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Cupra Formentor vs Audi SQ2: sporty SUV shootout

Two closely related hot SUVs battle it out. Which is the best all-rounder?

It may have initially looked like a risky move to separate Cupra from SEAT as its own brand back in 2018, but it has proved to be an inspired decision. The performance marque has gone on to achieve huge success – especially thanks to its Formentor.

This crossover is bespoke to the Spanish brand and is also its best-seller. It’s not hard to see why because it has a breadth of ability. Offered with a variety of powertrains and trim levels, it has battled the Peugeot 408, Alfa Romeo Stelvio and even the Porsche Macan in previous group tests

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The model we’re testing here is the hottest version you can get in the UK: the VZN. With the sporty image Cupra is aiming to cultivate, it could make the most sense, too. Along with its turbocharged four-wheel-drive powertrain, it packs much of the same technology seen in other VW Group products into a stylish, practical body. 

One such rival sibling is the Audi SQ2. It was launched back in 2018, but that could help its cause when comparing its older infotainment with the Cupra’s set-up, which we’re not huge fans of.

With similar pricing, running costs and performance, choosing between these two performance crossovers could be tough, because at first glance they’re very closely matched. 

Cupra Formentor

With a flexible engine and chassis combination, the Cupra Formentor VZN feels just at home on a twisty mountain road as it does in a supermarket car park. At £50k, we’d recommend looking at lower-spec versions, but it gets the fundamentals of a performance family car just right. 

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Cupra really set its stall out with the Formentor – the brand’s first bespoke car. While the Cupra name certainly has plenty of cachet to it as SEAT’s performance sub-brand for over 20 years, the Formentor simply had to be excellent to ensure the brand hit the ground running.  

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Using tried-and-tested mechanicals from the current Volkswagen Golf R, the Cupra was always going to impress behind the wheel, despite its raised ride height and crossover body. To put it bluntly, the Formentor VZN drives like a lifted Golf R – because that’s what it is.

The steering has a good weight and gives you a reliable connection to the front wheels. It’s not as immediate in its response as a traditional hot hatchback, but for a family SUV, the Formentor is tremendous. That extra suspension travel means you have to pick a line and commit rather than hoping for mid-corner adjustability. This is no bad thing, because you can thread the Formentor through tight corners with precision, relying on the consistently strong levels of grip. Get too frantic with your steering inputs and the Cupra will serve up some safe understeer. 

The four-cylinder turbocharged 2.0-litre engine sends 306bhp and 400Nm of torque to all four wheels. Spend a little time with the ubiquitous EA888 Volkswagen Group motor and you’ll understand why it’s so common. Even in the higher tune you find in this VZN, and indeed the Golf R and Audi S3, it’s perfectly sedate when you just want to pootle around, but an animal when you fancy some fun. There’s precious little turbo lag low down in the rev range and power delivery is linear up to its peak power from 5,500-6,500rpm.

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Our main concern is that despite the bespoke exhaust system, the soundtrack isn’t as spectacular as you’d hope – not from the driver’s seat, at least. The seven-speed DSG automatic is also rapid enough to change gears on acceleration, but downchanges can be a bit slow and we’d advise against using the manual paddles behind the wheel, because they’re small and flimsy, and the box’s responses sluggish. 

Even on our car’s large 19-inch alloy wheels, the ride of the Formentor eclipses that of many of its hot-hatch siblings – all thanks to that extra travel in the suspension. The SQ2’s ride quality isn’t harsh in isolation, but it’s not as well damped as the Cupra’s. You’re unlikely to suffer any aches after a few hours of motorway driving and the rather serious-looking bucket seats manage to provide enough support in the bends, while still being cosseting and relaxing on a cruise. 

Audi SQ2

The Audi SQ2 is aging, but it puts up a good fight against what is one of the best VW Group products on sale. It’s still fun to drive and for some, the older, more user-friendly dash will be a clincher. Practicality is a weak point, though, as is the general level of refinement. 

