While we're not convinced that there's room in the Irish marketplace for another premium brand, least of all one focused on the sporting side of things, as Cupra is, there's no getting away from the fact that the Cupra Formentor is a desirable SUV. The range now fills out with the introduction of two plug-in hybrid options. We had a quick test drive in the 245hp model on Irish soil ahead of its introduction in Ireland next month.
In the Metal:
The Cupra Formentor really is a cracking looking car, putting most other companies that have tried to design a 'coupe-SUV' to shame. The e-Hybrid is no different on that count, with the addition of a charging port behind the left front wheel the only hint at its electric capability. Oddly, while the Cupra badge and the brand's distinctive copper signature accent are quite brash, the Formentor is mostly offered with subtle paint hues, including the gorgeous 'Dark Camouflage' green of our test car. I found the Formentor looks quite different in the metal than in images, as it's lower and smaller than you might expect, though it has a long wheelbase. In ways, it looks like a sportier take on the old SEAT Leon X-Perience idea. Delve into the tech specs, though, and you'll discover that, height and width aside, the Formentor is larger than the SEAT Ateca SUV.
Up front, the Formentor looks impressive, thanks in no small part to a set of lovely big sports seats, though somewhat surprisingly, they're not all-leather. Our test car came with the upgraded steering wheel, with a moderately flat bottom and the extra 'satellite' buttons for starting the engine and choose the driving mode. The instruments are digital and customisable and the touchscreen in the middle is the new Volkswagen Group item with finger sliders at the base for temperature and volume. The relatively slim centre console houses the tactile drive selecting 'nub', a wireless charger, two cupholders and an underarm storage area. Quality seems exceptionally good.
Open the back doors and it's immediately obvious that the rear seats are set particularly low. This allows for excellent headroom and yet it should be possible for a six-foot tall person to sit behind another of the same height up front, in the outer seats. The middle position is compromised by a transmission tunnel. There's more compromise behind, as the plug-in hybrid Formentor's boot is reduced in volume to allow for packaging of the hybrid components. It holds 345 litres vs. the other front-drive models' 450 litres. The back seats still split and fold, thankfully, and towing of up to 1,500kg is allowed.
The Formentor feels good to drive from the moment you set off. A firm steering wheel rim sets the tone and it's connected to a direct steering rack. That sense of connection to the road and lack of slop in the car's responses continues with controlled feeling suspension. This car features adaptive damping, tied into the driving modes (though there's an Individual setting for you to customise the various systems), but even in Cupra mode it's not bone-jarring in its firmness. Instead it feels wonderfully tied down and made for higher cornering speeds than it's likely to be subjected to by most of its owners. It's worth noting that, though it's not uncomfortable, neither is there a damper setting that makes the suspension notably soft. There are firm springs underneath after all, not to mention low profile tyres on those lovely 19-inch wheels. Despite all that, road noise is kept at bay and the powertrain is quiet on the move, too.
Under the bonnet of this particular Formentor is the Volkswagen Group's well-proven plug-in hybrid system utilising its venerable old 150hp 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine as a basis. The electric motor here is an 85kW item, which means up to 245hp in total, along with 400Nm of torque - decent figures by any measure. The Formentor feels pleasantly quick rather than hot hatch chasing. It's more satisfying when you're in a hurry to take control of the six-speed automatic gearbox using the (too plastic) paddles behind the steering wheel, as otherwise, depending on driving mode, it drops a few gears in search of high revs every time you ask for a bit more acceleration. The resultant engine noise somehow detracts from the car, which otherwise feels like a premium product.
Cupra quotes 52-55km on purely electrical power thanks to the 13kWh battery. Our initial test of this car was limited in time, so we didn't get a proper feel for how achievable that is, though left to its own devices, the battery pack was depleted after about 30km of motorway driving. As ever with all plug-in hybrids, you need to plug it in regularly to maximise electric running.
What you get for your Money:
Impressively, Cupra Ireland has managed to bring the e-Hybrid in for a starting price of less than the DSG automatic version of the 1.5 TSI 150hp model. Once the €5,000 SEAI grant for a private buying of a plug-in vehicle is taken into consideration, the Formentor e-Hybrid starts at €39,895. That's for the 204hp variant. The 245hp model tested here starts at €50,130.
It looks like this car will be well-equipped. Cupra Ireland told us that the test car was fitted as standard with 19-inch alloys, rear-view camera, 12-inch touchscreen with navigation, LED exterior lighting, three-zone climate control, wireless charger, heated seats and steering wheel and keyless entry and start. Plus a lot more. Options fitted to this vehicle included the 'Supersports' steering wheel, electric tailgate and a suite of active safety systems.
Go to cupraofficial.ie for up-to-date Irish pricing and range information.
The plug-in hybrid Cupra Formentor is a really likeable prospect. We think the Formentor looks fantastic and it drives well, too. If you don't want a diesel SUV, can't stomach the running costs of one of the higher-end petrol Formentor models, yet still want decent performance, the e-Hybrid is probably the one to go for, especially give its pricing.