Final report: Cupra Formentor long-term test
11 April 2022
Author: Pete Tullin
After what seems like a blink of an eye, our time with the Cupra Formentor is coming to an end.
|Cupra Formentor e-Hybrid V2 204PS DSG |
|P11D price:|| £38,080|
|As tested:|| £38,635|
|Official consumption:|| 201.8mpg |
|Our average consumption:|| 49.8mpg|
Final Report: Gone too soon
Although I've never really been able to get my head around the whole time-relative concept thing, there's certainly something in the theory that time really does fly when you're having fun.
I've found this to be the case with our Cupra Formentor, mainly because over the past six months, I've had so many positive experiences with it.
Because it seems like it was only yesterday, I can vividly remember the Cupra's initial 50m test and being impressed from the very outset. This test is employed in automotive engineering circles and its relevance cannot be underestimated as it is effectively designed to replicate what prospective customers experience when driving a car off the forecourt for the first time. Literally, it can be the difference between a sale or a 'I'll let you know'.
With an immediate connected feel, a smooth, proportionate power pick up, augmented by a reassuring response from the brake pedal when gliding to a stop, my earliest recollections of driving the Formentor were almost entirely positive.
Sure, I couldn't help but notice a certain amount of firmness to the ride, but I've always been inclined to controlled rather than slack body reactions, even if that does mean giving up a degree of ultimate comfort.
So, seven and a bit thousand miles later, have those rosy first impressions remained intact or have they become somewhat tarnished? Well, a wee bit of both.
I understand that to maximise efficiency some elements of a hybrid powertrain, such as the one that powers the Formentor, can interfere with the otherwise smooth day-to-day running. This is especially true when it comes to regenerative braking, which is employed to harvest kinetic energy to boost battery range.
The Formentor boasts one of the better brake pedal responses, which makes it all the more puzzling that very occasionally the pedal will unexpectedly lack initial resistance, causing a rather panicked application of more pedal pressure than initially anticipated. The result, an undesirable jerky stop, a quizzical frown on my behalf, and on one particular occasion, an inquiry from my passenger along the lines of had I mistakenly slipped on a pair of my football boots?
Although the Formentor's steering connection hasn't degraded in any way and it remains a highlight, I am at a loss to know why it volubly groans like a pensioner heaving themselves out of an armchair when driven at low speeds on full lock.
Perhaps the area that has lost out most is the level of whine from the electric motor and the frequency of transmission snatch as the powertrain transitions between electric and mechanical drive. I wouldn't say it will get sufficiently bad to dissuade someone from buying a used hybrid Formentor, and I'm probably more sensitive to it than most, but things are certainly not as harmonious as when the car first arrived.
Although I haven't had as many opportunities to plug in as I would have liked, as I live in a second-floor flat and the nearest charging point is over a mile away, I do feel this will not be an uncommon occurrence for many folks choosing a hybrid for the tax advantages they bring. Overall, even with infrequent charging, I've been pleasantly surprised by the near 50mpg averages I've managed to achieve.
Given there seems to be an unspoken acceptance among manufacturers that the expense of producing mid-priced electrified vehicles means they cannot justify spending money on plush interior fitments, the Formentor's cabin is undoubtedly a cut above the new norm.
Other than the hit and miss qualities of the central infotainment screen, which I've documented in-depth in previous reports, the operation of the vast majority of Formentor's fixtures and fittings work flawlessly and along with the attractively designed dash and relaxing mood lighting these elements do a superb job of conveying a feeling of impressive sophistication. Will I miss it when it's gone? Too right, I will.
5th Report: A tough crowd
It's a tough gig being a car manufacturer and I'm not talking about the trials and tribulations of the current global predicament. No, I'm referring to the dilemma each and every car maker faces when trying to garner positive press reviews while still keeping customers coming back for more.
Having worked with several teams of vehicle integrity engineers in a previous existence, I can assure you the two challenges are quite often juxtapositioned.
Of course, the influence of the press has been circumnavigated to a certain extent, because if Instagram and a jolly band of influencers are to be believed, there is no such thing as a poor car anymore.
Consequently, I'm more convinced than ever that long-term, warts-and-all tests, such as the one we are conducting with our Cupra Formentor, are increasingly rich sources of information for those who have a sneaking suspicion that not 'everything is awesome'.
That's not to say the motoring press are always the best source of consumer advice.
With one or two notable exceptions, I reckon most journalists still place far too much emphasis on driving dynamics and too little importance on attributes, such as comfort, running costs and space and practicality.
