If you think the Cupra Ateca is a bit too upright for you, but you're really after a Spanish performance SUV, then the Formentor is the sportier answer to your conundrum. The good news is, this is another excellent execution of the formula by the shiny new sub-brand of SEAT.
In the metal
The new Cupra Formentor should catch your eye because it is an all-new, bespoke body shell for the Cupra marque. There isn't a 'plain' SEAT version for you to feast upon, as there is with the existing Ateca and the incoming Cupra Leon, so that gives the Formentor an aesthetic interest all of its own, long before you realise this is the 'coupe-SUV' to the Ateca's hatchback-SUV (even though both are five-door machines). It looks really good, too, muscular and angular, with a nice stance and proportions that serve it well. Obviously, while it wears the Cupra badge on its nose, familial design features tie it in with the current SEAT styling that began with the Tarraco SUV, so it has the separated headlight-and-grille arrangement up front and a full-width light strip rear, but generally we highly approve of the exterior of the Formentor.
Yet, while it is a brand-new model that's specific to Cupra, at the same time the Formentor uses common Volkswagen Group mechanicals. The platform is MQB, the engine (in this case) is an EA888 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol unit. Underneath is the 4Drive all-wheel-drive system and a seven-speed dual-clutch DSG transmission and, if you recognise this collection of bits then you'll realise it's the same sort of drivetrain that has underpinned umpteen different Volkswagen Group cars in the 300-310hp bracket. Not to mention any number of SEAT Cupras and Cupra Cupras before it. However, those looking for a bit more invention from the Formentor might be pleased to know that 150hp TSI and 245hp plug-in hybrid eTSI variants are on the way, the latter as per the system found in the likes of the Skoda Octavia RS iV, to supplement this 310hp halo version.
Inside, though, the Formentor really earns its spurs. At 4,450mm long, 1,839mm wide and 1,511mm tall, the newbie is 74mm longer, 2mm narrower and fully 104mm lower than its Ateca sibling, and is actually not much bigger in those dimensions than the Leon hatch. Yet it has a 50mm longer wheelbase than either, at 2,680mm, so interior practicality remains high. There's ample passenger room in the back and even headroom isn't limited by the rakish roofline, while the boot stands at a useful 420 litres as standard (that's for 4Drive models; front-wheel-drive Formentors can fit in 450 litres), rising to 1,475 litres with the 60:40 split rear seats folded down.
Of course, that's not quite as large as the 485-litre boot on an Ateca, but the Formentor makes up for it by having a cutting-edge cabin that's in another league for finishing. Opt for a higher-spec car (see What You Get For Your Money, below) and a thoroughly up-to-date, 12-inch floating touchscreen infotainment screen dominates the centre of the dash, while there's a strip of ambient lighting in the hoop-like structure that runs from the front of the door cards and around under the base of the windscreen. This strip includes the warning lights for the blind-spot monitoring (rather than them being housed in the door mirrors, as is usual), while the steering wheel is festooned with buttons to control many of the major functions and the crisp, attractive digital instrument cluster. OK, it's maybe a touch too 'binary' for some tastes inside, but as a few key functions can be found hiding away on physical buttons (the front demist and rear heated screen switches, for example, now live with the headlight controls to the door-side of the steering wheel) then it all works fine and looks tremendous. Added to that is a really solid air of quality to the fixtures and fittings, and also the option to have classy Petrol Blue leather for the interior upholstery if you want it. Inside and out, the Formentor looks to be a bit of a winner.
The dynamic experience is as per any four-wheel-drive Volkswagen Group car powered by this 2.0-litre engine, which means the Cupra Formentor is fast, capable and grippy, if not the most out-and-out thrilling thing you'll ever steer. Having said that, it is supposed to be a rapid coupe-SUV, rather than a hot hatchback, and so perhaps its foursquare cornering attitude and steadfast adhesion are traits to be praised, rather than characteristics that should be used to argue against it.
So, we'd say it's a highly pleasant thing to travel in. For starters, the Dynamic Chassis Control offers light and shade between the standard Comfort, Sport and Cupra modes, and if it doesn't float your boat in any of those three camps then know that there are actually 15 possible settings for the damping in the Individual configuration screen. Individual, of course, is one of five overarching modes available to the Cupra Formentor driver and the only adjustable one of the quintet; the others are Offroad, Comfort, Sport and Cupra. These variously change the 4Drive, steering, engine noise, throttle response, speed of the DSG and so on, with (beyond the 15 options for DCC) two settings for the all-wheel drive (Comfort or Sport), three for the steering (Comfort, Sport and Cupra), four for the engine (as per the steering, plus an Eco mode), three for the engine's sound (Comfort, Sport and, yep, Cupra again), three for the adaptive cruise control (Comfort, Sport and... well, you get the idea), and two for the air conditioning (Normal and Eco).