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Performance SUVs are big business right now and Audi has a hot ‘RS’ or ‘S’-badged version of pretty much every SUV it sells. The SQ2 is the smallest of the bunch, but it still comes with a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine (a slightly older iteration of the same motor that the Cupra uses) with 296bhp and 400Nm of torque going to all four wheels in classic Audi quattro fashion through a seven-speed DSG auto gearbox. There’s almost nothing to choose between the two cars in weight (the Audi is 1,610kg and the Cupra is 1,616kg), although the Cupra is larger in every dimension and has a longer wheelbase. 

As you’d expect, there’s not a huge amount of difference between the way these two cars attack a set of corners. There seems to be a little more slack in the Audi’s steering compared with the Cupra’s, but the shorter wheelbase makes it feel slightly more twitchy. The Audi also has narrower tyres, so while grip levels are still decent, it washes wide a fraction earlier than the Cupra. This isn’t necessarily a negative, because there’s a liveliness to the SQ2 which is surprising, given the rather humble underpinnings. The SQ2 seems happier when you’re leaning on the front tyres like an old-school hot hatch, whereas the Formentor can feel more rear-biased in certain circumstances.

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Body roll is largely kept in check, but as in the Cupra, you notice a bit more movement underneath than you’d find in a traditional hot hatch. Braking is strong from both cars, but the Cupra comes with ‘Performance Brembo brakes’ in the lower-spec VZ3 version.

It might be down on power, but the SQ2’s turbocharged engine matches the Cupra’s 4.9-second 0-62mph time and has great in-gear performance. The gearchanges themselves are snappy enough and if you fiddle with the driving modes, you’ll find a little more flexibility than the Cupra. The manual paddles (just like the Formentor’s) behind the wheel feel cheap to the touch and should be ignored. 

At a cruise, the SQ2 can’t match the Formentor’s refinement. Rough roads are more noticeable through the firmer suspension and while all the trim is screwed together perfectly well, there seems to be less sound deadening throughout the cabin. The seats aren’t what you’d expect from a hot Audi, either. They’re quite flat with not enough support during cornering, and the general driving position is more SUV-like compared with the Cupra’s, where you feel more hunkered down. The flip side of this is better visibility; the SQ2 would certainly be our preference as an urban runabout. 

Results

Which car comes out on top?

Winner: Cupra Formentor

Cupra has a habit of making its production cars look just like the concepts that previewed them – the Tavascan and Born, for example. The Formentor concept arrived in 2019 and by the time it launched in 2021, little had changed, which we think is a good thing. With sporty, aggressive styling, it stands out in a sea of bland small SUVs.

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Those wanting to make a statement about buying the fastest and most expensive Formentor might feel a little hard done by, because there’s not much visual differentiation between this top-spec VZN and the basic V1. It’s also worth noting that a facelifted Formentor will go on sale towards the end of the year, complete with a new look. 

ProsCons
Terrific engine and chassisTouchscreen usability
Supple yet controlled ridePoor steering wheel paddles
Comfortable interiorPricey to buy

Runner-up: Audi SQ2

The Q2 is one of Audi’s oldest models still on sale and reports suggest it won’t survive after this first generation, with the A3 set to become the entry point to Audi’s range. That’s a bit of a shame because the smallest model in the brand’s 10 strong SUV line-up packs some character into its design. There’s angular surfacing and, in hot SQ2 guise, 19-inch wheels, a quad-tip exhaust and bespoke bumpers.

Audi used the MQB A1 platform for the Q2, while the Cupra Formentor was bestowed with the newer MQB evo architecture. As a result, they’re similar underneath; both are powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine and have four-wheel drive.

ProsCons
Fun to driveSmaller boot
User-friendly climate controlsNot as refined
Well-equippedLess passenger space

Which sporty SUV is your favourite? Tell us in the comments section below...

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Senior news reporter

A keen petrol-head, Alastair Crooks has a degree in journalism and worked as a car salesman for a variety of manufacturers before joining Auto Express in Spring 2019 as a Content Editor. Now, as our senior news reporter, his daily duties involve tracking down the latest news and writing reviews.

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