If we're talking hot hatches and sports cars, then I get it, but applying the same logic to SUVs and family cars makes no sense whatsoever.
I can recall one particular colleague, who shall remain nameless, trying to tell me a Ford Mondeo should shade its test over a near rival because its pedal box layout made it easier to heel-and-toe when exacting down-shifts. I won't tell you what my response to that was.
Now, I'm as much of a sucker for a sweet steering motor as the next and fundamentally that's why I'm such a fan of the Formentor, but even I will acknowledge the ride quality is firmer than need be. This aspect is something I'm regularly reminded of by a pair of rear-seat scallywags who are inclined to shriek 'it's very rocky back here' every time we pull off the drive.
This brings me back to the value of long-term testing, because the sensation you feel when steering a car can often be the polar opposite of what those in the rear seats are experiencing. There are lots of reasons why this may be the case, but it is often caused by a dynamics engineer deciding to stiffen up the car's rear suspension to get it to turn into corners more readily.
Of course, it's all a compromise at the end of the day, and I am willing to accept a bit of an ear-bashing from the cheap seats and a dash of derriere bashing from the Formentor's rear end because of the agility this approach affords. However, if you place a premium on suburban comfort then you may want to give the Formentor a wide berth.
Speaking of backside bashing, why is it every child considers it a rite of passage to kick the back of the driver's seat in rhythm to incy-wincy-spider, while their older sibling views the glove box as a perfect muddy wellie scraper and the central under armrest storage area an ideal place to deposit an army of star troopers and a couple of empty cartons of Ribena? Thankfully, the Cupra is made of sturdy stuff and never fails to reinstate its glossy trim finish given a quick swish with a feather duster and a casual wipe down with a wet chamois. Now I can guarantee that's not the kind of insider consumer advice you'll read about in your latest copy of tyre-smoking weekly.
4th Report: Beauty with brains
Having been involved in the consumer end of this business for more years than I care to remember, I've spent more than my fair share of time dishing out advice on all manner of car-related topics.
With unbridled pontifications relating to buying and owning, questionable reliability, shaky build quality and wayward driving dynamics, I've never been a shrinking violet when it comes to voicing an opinion. The one area I have tended to steer clear of though is car design.
It's not that I don't have a point of view, it's just that I happen to think that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and in an Instagram world where everything is 'awesome', just because I don't like the way a motor looks doesn't necessarily mean it's a spudder.
I have to say though, I'm inclined to think our long-term Formentor is an absolute stunner and there is a certain amount of logic in my thinking.
I've always thought that for a car to be classed in the head-turner category it needs to look the part from every angle. Whereas many motors look great from one perspective but rather awkward from another, you could spin the Formentor on a turntable and still not find the merest hint of gawkiness or disproportionality.
While its meaningful stance, razor-edged bonnet and bumpers, sculpted flanks and elegant sloping roofline give it no end of punchy street cred, the sheer expense of those copper coloured highlights, contrasting smoked-grey wheel arches and diamond-cut alloys, suggest the Cupra's design team went all in to convince the engineering team to get on board with their vision. It even looks the part when covered in road crud, with streaks of B-road mud splattered up its haunches giving the impression of a 1950s be-flamed hot rod.
Inside the design and fit and finish of all the componentry is almost as impressive, while the tactile sports steering wheel and beautifully judged control weights endow the Formentor with an inherent high-quality feel and a real sense of purpose.
Of course, the notable exception to this engineering excellence is the much-maligned and frustratingly complex touchscreen. Now, I won't bore you with further details regarding my dislike of this perplexing contraption, especially as I've already documented my frustrations in previous reports - save to say the pinky resolution and pixilated graphics when hooked up to the Waze navigation app on my smartphone haven't improved. Additionally, on one particularly chilly morning the screen flatly refused to come to life, staring impassively blankly back at me like a sulky teenager as I repeatedly attempted to prod it into life.
Speaking of touchscreens, given the recent pronouncement from the Department of Transport that from 2022 drivers will face increasingly harsh fines and six penalty points on their license for interacting with their mobile phones while driving, is it just me that senses a certain hypocrisy that still allows drivers to continue to fiddle with equally, if not more, distracting touchscreens?
With the Christmas period looming ever closer, the next big test for the Formentor will be its ability, or lack of it, to transport the family to my northern homeland. I'm hoping this will not be a step too far for it, especially as the boot is incredibly shallow due to the location of the hybrid system's batteries beneath the floor.
