Error parsing XSLT file: \xslt\FacebookOpenGraph.xslt Final report: Cupra Formentor long-term test
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Final report: Cupra Formentor long-term test

Date: 18 April 2024   |   Author: Pete Tullin

The past six months have allowed our tester to reflect on his own particular motoring needs. How many boxes has the Cupra Formentor ticked in that time?
Cupra Formentor 1.4 TSI eHybrid 204PS DSG
P11D price: £39,950
As tested: £41,905
Official consumption: 201.8mpg
Our average consumption: 39.5mpg
Mileage: 6,815

Final Report: My type of car

Whenever I assess a car, whether it is aimed at a first-time teenage buyer or a top-end luxury car executive, I always approach it by putting myself in the shoes of the prospective owner. I'm such a zealot when it comes to this policy, I can distinctly remember telling a junior road-tester that if I ever heard him utter the words 'it's not my type of car' ever again, I'd take great pleasure in fast-forwarding him his P45. Consequently, if I pull on a pair of my metaphorical favourite trainers, and think about my motoring lifestyle, then the Cupra Formentor I've been running for the past six months has come pretty close to fulfilling all my requirements. To my eyes, it's one of the sharpest-looking cars currently on sale.

I'm a big fan of the way it is so well resolved from every angle, something I've long considered to be the hallmark of great design. Most of all, I love the fact it has a rather unique look, marking it out from the ubiquitous SUV clones that almost every manufacturer pumps out these days. Has there ever been an easier period in history for car designers? It's almost like all they do is find a drawing of their rival's latest offering, smudge a couple of lines, nail on the most ludicrous grille they can imagine, and hey-presto! another cookie-cutter SUV. This is certainly not the case with the Formentor. That rakish bonnet and those razor-edged wheel arch extensions, lighting strike LEDs, copper accents and hunkered stance, bestow it with a mix of Paris-Dakar toughness and Sex And The City sophistication. I'm also a big fan of the assured composure the Formentor exhibits on such a wide variety of roads.

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The chassis is essentially the same as you'll find under more powerful versions of the VW Golf, albeit tuned to reflect the Cupra sporting ethos. Consequently, the low-speed ride is a bit on the focused side and the tyres tend to roar a fair bit when driving over coarser surfaces but hustle it down an undulating stretch of B-road and the combination of sweetly-weighted steering, tenacious grip and speedy reactions pay big dividends. Given this dynamic focus, it is surprising just how competent a long-distance cruiser the Formentor is. During the time I spent with it, I made several trips to my Northern homeland and although the fuel tank isn't huge, I always managed to complete the 300-mile jaunt without the need to stop and I always arrived with sufficient energy left in the Tullin tanks for a lively night out on the toon.  

Although the maximum power output figures don't look particularly impressive on paper, I've certainly never felt short-changed performance-wise and when the opportunity presented itself, the two power sources combined to whip up some pretty strident overtaking performance. 

Fully charged the Formentor will cover 30 miles purely on battery power and except for the odd whirr and occasional rogue clunk, the electric motor remained near-silent in operation. It's a similar story with the petrol engine, so, other than an initial flaring of the revs when it initially kicked into life and a bit of an exhaust drone at 70 mph, it too, remained impressively refined throughout. 

As for the economy, this is a bit of a tricky one. The long-term readout suggested I'd averaged a smidgen short of 50mpg, but this is because I don't have a convenient way of plugging in. Consequently, my charging regime was somewhat hit-and-miss, so I tended to rely more heavily on the petrol engine than someone who has easy access to a home or office charger might. 

While the Formentor's interior is smartly designed, and all the trim looks subtly expensive, the elegantly sculpted seats provide excellent comfort and the driver's seat comes standard with the godsend that is multi-directional lumbar support. 

If I could change a couple of things, then one would be the limited amount of boot space. I learned to live with it, but I never really came to terms with bending my driver shaft almost to breaking point as I struggled to get my golf bat bag in and out. The second would be the infotainment system, which remained frustratingly overly complex, mainly because of the sheer amount of prodding required to carry out even the simplest tasks. At least it seemed like an improvement on earlier VW group systems in terms of reliability, a bit like a recovering alcoholic falling off the wagon less often. 

These two issues aside, I'd still give the Formentor a solid eight out of ten, mainly because it is 'my type of car.' I'll grab my coat and my P45 on the way out.

5th Report: Ghost in the brakes?

Given that some miscreant seems to have left the hose pipe running since last October there's a good chance your car is making a few more moans and groans than usual first thing in the morning. This has certainly been the case with our Formentor and the source of these annoying noises can be traced directly to the brakes. 

