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Cupra's first standalone model has been extensively reworked to broaden its appeal. Does it deliver?

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Car makers are increasingly trying to tempt younger buyers with left-field cars. Forget traditional boxy SUVs: these drivers want svelte lines and interesting, curvy designs. Cue the Cupra Formentor.

Cupra has a notable interest in this type of customer, judging by how much it talks about video games, being "future-facing" and "defying every 'should' in the book".

To a point, the cars do live up to that talk. They're all available with powerful engines and feature sharp, angular designs and undeniably racey interiors punctuated by a signature bronze trim.

The Formentor set the Cupra brand on this path, being its first model that wasn’t based on a Seat and one of its best-sellers: more than 120,000 were delivered worldwide last year.

Now it has received a wide-reaching update encompassing its exterior design, engine line-up and interior, all of which is designed to keep it fresh in the eyes of - especially younger - customers. And given that the average age of a Formentor buyer is 10 years younger than in the rest of the crossover segment, there’s a lot at stake.

The Cupra Formentor line-up at a glance

No matter which version you go for, performance from each of the engines available is strong.

The range kicks off with a 148bhp mild-hybrid 1.5-litre turbocharged four, which is paired with a six-speed manual gearbox and front-wheel drive.

Starting at £27,604, the Formentor costs more than the Renault Arkana but nearly £13,000 less than the BMW X2. I'is available in V1, V2 and V3 trims or racier VZ1, VZ2, and VZ3 trims.

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A plug-in hybrid version is also available, pairing the same 1.5-litre turbo petrol engine with a 19.7kWh battery (up from 13kWh previously) and an electric motor, resulting in 201bhp sent to the front wheels via a six-speed automatic gearbox.

With the increase in battery capacity, electric-only range has been increased from 37 miles to a claimed 62 miles, which puts the Formentor PHEV in the 8% benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax bracket. The old version fell into the 12% bracket.

While the PHEV powertrain is available in V1, V2 and V3 cars, it can also be had in a VZ version, with its power increased to 268bhp. This version is also exclusively four-wheel-drive but uses the same six-speed automatic gearbox.

The most powerful engine can be had only in VZ cars. It's the same 329bhp 2.0-litre turbo petrol four used by the Volkswagen Golf R and Audi S3, and it sends its power to all four wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. 

A 2.0-litre turbo diesel engine with 148bhp is offered elsewhere, but it won't be coming to the UK.

All cars are well equipped. Even the V1 comes with 18in alloy wheels, full LED headlights, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, privacy glass, power-folding door mirrors, tri-zone climate control, keyless entry, keyless start and adaptive cruise control. 

DESIGN & STYLING

Cupra Formentor 2024 side

When it was launched, the Formentor certainly convinced us that Volkswagen Group management was aiming to bridge a number of market niches with one product; to lure enthusiast drivers with the VZ cars, fans of luxury goods with generous equipment levels throughout the range, those of active lifestyles with a stylish and alternative design and technophiles with the latest in interior and infotainment technology. 

The facelifted version naturally retains those compelling proportions but adds a new 'shark-nose' front end, triangular-shaped LED lights, a much wider and more prominent front grille, redesigned alloy wheels and, at the back, an illuminated Cupra logo.

These subtle but noticeable changes are intended to bring the Formentor into line with the upcoming Terramar SUV, give the Spanish brand’s ICE offerings a clearer family link, and continue the Formentor's streak as an accomplished piece of design that does little to shun function for form. 

And for the most part, it achieves that. The facelift has brought some modernisation to the car's overall look without sacrificing the nicely crafted lines that helped it to become such a hit in the first place.

With a 4450mm length, 1839mm width and 1511mm height, the Formentor has nearly identical proportions to the BMW X2 but is smaller than the similarly priced Renault Arkana. It's taller than the Skoda Octavia Estate but nearly a foot shorter in length, while also being notably longer than the Audi A3 Sportback

Unlike its MQB-platform relatives, the Formentor gets fully independent suspension and ‘progressive’ rising-rate steering irrespective of the engine fitted.

Lowered sport suspension with adaptive damping is fitted from mid-level VZ1 trim upwards, along with four-wheel drive (coming in tandem with a dual-clutch automatic gearbox) on 2.0-litre versions.

INTERIOR

Cupra Formentor 2024 interior

Stepping inside, you immediately notice the key facelift changes, as there's a much more acute attitude to sustainability and quality than before.

On cars specified with bucket seats, the cloth upholstery is made from a 73%-recycled vegan textile, while other cars use a leather that's described by Cupra “environmentally conscious”.

Admiring the dashboard and taking in the largely unchanged but still attractive design, bronze trim and surfaces that look to have been designed with nothing but a ruler, you're immediately aware that this is a car with some genuine character. It just about differentiates itself enough from other Volkswagen Group products to make you aware that you're sitting in something with sporting (but still luxurious) intentions, even more so than previously. 

Quality-wise, while the glossy trim pieces are nice to hold and intricately styled dashboard materials are plush to the touch, there's evidence of general cheapening in the not-so-lower reaches of the dashboard and the glossy trim that will be behest to scratches and fingerprints more easily than textured materials. In addition, the particular Formentor that we tested had some interior panels that felt slightly loose and unfinished.

Tech levels have taken a noticeable step up, though, with illuminated trim pieces, matrix LED lights giving you a welcome dance upon unlocking and, most notably, a larger (12.9in) infotainment touchscreen fitted as standard across the range. Its size has ballooned to the point of visual intrusion, but its usability has taken great steps forwards, because it runs the Volkswagen Group's new fourth-generation MIB operating software.