Given this limitation, it may well be a case of Santa taking a detour via Newcastle, as I'm pretty sure that big boy's bicycle along with that multicoloured Wendy House just aren't going to make it on to the travel roster.
3rd Report: Creative charging
If the recent fuel shortages have taught us anything, it is just how reliant we are on our cars.
Living in London, which saw scores of empty fuel stations and some of the longest and most irate queues, I was certainly glad of the Formentor's electric driving capabilities.
Granted its E range is only 37-miles and because there's no fast-charging strategy, it takes a good four hours to fully charge the battery, but that's probably about the same amount of time it was taking the recovery services to get to the many stranded vehicles I spotted about the capital.
Having nowhere to plug-in at my abode, these unprecedented circumstances called for some extra creative thinking. Whether this involved doing a big shop every other day at my nearest Tesco supermarket, where I could get a partial charge, or playing an extra round of golf at my local course, which has had the foresight to install eight 7kw charging points, I managed to muddle through.
Of course, the Formentor has more to be grateful to the Golf for than just a free top up. Sharing many of its mechanical components with Volkswagen's class-leading hatchback, the Formentor is a super engaging machine that seldom fails to put a smile on my face.
As I've previously mentioned, the Formentor has become increasingly prone to some odd-sounding grouches and eccentric mutterings at town speeds when transitioning from electric to petrol power and it also tends to groan like an asthmatic donkey when full-lock is applied at low speeds, but even these detractors fail to take the shine off the Formentor's inherent poise and balance.
Few, if any, SUVs have more informative steering or a more neutral front to rear grip and handling balance, and given these attributes are crucial to driving pleasure in my book, I'll gladly take a little moaning and groaning along the way.
2nd Report: Erratic infotainment
Although it's only been a month since our Cupra Formentor pitched up, I promised to keep schtum about the erratic aspects of its infotainment system until I was fully familiarised with its modus operandum. However, I find I am unable to contain myself.
In my defence, I feel somewhat justified in wading in on its idiosyncrasies at this early juncture, as I have spent lots of time with similar set ups in other VW Group products.
My first encounter came when VW showcased this all-new, all singing and dancing setup on an early drive of the MK8 Golf, and that didn't go particularly well.
The fact VW caveated that particular drive with 'the system is still undergoing final testing, so it might be prone to one or two glitches' seemed fair enough given the cars were pre-production examples. Still, that drive took place only a month or so before the car was due to go on sale, so my cynical eyebrow couldn't help but break out into a bit of a twitchy dance routine.
Sure enough, the responses of the touchscreen proved to be somewhat erratic and less than willing to play ball, especially when coupled to my iPhone. Things went from bad to worse a few miles into the drive when the screen suddenly decided to turn a delicate shade of fuchsia, the graphics became pixilated, and the screen then began to break up like a 1950's tube telly being buzzed by a low flying aircraft.
No problem, VW assured me, these were well-documented teething problems, and a fix would be sorted and installed long before the car's official on sale date.
Strange then, that some months later, I experienced exactly the same issues during the Golf GTI launch and almost two years after the Golf launch, the Formentor has decided to come over all pink and pixilated.
To be fair, a simple reboot following the tried and tested switch it off then back on, restored matters to working order and to date it has only happened once, although that experience did leave me with the distinct feeling that gremlins still lurk within.
Among other frustrations are two stand out protagonists. Firstly, the heater controls whose touch-sensitive temperature responses are so hit and miss I'm pretty sure I've rubbed the fingerprint clean off my index finger trying to get the cabin atmosphere to match my requirements. Granted, there are supplementary ways of adjusting the temperature, including accessing it via the touchscreen, but this requires a prod of the screen at least twice and manipulation of a slider to adjust the setting. The alternative approach is to use the voice activation by saying 'I am too hot' or 'I'm too cold', which brings a response of 'it will get warmer or cooler in a moment'. All well and good, but warmer or cooler is an undetermined condition, especially as one man's cool is another woman's blooming freezing. Worst of all, although the aforementioned touch sensitive adjusters are coloured blue and red, they are not backlit, so they are virtually invisible when driving at night. This seems all the more ironic when you can change the colour of ambient lighting by at least half a dozen different hues.
Given the frustrations of operating the screen, the foibles of the lane-centering system seem inconsequential but perfectly random and, for some unknown reason, this will begin to ping like a ship's bell and flash up an amber alert on the dash telling me to drive within the middle of the lane. Totally contradictory to what the system is telling me, I find the best way of silencing this unwarranted soliciting is to give the steering wheel a couple of sway inducing tugs.