This is because every time there is an overnight downpour a rapid build-up of unsightly iron oxide attaches itself to the exposed brake discs. These tell-tale signs then manifest themselves as a pronounced clunk as the lightly seized electronic handbrake pads are forced to relinquish their grip on the rear rotors, followed by a metallic screeching, akin to someone running their fingernails down a blackboard, the first-time pressure is applied to the brake pedal. 

First-world problem you may think but let me tell you, across the pond in Yankee-doodle land, customers are so sensitive to brake graunch and unsightly brake dust build-up on the surface of their blingy alloys, manufacturers fit specific North American brake pads. These pads operate more quietly and produce less dust but there is a downside as they are less effective at stopping the vehicle. What price vanity, eh?

When it comes to cars employing any form of electric assistance, whether it be mild-hybrids, full EVs, or somewhere between like our plug-in Formentor, brake servicing has become an increasingly thorny problem. Not because these vehicles have inferior braking capacities, quite the opposite. That's because they use regenerative braking, so when you hit the brake pedal the first port of call is the electric motor, which produces significant stopping power as it flips into regen mode, followed swiftly by the front brakes. This is why you sometimes sense a delay between your foot and the brakes working. In many instances, unless you need some serious stopping power, the battery regeneration mode and front brakes are more than sufficient, meaning the rear brakes are employed very sparingly. 

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Having a reasonably large battery - the Formentor can travel approximately 30 miles solely on electric power when fully charged - and configured to produce as much regeneration as possible, little rear braking is required, so it's not really surprising that early morning graunching is an issue.

Granted, because I use the Formentor on a daily basis and cover plenty of miles the build-up of rust on the rear discs never gets out of hand, so I'm inclined to just accept the early morning groans - insert your own jokes here. However, what happens further down the line when the Formentor moves on and perhaps finds an owner with a more sedentary lifestyle? This being the case, this issue will almost certainly become more intense, possibly leading to parking brake issues and shorter disc life.

If you think I'm being a wee bit paranoid here just look at the VW Group EVs and tell me why they have horse and cart style drum rear brakes, which by design are less exposed to the elements. Of course, it is always possible some sloppy individual in VW purchasing inadvertently misplaced the decimal point when ordering up a batch of old school stoppers for that second-generation Polo van it still produces for the developing world and on discovering this cock-up needed a surreptitious way of squirrelling away an extra five million brake drums. More likely though, some bright spark calculated that less application of rear discs would inevitably lead to higher maintenance costs and drums could provide a suitably cost-effective fix. As for the extra weight associated with drum brakes, well, this probably isn't too much of a concern with vehicles weighing well over two tonnes to start with. 

Excessive weight is something that was brought into sharp focus recently when I was involved in some top-notch EV group testing. Having spent the day driving many much-lauded but predominantly hefty specimens, I couldn't help but reflect on how we are inexorably moving into an era where cars are so much more ungainly. Relying ever more on electronics, whether that be torque vectoring or active anti-roll bars to disguise their immense mass and get them around corners despite the opposing efforts of Mr Newton. I must confess I'm not a fan of this approach. In contrast to the aforementioned EV leviathans, the Formentor feels refreshing light on its loafers and I'm more convinced than ever that this plays an essential role in making it such a joyous thing to drive on a daily basis. 

4th Report: Chilly challenges

Last month I banged on about how quiet our long-term Formentor is compared to motors of old. Thanks to the influence of modern building tolerances the Formentor's cabin feels almost hermetically sealed once the doors are closed but perhaps the most crucial factor influencing this hushed status is the way the Formentor cuts through the air. 

Now, because the Formentor sits lower than many SUVs it already has a head start on its rivals in terms of streamlining. To be honest, I couldn't help laughing out loud when a recent press release from Toyota announced it was looking at ways of reducing battery height for its EVs, to lower cabin height, reduce frontal drag and thus improve range potential. Excuse me, but if designers hadn't got us all hooked on SUVs and were instead compelled to lower ground clearances, then the frontal drag issue could be mitigated overnight.  

In terms of effectiveness, the Formentor's lower stance, and slinky body, which has no doubt been harmonised by exposure to wind tunnel modelling, clearly have the greatest influence on its atmospheric impact but less obvious aspects are also at play. These include the windscreen wipers, which, when unemployed, are tucked away in a trench below the bonnet line. Unfortunately, there are drawbacks to this approach. The most notable being the amount of detritus that finds its way into this dugout when parked under trees. Left unattended the arboreal build-up becomes rather compost-like, so much so, that on a recent inspection, I considered using a trowel to clear it out. This revelation also led me to speculate that left much longer some furry rodent may well have sought it out as a cosy upmarket residence.  