The screen is now slick to use and, once you get used to it, easy enough to navigate. It would help if controls for the climate, heated seats and radio were physical, because they're still hard to see and hit on the move, but at least the buttons mounted on the steering wheel are physical and the system features permanent shortcut functions that can be used to quickly jump between menus. The touch-sensitive sliders for the audio volume and cabin temperature are also now backlit, helpfully. 

Practicality has also remained unchanged, which is to say it's quite good. The Formentor is roomier in the back than a typical hatchback and, although not quite rivalling the likes of the Skoda Octavia or Honda Civic for outright space, it has good everyday practicality and carrying versatility.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Cupra Formentor 2024 front right

The pre-facelift Formentor was a car we liked for its engine's flexibility, and despite a flat spot under 2500rpm, we had very few complaints about its character despite being an efficient, smooth lump that was as refined as any Volkswagen Group engine had been up until that point. 

This new car is no different. Volkswagen really knows what it is doing with petrol engines. The top-rung 329bhp car pushes to 62mph in 4.8sec, while the mid-rung 268bhp 1.5-litre PHEV delivers comfortably enough performance for what it will ultimately be asked to do, with the additional benefit of a generous BIK tax rate. And it will still sprint to 62mph in 7.2sec. 

Under load, the engines are very obviously audibly enhanced by the interior speakers. This is, however, quite a nice addition, because from the outside it sounds as dry as metal and as characterful as a cherry blossom in winter. Pedestrians will probably barely notice you’re accelerating. 

At a gentle cruise, the engines become so quiet that you don’t even notice their existence. The same can't be said for the changes from the automatic gearbox, but in a good way: they’re not so imperceptible that you don’t know what gear you’re in but also not so obvious that your passengers will wonder why you’re in sixth and not seventh. 

The PHEV is easily fast enough but isn't as smooth or refined as the 2.0-litre petrol. But if you’re buying this car as a stylish means of driving around your town and occasionally going on the motorway, you won’t need anything more. It delivers ample power with 268bhp and, thanks to its larger battery, an electric-only range that’s 24 miles further than before, at 61 miles. Our test car, with the 2.0-litre turbo, shunts out 310lb ft from just 2100rpm, making it a strong performer, especially on the motorway. 

RIDE & HANDLING

Cupra Formentor 2024 rear three quarter tracking

The chassis is more than competent enough to deal with the power, no matter which version you go for. Even when pushed, it maintains decent balance and composure, with a good amount of support relative to the car’s mass. It's extremely grippy and confidence-inspiring but has a slight tendency to understeer at the upper limit.

Down straights, it fires its way through each of the seven ratios with vim, and before you know it you're at the next bend, soaking up its direct, precise and effortlessly quick steering. All of this conspires to make it a natural choice for keener everyday driving.

The car’s clutch-based four-wheel drive system and its taut but measured suspension tune make it stable and surefooted over bumps and on slippery surfaces. The variable-rate steering is usefully weighty in the sportier driving modes and doesn’t pick up pace so quickly off-centre as to suddenly become overly excitable.

Our test car rode on optional adaptive dampers, which meant that the primary ride could be made as absorptive as you want it to be, even if sharper edges could be felt because of the 19in wheels. Despite a large, airy interior for echoes to gather, both wind and road noise are kept reasonably low.

The sports seats are especially comfortable and supportive, upholstered in plush materials. The driving position is very low, though, which can make it quite difficult to see corners and squeeze through tight gaps. It's so low, in fact, that you could be forgiven into thinking you're driving a Leon – good for feeling involved in the drive but not so good if you want to reap the benefits of a crossover's heightened driving position.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Cupra Formentor 2024 front three quarter lead

For a standard Formentor in the UK, which is to say the 148bhp mild-hybrid 1.5-litre petrol, you will pay £35,475. This rises to £44,845 for the 268bhp PHEV and rises again to £49,900 for the top-rung 329bhp 2.0-litre petrol.

The obvious choice for company car buyers would be the PHEV, with its 62-mile electric range and prices that start at £41,455. Despite the big battery, it undercuts even the pure-petrol version of the BMW X2 by £225. Prices top out at £50,710.

All Formentors come with a five-year/90,000 mile warranty – something we think is quite impressive, given the levels of performance from our test car's 2.0-litre engine.

If performance motoring isn't your priority, we would recommend the 268bhp PHEV, given its attractiveness for company car buyers and ability to save on fuel in the long run.

If, however, you want a Formentor with some punch for your local country road (and you can stomach the £49,900 starting price), you're better off with the 329bhp 2.0-litre car. 

VERDICT

Cupra Formentor 2024 front right wide

Is the new Formentor the perfect car for the younger crowd? Damn near it. It manages to offer excellent rolling refinement, chassis balance to disguise its weight and size, strong engines and everyday versatility. And its technological and performance-oriented enhancements will stand it in good stead against similarly conceived rivals – not to mention the cachet of Cupra’s brand image makes it an appealing proposition in itself.

When it was launched, the Formentor set the mould that Cupra could follow, being a fresh and interesting car that offered something totally different to a whole range of would-be buyers. This update, while not taking anything to a whole new level, brings the car a well-resolved, refreshed appeal. There's abundant real-world practicality, as well as some great material richness, a striking sense of style and an appealingly pragmatic but still compelling driving experience.

Jonathan Bryce

Jonathan Bryce
Title: Editorial Assistant

Jonathan is an editorial assistant working with Autocar. He has held this position since March 2024, having previously studied at the University of Glasgow before moving to London to become an editorial apprentice and pursue a career in motoring journalism. 

His role at work involves writing news stories, travelling to launch events and interviewing some of the industry's most influential executives, writing used car reviews and used car advice articles, updating and uploading articles for the Autocar website and making sure they are optimised for search engines, and regularly appearing on Autocar's social media channels including Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube.

Cupra Formentor First drives