Apart from these grievances, the Formentor is still an impressive bit of kit and, although it has started making a few unexpected groans and clunks relating to the electric drive overall, it remains in my good books; at least for the time being.
1st Report: Promising newcomer
Although no explanation was necessary when one of my petrol head mates asked me what car I was running around in at the moment, the perplexed look on the face of one of my less well-informed buddies said it all.
That's because the car in question is a Cupra Formentor and, not belonging to the 'in gang', my friend implored me to tell him 'what on earth is a Cuppa Fermenting?'.
Explaining that it wasn't an exotic herbal tea and boiling it down to 'it's kind of a funkier version of the Seat Ateca,' even as the words were leaving my mouth I sensed my tongue turning black, because to dismiss the Formentor in such inarticulate terms, is doing it
a massive disservice.
For a start, the Formentor is the first Cupra model that isn't just a rebadged and retrimmed version of an existing Seat.
Yes, it shares much of the same hybrid running gear and mechanical componentry as other Seats and many of its VW Group contemporaries, but the Formentor is very much a stand-alone model, thanks not only to its exotic styling but also because of the way it drives.
It certainly turns heads wherever it goes and, granted, some of that attention may be down to its new model scarcity and the unfamiliar badging, but the mash-up of a rakish bonnet, razor-cut wheel arch extensions, fat boy alloys, lighting bolt LEDs and copper accents also give it
a certain 'check-me-out' street cred.
Personally, I love the four-square stance and hunkered down looks and normally, I might be inclined to say it looks more sophisticated and far more expensive than it actually is, were it not for the fact that at £38,000, it's not exactly a cheap car.
This is heady stuff when you consider for the same kind of dosh, you can get behind the wheel of a Range Rover Evoque or a Toyota Rav4 hybrid, or if you're feeling fully committed to the electric dream then a Kia Niro can be standing on your drive for quite a bit less. However, first impressions suggest the Formentor may be well worth its salt.
For a start, the hybrid system is an absolute gem. Blending a 1.4-litre four-cylinder engine to DSG automatic gearbox and a strident electric motor ensures it's a multitalented device.
Fully charged it will cover 30 miles powered solely by its batteries and, but for the odd whirr and unexplained clunk, the electric motor is pretty near silent in operation. Other than an initial flaring of revs when the petrol engine kicks in, it too, is a cultured device and together the two power sources deliver fairly zesty levels of performance.
As for economy, this is a bit of a tricky one. Running solely on electricity, the infotainment screen proudly beams out a steady 300mpg, but the long-term economy readout suggests I'm averaging closer to 50mpg.
To be fair, the Formentor is a victim of circumstance here, as I am bereft of anywhere to plug it in overnight. Consequently, I'm reduced to scavenging juice wherever and whenever I can, so I'm relying on the petrol engine a lot more than someone who has access to a home or office charger.
As I hinted earlier, the Formentor is a cracking drive. The chassis is essentially the same as you'll find under more expensive versions of the VW Golf, although it is tuned to reflect the Cupra ethos. As a result, the low-speed ride is a bit on the sharp side and the tyres do sing a bit when driving over coarser surfaces, but given its head down an undulating stretch of road, the combination of sweetly weighted steering, tenacious grip and speedy reactions really ramp up the grin quota.
On the sad emoji front, I confess I'm a bit disappointed by the amount of boot space the batteries consume, but this is coming from a bloke who carries around more tat than a rag and bone man, so I suppose I'll just have to get used to packing more in line with budget airline allocations than business class.
While the interior is smartly designed and lavishly trimmed, and the seats provide excellent comfort and support, when it comes to interacting with the infotainment system, let's just say at this moment in time discretion is the better part of valour. I will give it the benefit of the doubt for a month or so and hopefully, given that amount of grace, things will begin to click but, as it stands, I'm finding its unfathomable complexity trickier than a magician's hat.
19in alloy wheels, LED headlights and tail lights, keyless entry and start, electrically adjustable, folding and heated door mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, front fog lamps with cornering function, rear parking sensors, electronic parking brake, electronic locking differential with dynamic traction support, predictive and adaptive cruise control with speed limiter, tyre pressure monitoring, lane assist, forward collision warning with automatic braking, driver alert system, remote central locking, three-zone air conditioning, heated seats and steering wheel, rear view camera, digital cockpit, 12in navigation system, two front and two rear USB type C sockets, wireless Apple Carplay, wireless phone charger.
Metallic paint (£555)