The long and short of all this is that, should you find one of the three 'fixed' on-road settings of Comfort, Sport or Cupra doesn't work for you, then there's ample opportunity to set the Formentor up just how you'd like it. But we're happy to tell you that fiddling around putting the suspension on 7/15 and the ACC down to Comfort simply isn't necessary, because the out-of-the-box modes are perfectly fine.
In Comfort mode, the Formentor does what it says on the tin. It feels like a much grander, much larger SUV than its compact platform might have you expect, with excellent suppression of wind noise, great mechanical refinement and a supple ride on the softest suspension setting, despite those gorgeous copper 19-inch alloy wheels at all corners. If anything, the only discord in the cabin comes from elevated levels of tyre roar, but that's only really noticeable on poorer road surfaces and, even then, it's not unbearable. The gearbox shows none of that eco-related hesitancy that has struck the group's twin-clutch gearboxes in the years in the wake of stricter emissions regs, while the engine is tractable and smooth enough to make adequate progress using nothing more than half the revs.
Step it up into Sport or Cupra, though, and the Formentor shines brightly. Admittedly, the steering lacks feel, but it's always weighted nicely and there's little to report in the way of dead patches of movement off the straight-ahead. In fact, it's a very quick set-up, the nose of the Cupra SUV reacting promptly to only the smallest inputs of lock, and that keen front end means that you can get the Formentor turned in smartly and cleanly to most corners, be they low- or high-speed.
Whereupon you will find body control that is top-notch for a mid-sized SUV, as well as grip and traction that are nigh-on unimpeachable in the dry, and pretty damned effective in the wet too. There's quite a synthetic note to the four-cylinder engine in the sportier two driving modes, which could annoy some, but we don't happen to think Cupra has overplayed it and so the Formentor 310 doesn't only feel every bit as fast as its on-paper 4.9-second 0-100km/h would suggest, but thanks to the decent soundtrack it manages to enhance its cross-country pace to excellent effect as well.
Which means that, on a challenging two-lane road or even on tighter back lanes, the Formentor is startlingly quick. There's a wide power band of the 310hp being delivered across more than 1,100 revs at the top end, so winding the 2.0-litre out is an act to be rewarded, but Cupra has also dovetailed the punchy 400Nm of torque to hit from just 2,000rpm until the point that peak power comes on song at 5,450rpm. The net result of this is that, short of doing something completely odd like putting the car in seventh and asking it to lug from 50km/h with full throttle, you'll find the drivetrain responds with real alacrity to flexes of your right foot. There's no doubt it's therefore plenty of fun to drive the Cupra Formentor quickly, even if it's not going to redraw the parameters of what's theoretically possible with the chassis of a performance SUV.
What you get for your money
Prices for the Formentor will start at €35,945 for the 1.5 TSI 150hp - but the VZ 2.0 TSI 310 DSG 4Drive is a rather more robust €57,910. If you want the top-dog model, then there will be two specifications in Ireland, the regular Formentor and then the Formentor VZ. Our test car was roughly analogous to the higher-spec latter of these two, so it had things like 19-inch Sport Copper alloys, Petrol Blue leather bucket seats, a heated steering wheel, Dynamic Chassis Control, sports suspension, a full safety and parking pack of electronic driver-aid gizmos and a panoramic sunroof. However, we know that even entry-level Formentors in Ireland will have 18-inch alloys, full LED lights, ambient interior lighting, three-zone climate control, a ten-inch touchscreen media system, front and rear parking sensors, auto lights and wipers and the Safe & Driving Pack M, which includes adaptive cruise control, Traffic Sign Recognition and Light Assist on top of a generous standard safety bundle.
In short, the Cupra Formentor is well-specified from the off. The bad news is that the prices here are valid for cars registered to the end of 2020 only, as outlined in this news story.
Those who have been lamenting the fact that SEAT's sporty brand has kicked off with a pair of SUVs, of all things, are probably not going to warmly welcome the new Cupra Formentor much more than they did the mechanically similar Cupra Ateca. But we're not among their number. This is a plush, likeable family SUV with almost car-like proportions on the outside and a superb (if maybe a tad buttoned-down) driving experience to match. The Formentor should certainly bring the new Cupra brand to the attention of Irish buyers.