Before we get going I may as well explain what this car is. First off, the badge. Yes, it does look a bit like the stylised logo that Wolverhampton Wanderers use, or else like something from a Sky One space drama, but it belongs to the new car marque “Cupra”.
This might be vaguely familiar to you as the performance arm of Seat, as in “Seat Leon Cupra”, but now it’s been spun off with an entirely separate identity all of its own.
So there’s no Seat Formentor equivalent (cheaper) model. Every car make seems to be developing new “premium” offshoots these days: DS for Citroen, Polestar out of Volvo, Genesis from Hyundai (arriving in the UK in the summer), just because it’s so hard to turn a profit in the mass market. Hence Cupra...
I’m not sure the public properly understands the point of many of them yet; then again Lexus and Audi are comparatively synthetic brands and they do OK these days. As for the “Formentor” bit, I thought it was one of those made-up words marketing people come up with, like Hobnob or Ikea, here signifying that this baby is going to “foment” trouble and/or “ferment” a heady kind of driving brew. But, actually, it’s a place in Spain, which is how lots of Seat cars (Ibiza, Malaga, Ateca) get their names. As part of the VW group, the Formentor has much in common with other Golf-sized models and its closest living relative is the Seat Ateca, a more utilitarian sort of compact SUV.
The Cupra Formentor is also what we nowadays call a crossover. You may think of it, in this case, as a “cross” between a hot hatch, a coupe and a tall SUV, and, as you can see, it is a highly styled affair, the designers seemingly having been given the brief to fuss over every last detail, and then fuss some more. The big alloy wheels are especially striking, and the whole thing looks like a piece of renegade Italian exotica, like Ferrari decided to take on the Nissan Qashqai. The heavily grooved rear “haunches” are especially effective, while the bold angular grille treatment looks very Audi-like, which is true of many other brands these days. The “electrified” Formentor variant I tried was also a hybrid in the sense of having a plug-in battery-power system as well as a lively 1.4-litre petrol engine, making for respectable performance to go with the looks and brand image. It’s front-wheel drive only, despite the SUV looks. If you plug it in every night and only do around 30 miles of gentle driving a day, you can run it entirely on cheap domestic tariff electricity. So it’s sort of green too, a halfway house to a fully electric version, sadly not yet available.
On the inside, the Formentor has been given the proper luxury treatment and there are no “basic” variants. The middle-spec “V2” version has all that a buyer in the £40,000 bracket rightly expects, such as plush leather seating, heated steering wheel, high definition rear parking camera and a prominent 10in touchscreen. However, that’s not as easy to use as it first appears, with touch-sensitive slider controls for the radio volume and heating being quite tricky and the satnav is one of the least intuitive systems I’ve come across, which is saying quite a lot. It’s all a bit too clever for its own good and most of us would like a nice old-fashioned dial or two to fall back on if baffled and unable to get away from Absolute Classic Rock in the DAB menu.
As a package, the plug-in hybrid should reward you with (relatively) low running costs (including a 10 per cent benefit-in-kind charge for company car users), blended with more than adequate performance, space and a kind of exclusivity that derives from rarity and obscurity rather than sheer cost, in contrast with, say, a Range Rover. There is a more old-school pure petrol Formentor that is basically a Golf GTI with Cuban heels, four-wheel drive and ferocious acceleration but such excesses are going out of fashion and are soon to disappear forever. Unlike, I hope, the Cupra brand, which, despite its lack of pedigree, is a crossbreed I rather like.
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