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Anyway, just when I was about to embark on this report and record yet another month of flawless Formentor performance, a couple of issues popped up. Me and my big mouth. 

I'm inclined to think that the first of these issues was due to the recent cold snap and the adverse influence this had on the emergency breakdown call-out button, which is located just above the interior rear-view mirror. Coinciding with one particular sub-zero morning start, a nagging synthetic voice repeatedly informed me that the emergency service was unavailable and despite my tried and trusted switch-it-off, switch-it-back-on technique, the barrage of verbal instruction refused to fall silent. It wasn't until I repeatedly stroked the glossy surface of the offending button to induce some warmth and release it from its stuck-on status that the instructions abated. So much for modern haptic switch gear and the countless millions manufacturers spend on Arctic cold weather testing. 

To be fair, the second issue wasn't so much the Formentor's fault as the knarly state of our roads.  Embarking on a trip to a far-flung reservoir intent on some much-needed leg stretching the low tyre warning light popped up on the dashboard.  Having experienced this modern malaise on countless occasions and given that 99% of these incidents are triggered by errant sensors, rather than any loss of pressure, I was loathed to pull over, especially as it was brass monkeys outside. Despite my cynicism, I decided an unscheduled stop was in order, blithely thinking I would quickly be on my merry way in short order. Wrong! 

Sure enough, the rear offside tyre was as flat as a pint of microbrewery IPA.

I already knew there was no spare wheel as most of the plug-in Formentor's underfloor boot space is taken up by its large battery. Never mind, given the palaver involved in jacking up a hefty modern vehicle, removing a 19-inch wheel weighing as much as two bags of cement and torqued to its hub tighter than a Scotsman's grip on a fiver, I wouldn't normally have had an issue with the goo and compressor alternative. Trouble was, I was off grid and well beyond any mobile phone signal, so if the bottle of goo and fag-lighter powered compressor didn't get the job done I would be well and truly snookered. With everything crossed I squeezed the bottle of slimy liquid into the valve, hooked up the compressor and watched anxiously as the pressure gauge and the tyres profile slowly raised in unison. With the sensors reset and driving back at a hearse-like speed, I arrived home with all four tyres still in blissful unanimity but unfortunately, as the goo is only good for a limited period, I will need to dig deep for a new rubber band in the very near future. 

3rd Report: Masking exterior interlopers

It always amazes me just how many people still view cars from a bygone era through rose-tinted spectacles. Not me. 

Sure, back in the day when cars were lighter, they felt extremely agile and even though their power outputs were modest by today's standards that inherent lack of mass meant they still delivered plenty of spirited performance. Trouble is that the tin can materials they were made from and the way they were thrown together meant they were also very noisy. With occupants subjected to all manner of engine, wind, and road noise, cranking up the radio to blot out this cacophony became common practice, although, if anything, this only exacerbated matters and as anyone who piles on the miles for a living will tell you, excessive noise levels are significant contributors to fatigue. 

Our long-term Cupra Formentor may not fall into the luxury car territory, but I bet if I were to compare its motorway decibel readings to a fifteen-year-old limo the Formentor's impact on the meter would be a lot less notable.

Of course, you may subscribe to the view that modern cars are almost too well isolated and because drivers are so effectively cocooned from what is going on around them, they are more likely to suffer a lapse in concentration. Although I have some sympathy for this view and I am well aware of the effects, especially when cruising down a seemingly never-ending motorway with the heated seats on and the Formentor's mood lighting glowing demurely in the background, I still know which camp I fall into. 

Having spent many decades trawling the country, and despite the fact I'm keener on an afternoon siesta than ever, I know I still arrive at my destination after a long haul feeling considerably fresher than I did in days of yore. 

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As well as being adept at masking exterior interlopers, so far, the Formentor's cabin has remained reassuringly free from squeaks and rattles. Granted, it is early days mileage-wise, but in the time, I've had it, the Formentor has been exposed to some pretty severe overnight Scottish frosts, so you could forgive the odd expanding panel protest as the maxed-out heater summons the cabin temperature from sub-zero to sub-tropical.

