than a VW Golf inside, for example, but it still can���t quite match up to Audi’s standard when it comes to material quality in the cabin. Most of the plastics (such as the nice dash panel) are soft, and the seats are great, but there are a few areas where it feels like there’s been some money saved in the Formentor.
Still, even at £46,210 for this VZN car (pricey, I know), which comes loaded with premium kit, there’s a good 20 grand between it and the most affordable SQ 5 Sportback on sale. I don’t think anyone would feel short changed by the Cupra when viewed like that.
|Cupra Formentor 2.0 TSI 310 4Drive VZN
|On fleet since:
|2.0-litre 4cyl turbo petrol, 306bhp
|Mountain Green metallic paint (£270)
|Group: 33/Quote: £717
*Insurance quote from AA (0800 107 0680) for a 42-year-old in Banbury, Oxon, with three points.