Cupra Formentor VZ review: flagship model is about much more than just veloz
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Cupra Formentor VZ
- Looks sensational in the right colour
- Lots of chassis customisation available
- Decent rear seat (ha ha) and boot
- Lacks the rawness you might expect from Cupra
- Competition from brand's own Ateca/Leon
- Is something so low really an SUV?
The chances of an International brand doing anything to suit the New Zealand market are pretty much zero, but from a Kiwi perspective Seat’s decision to make every one of its new Formentor SUV models a “Cupra” is still a pretty smart move.
Spain’s Seat has been wholly owned by the Volkswagen Group since 1990 (its first non-German brand in fact) and it dates back a lot longer than that, to 1950. So it’s very familiar to Europeans.
Taking the Cupra (“Cup racer”) model name and making it a performance brand in its own right was a logical move. Just like Mercedes-Benz amplifying the AMG designation and making it a standalone thing: Mercedes-AMG.
For European buyers, it’s all a logical progression – especially with Seat’s legendary efforts in Cupra-badged hot hatches over the past two decades.
For Kiwis… not so much. Seat was only launched as an official NZ-market brand in late-2017, including a Cupra variant of the Leon. So it’s still very new. The factory decision to make Cupra its own brand came the next year. So it’s all now very confusing.
The new Formentor is the first standalone Cupra model, joining the Ateca and Leon (both of which still have Seat sibling models). You can see why it’s such a great flag-bearer for the brand: it looks sensational and being a medium SUV it’s very on-point for current tastes. It is curious that the car is covered in Cupra branding but there’s not a single “Formentor” badge on the thing. Or maybe that’s very deliberate.
Following the NZ media launch, we’ve just spent a bit more time in both the flagship Formentor VZ and entry V.
Auckland | Auckland City
$406.16 p/w $1,624.65 p/m
Auckland | Auckland City
$375.83 p/w $1,503.33 p/m
Auckland | Auckland City
$365.83 p/w $1,463.32 p/m
There’s 88kW and $14k between them, but visually you really can’t tell them apart – another smart move that helps ensure the Cupra Formentor lineup has high status. The VZ gets larger (19in) copper-accented wheels and quad exhaust pipes, but that’s about it.
And before you ask, no we wont be getting the Formentor VZ 5, featuring the Audi RS Q3's five-cylinder engine, that everybody's talking about in Europe. It's left-hand drive only and very limited numbers anyway.
If it makes you feel better you can watch the 290kW VZ 5 (0-100km/h 4.2 seconds) doing some skids below.
But we digress. One thing that became clearer after our extended test time in the two NZ-spec Formentors was how much more depth there is in the VZ. It’s not merely that it’s faster (a lot faster, 4.9sec to 100km/h versus 7.1sec), there’s also a lot more dynamic finesse to the VZ.
The linear performance of the turbo engine is impressive (shame about the fake noise in Cupra mode though) and while the VZ has larger wheels and firmer suspension, the balance between ride and handling is more nuanced; there’s multi-level suspension adjustment provided via the Dynamic Chassis Control that isn’t available on the V.
That’s not saying the V is a poor relation. It’s a stylish and brisk SUV bargain at $54,900. But it’s a much less layered proposition and that’s to be expected, given that the mechanical package is very similar to the Seat Ateca FR 4Drive. Which is great in its own way… by the way.
One last thing: whichever Formentor model you choose, we’d argue it’s a very colour-sensitive shape. It’s subjective of course, but the car takes on a very different look depending on which hue you choose, partly due to those contrast-grey wheelarch trims and some fussy grille-work at the front.
When the factory proyectistas were penning the Formentor, we’d be willing to bet they had the flatter, more light-sensitive hues in mind: like the Graphene Grey ($700) of our VZ test car or the stunning Petrol Blue Matte ($3500) you might have seen in some of the marketing material. Both blend a lot more elegantly with the SUV-like exterior trims around the car.
Our V review model’s contrasting green/grey looked a little prosaic in comparison. And that had little to do with the fact that it was a lower-specification model (well, maybe those wheels). It was mostly down to colour choice.
So we hope that has clarified a little about what Cupra is and what Formentor in particular is all about. If not, don't worry; Cupra has actually created a Formentor-inspired boat (in Petrol Blue Matte), so it looks like all bets are off.
CUPRA FORMENTOR VZ
ENGINE: 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four
GEARBOX: 7-speed automated dual-clutch, AWD
0-100KMH: 4.9 seconds