The good news is, I haven't noticed so much as a creak or a groan from anywhere during this process. Well at least not from the fixtures and fittings. One cause for concern however, and one I will no doubt have to consult my Cupra dealer about, is the intermittent groaning that comes from the steering at low speed when full lock is applied. To be honest, this is not the first time I've noticed this type of behaviour, having previously come across it in various other VW group products. Now I was brought up in the hydraulic pump steering era, when hanging on to full lock was frowned upon because if you did it repeatedly there was a real danger of premature rack seal failure due to the high levels of hydraulic force being applied to said seals. Consequently, I know it's not a ham-fisted approach from yours truly to blame. Unfortunately, there seems to be no rhyme or reason as to when the groaning will occur, which is an issue, because if I book into my Cupra dealer and on the day of my appointment the Formentor decides to keep schtum I'm going to look like a proper duck egg. I could be wrong, but I suspect plugging into the diagnostics port and hoping to see an error code pertaining to a steering groan may be asking a bit much. 

Not that this intermitted ailment seems to have any adverse effects on the steering's feel or its accuracy. In fairness, you'd go a long way to better the Formentor's steering. Its variable speed weighting is superbly calibrated, transitioning seamlessly from the lightweight requirements of city driving to the more meaningful heft needed to tackle swooping country B-roads. This is not something to be underestimated as the unerring accuracy and the ability to place the car on the road with pin-point accuracy is one of the main reasons why the Formentor is such a confidence-inspiring car to drive. Pushed hard on the right road it can even feel a bit like an old-school hot hatch thanks to the aforementioned steering accuracy, prodigious grip, and neatly controlled body movements, but thankfully without any of the old-school row and crash-bang-wallop.

2nd Report: Feeling smug

Hands up if you've already turned the heating on. Fair enough if you're an inhabitant of northern climes but if you're a southern softie like me then there really is no excuse for cranking up the thermostat and parading around like the Sultan of Brunei. 

Of course, if I didn't drive everywhere with the Formentor's cabin set to a tropical 24 degrees and the heated seats and the steering wheel radiating more therms than a Great British Bake Off final, then perhaps I wouldn't find the contrast between driver's seat and telly-side sofa so extreme.

I suspect my profligacy may be derived from the fact that I've lived with quite a few electric vehicles throughout so many chilly winter months. For sure, recollections of so many vexed calculations trying to juggle heat pump outputs versus range depletion still send shivers down my spine. 

This is just one of the reasons why I prefer plug-in vehicles like the Formentor to the vast majority of fully-electric motors. They just demand so much less forward planning.

Having the Formentor's 1.4-litre petrol engine on ready standby to fill in any gaps between charging - to be honest, these are sometimes quite large gaps - I'm never remotely worried about my ability to get to any far-flung destination on time. Equally, if I happened to be on a late-night jaunt I appreciate the fact I can keep on trucking back home rather than pausing for a tedious extended charge stop. Just in terms of my daily life, I'd have to say a plug-in makes me a lot less grumpy. Well, perhaps a little bit less grumpy.

I may be fast and loose with the heating, but I've always got a watchful eye on my fuel consumption and I have noticed that if I don't plug in for a while - something that was brought up recently by the government's transport inquiry committee - I'm not doing my wallet or the planet any favours. Without question, lumping the deadweight of a flat battery around has a notable negative effect on fuel consumption, with some fallow battery periods resulting in my numbers dipping as low as 39mpg. 

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Although I have no access to a home charger, I have found an increasing number of charge points springing up near me, so in my slack periods, even if it is just for half an hour while grabbing a spot of lunch, I can get a regenerative spark-up and boost my returns. 

The thing that still frustrates me about any kind of plug-in vehicle, however, is the situation we have gotten ourselves into with charging leads. Feel free to correct me but the only vehicles I can bring to mind with retractable charging leads are cheapo pea shooters such as the Citroen Ami and the Renault Twizzy. So, it strikes me as being rather perverse that manufacturers of vehicles costing ten times as much expected us to roll up our sleeves and roll up our reels, while trying to avoid getting muck and grime on our hands and clothes from cables that have been left lying outdoors for hours on end. Surely, it cannot be beyond the wit of man to come up with some kind of hidden garden reel hose affair that would minimise contact and keep everything neat and tidy? If you think about it, although perhaps not as extreme, this is not that dissimilar to the reasons why so many drivers had such a downer on diesels for so many years, as the last thing they wanted was to splash fuel oil on their hands and shoes and import the lasting aroma of Chanel Derv into their Axminister floor mats.    

