New Cupra Formentor V1 2021 review

Is the entry-level Cupra Formentor V1 the pick of this sporty SUV's range?

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4.0 out of 5

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The entry-level Formentor is a solid choice if you want a stylish, practical, neatly finished and well-equipped family SUV. Its driving dynamics and performance can’t quite live up to its sporty looks and Cupra’s motorsport heritage, but equally, there’s little here to genuinely offend. Indeed, if you stumble upon this car during one of the periods when it’s being offered with keen finance deals, you might find it one of the best bargains in the entire VW Group.

Cupra is an increasingly important brand within the VW Group. The premium offshoot of SEAT has made a solid start as a manufacturer in its own right in several key regions, notably Germany. And with pure-electric models on the way, it arguably has a stronger future in the medium and longer term than SEAT itself.

In the here and now, though, the Formentor is the model that’s doing a lot of the heavy lifting for Cupra. It’s a family-sized coupe-SUV and it’s significant because it’s the first model from the brand that doesn’t have an equivalent, more modestly powered, vehicle in the conventional SEAT line-up.

In fact, the subject of this test is precisely the sort of Formentor that might have been offered as a SEAT. Because here we’re driving the entry-level V1 trim, in what appears to be a very conventional mechanical specification: a 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine, with 148bhp and a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. Note that our images show a VZ2, but wheel size aside, there’s not much difference to the exterior or the cabin.

V1 might be the entry point, but Cupra loads it up with kit to give it half a chance against premium opposition. So you get 18in alloy wheels, three-zone climate control, rain-sensing wipers, LED headlights and tail-lights, a 12-inch touchscreen infotainment system, a 10.25-inch digital instrument panel, rear parking sensors, four USB sockets and a wireless smartphone charging pad. It’s pretty hard to think of any feature that you’d really need beyond this.

It’s a proper family SUV, too; you can fit four six-footers in there with relative ease, and some clever packaging around the rear roofline means that those in the back seats shouldn’t have cause for complaint on headroom. The boot is a decent size; at 450 litres, its capacity is comfortably north of what you’ll find in most conventional family hatchbacks.

The in-car tech suffers from the same foibles as other VW and SEAT models - with a tricky interface and no permanently visible buttons for heating and ventilation. The digital dash, meanwhile, is very clear and easy to use, but some of its layouts retain features - notably a G-meter and a turbo boost gauge - that seem out of place when paired with this engine.

Does the cabin feel premium? There are certainly plenty of appealing materials, with a grainy metal finish in the middle of the fascia and a double-stitched thick rubber coating on the top of the dashboard itself. Factor in the customary bronze Cupra highlights on the air vents and you end up with an atmosphere that is a smidgen above anything that a SEAT can muster. But you don’t have to look too hard to see where the limits are; there’s no flock lining on the door pockets or in the glovebox, for example - a key VW Group measure of where a model stands in the overall scale of ‘premiumness’.

It’s on the road where the V1 150PS finds it hardest to live up to the Cupra billing. This is still a brand with performance heritage, after all, and yet with 148bhp hauling a tonne and a half, the Formentor never feels any more than brisk (its 0-62mph time is just under nine seconds). The engine will happily rev out to 5,000rpm but its best work is long behind it by that point, and while it never gets thrashy, you’d never call its droning note characterful.

The gearbox is intelligent enough to respond to most requests with a sensible kickdown, but predictably keen to get the engine down to below 2,000rpm at a cruise - at which point tyre roar will easily drown it out. As in other VW Group models, the 1.5 motor is commendably quick to drop onto two cylinders to save fuel when cruising, and the process of cutting out and back in again is hard to detect.

The chassis feels pretty much like any generic VW Group SUV - which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The steering has a surprising amount of play around the straight ahead and then feels a little overassisted once it kicks in. Perhaps this pointy nature is where Cupra’s engineers draw a difference between this car and, say, a VW Tiguan. There’s still no communication through the flat-bottomed, leather-clad steering wheel, though, so there’s not much involvement to be had here.

You can adjust the steering - along with a number of other parameters, including, strangely, air conditioning - via the car’s driving modes. But if you were to end up with a Formentor on your driveway and never even find this option in the infotainment system, we wouldn’t blame you. Nor would you be missing anything anyway.

At least the Cupra is comfortable. More potent VZ-badged Formentors get trick dampers (or Dynamic Chassis Control in VW Group parlance) but the more conventional set-up doesn’t feel like a bad compromise; it’s a little busy, perhaps, but on the whole, you’ll have to be driving over some pretty poor surfaces to get badly upset by the ride. V1-spec 18-inch wheels probably help here, too.

All of this may not sound like a glowing reference for a car that costs the thick end of £30,000. But an automatic all-new Nissan Qashqai with a similar amount of power isn’t far off that figure, and more importantly, Cupra has already shown a tendency to use leasing deals to keep its stock flowing. Earlier this summer, this very model was being offered on lease deals for as little as £230 per month - at which point, the Cupra Formentor V1 would seem like a lot of car for the money.

Model: Cupra Formentor V1 150PS DSG
Engine:1.5-litre, 4cyl turbo petrol
Transmission:Seven-speed dual-clutch auto, front-wheel drive
0-62mph:8.9 seconds
Top speed: 126mph
Economy: 39.2-42.2mpg
CO2 emissions:151g/km
On saleNow

John started journalism reporting on motorsport – specifically rallying, which he had followed avidly since he was a boy. After a stint as editor of weekly motorsport bible Autosport, he moved across to testing road cars. He’s now been reviewing cars and writing news stories about them for almost 20 years.

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