Anyway, the fact that I'm howling at the moon tells you that all is well with the Formentor. Yes, the USC ports are still frustratingly hit and miss, so much so, I've decided against using them anymore. Instead, I now rely on the wireless connection and the charging mat to keep my phone in the land of the living. Yes, I need to wiggle the slippery surface of the phone around on the mat like a squirming toddler occasionally to ensure it is maintaining its connection and I have heard some people complain that these mats generally just maintain and don't boost a phone's charge, but for me, it is, so far so good. 

It's certainly a better solution than being constantly distracted by the screen going doolally on a minute-by-minute basis and being forced to listen to the annoying chimes of the hard wire connection flipping in and out of communication with the Formentor's motherboard. Perhaps some additional heating might cure it.

1st Report: Compare and contrast

As the saying goes, there's more than one way to skin a cat. So, having just waved a fond farewell to our brilliant long-term Cupra Leon hatchback it will be interesting to contrast and compare that car to the Spanish company's style-focused Formentor SUV. 

On the face of it, the two cars don't appear to have an awful lot in common, even though they essentially share the same underpinnings and have many mechanical components in common. It's difficult to make an exact price comparison because of the different levels of equipment each car gets but they are in the same ballpark, although the Formentor offers a significantly better BIK proposition, thanks to its 12% banding versus the Leon's whopping 32% rating - more of this later.

Granted, from a styling point of view, the two couldn't be more diverse. While the Leon is the epitome of sobriety, slotting discreetly into the ranks of the hatchback status quo, the Formentor screams exuberance via a cacophony of razor-edged lines, sculpted flanks and its chop-top sloping roofline. It also adopts a visually more arresting stance thanks to its slightly elevated ride height and larger 19in alloys. 

The similarities between the two cars are certainly more apparent once you slip behind the flat-bottomed sports steering wheel, because the two dashboards, replete with copper detailing and a large central touchscreen are proverbial peas in a pod. They even have the same hapless USC ports, meaning they're already failing to maintain a steady grip on my charging/infotainment connection lead, causing my phone to chime in and out like a demented campanologist and the screen displaying my Waze navigation app to flash on and off like a Belisha beacon.

More fundamental differentiators lie under the bonnet and this is where the BIK equation comes in. While our Leon employed a mild hybrid powertrain, replete with a belt-driven starter generator and the VW group's most contemporary 150hp 1.5-litre petrol engine, the Formentor entering our charge, draws its power from a 1.4-litre plug-in hybrid arrangement. This set-up combines a petrol-derived 150hp and 116hp of electricity to create a total output of 204hp. If you're thinking addy-ups must have changed since you went to school, don't worry. Yes, 150 and 116 still make 266 but because the two power sources never totally align, the maximum output is rated at 204hp.  

Both cars send their driving forces to the front wheels via a DSG twin-clutch automatic gearbox, although, the Leon employs a seven-speed unit while the Formentor makes do with just six gears. However, the major difference between the two power plants is the size of the battery packs and the electric motors involved. 

While the modestly sized battery and electric motor residing in the Leon only produce enough power to assist the petrol engine, the Formentor has sufficient voltage to drive matters along in pure EV mode, and it is this ability to travel up to 36.7 miles powered solely by electricity that explains the Formentor's theoretically 201.8mpg and 12% BIK rating. 

Now, I'm not about to dismiss these numbers - I know people, who religiously plug their cars in every night and have run their cars for months without so much as smelling a forecourt - but it is somewhat less likely that I will attain such exceptional returns as I don't live anywhere close to a charging point. That said, given the price of liquid gold these days I will be taking every opportunity I come across to hook up to the grid.  

Having to accommodate a larger battery means the Formentor loses 5 litres of fuel capacity as well as a chunk of boot space - 345 litres compared to the Leon's 380 litres - so I will have to indulge in a more convoluted game of fiddle sticks to accommodate my golf clubs, although hopefully, I'll be able to carry everything I need without resorting to dropping the rear seatbacks. 

As for the driving attributes I'd have to say the Leon just has the edge, but we are splitting hairs here and these nit-picking observations were gleaned driving the two cars back to back. Despite its 1.5-litre engine developing a fair bit less power the Leon doesn't feel any less urgent on the performance front and as well as having a greater natural appetite for revs, its engine is smoother and generates less notable drone at 70mph than the Formentor. That said, the Formentor comes with a more sophisticated rear suspension, providing a slightly more cosseting drive than the Leon and I'm sure as the miles pass my scrutinies will subside, leaving me to concentrate solely on the Formentor's myriad talents. I'll keep you posted.  

Standard equipment:

19in alloy wheels, LED headlights and taillights, 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.