Cupra Formentor 310 TSI 2021 review – an impressive example of the breed

The best take on the performance crossover at its size and price point so far, and with genuine charisma and style to boot

Evo rating
  • Drives with real enthusiasm and poise; looks great inside and out
  • No bigger or more versatile than a hot hatchback

Cupra’s split from the larger SEAT brand a few years ago certainly went through its share of criticism without a bespoke model to base it on, but now, finally, it has a model all of its own in the Formentor crossover.

It joins the Ateca and Leon in a range that at last looks to be moving in the right direction. This is because, despite the predictable crossover form and otherwise standardised MQB underpinnings, the new Formentor is actually a very impressive car, and one that now makes a very pertinent case for Cupra’s existence.

Engine, transmission and 0-60 time

The Formentor runs on a combination of the Volkswagen Group’s MQB platform and its various powertrain ranges, which as of 2021 includes two plug-in hybrid models with either 200bhp or 242bhp, a base turbocharged 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine with 148bhp and this top-spec 306bhp 2-litre four.

All but the base car are fitted with a standard DSG ’box, and the 310 TSI model features all-wheel drive – the rest make do with two driven wheels. The top-spec car we’re driving here is powered specifically by an engine familiar to any VW Group hot hatchback aficionado, the (you guessed it) EA888.

Technical highlights

While the Formentor’s inherent platform and suspension components are nothing unusual (MacPherson struts up front, a multi-link rear), the layout in which they are arranged is actually quite different from other MQB products. A systematic habit of all MQB crossovers is a slightly off driving position that almost has you pitched over the steering wheel, not unlike in an old Renault Sport Clio 182. This is due to the steering linkage at the front axle being set at the same point as in a normal Golf or Leon, changing the rake of the steering wheel to a more vertical angle to meet the higher seating position. It’s an irksome quirk of many VW Group SUVs, yet isn’t an issue in the Formentor.

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The Formentor’s driving position still sits higher than in a normal hatch, but the steering wheel now comes to you at a better angle, while the tall scuttle, high dash and narrow windows all feel unique to the Formentor, helping make you feel properly ensconced within the cabin, unlike the perched position you get in an Ateca.

And what a cabin to greet you. The Formentor is not a cheap car, but even so Cupra’s efforts to make the interior feel distinctive and thoughtful is clear. The seats are brilliantly comfortable, the steering wheel feels great in the hands, material quality is largely impressive and our test car’s blue leather really feels different and interesting. This is all underpinned by the most resolved execution yet of the Group’s button-free digital interface.

What’s it like to drive?

Just as impressive as the lovely cabin. There’s the usual light touch to the controls as you pull away, but everything feels crisp and accurate. The ride is also immediately pliant and superbly judged, especially on the adaptive dampers that are standard on the high-powered 310 TSI.

Get on the throttle and the Formentor then differentiates itself even further from its siblings by generating an engine noise with real resonance and depth – far more so than the efforts of the technically similar Golf R and Audi S3. Of course, there is some augmentation from the speakers, but it’s pretty well integrated and doesn’t sound too inauthentic.

Start playing with the different driver modes and the Formentor’s bandwidth only increases, revealing the EA888’s inherent flexibility and enthusiasm. It’s a strong engine in all applications, but even with a somewhat portly 1569kg kerb weight, the Formentor feels good for its 306bhp claimed power figure.

Get into the groove on a challenging road and the Formentor will happily play ball, diving into its suspension travel to really dig into the road surface, finding surprising front-end grip and rear-end traction.

With a heavier steering setting selected, there is just about enough feedback flowing through the steering to keep you on top of front axle grip, and thanks to the body’s lateral movement the chassis itself contributes to the information stream just as effectively. Yet this softer edge to the handling doesn’t come at the expense of body control, even on its softer damper mode.

If we’re being picky, it doesn’t share the new Golf R’s rambunctious character right at the top of its operating window, and the brakes are a tad overservoed and lack progression, but the optional Brembo brake upgrade might just put to rest that mark on its scoresheet. Overall the Formentor is a small, fast crossover that feels more at one with itself than pretty much any other we’ve driven – a good sign for the new-age brand and a model worthy of launching a marque.

Price and rivals

Formentor pricing kicks off at £27,395, but the awkwardly named VZ2 310 TSI we’re driving here will set you back a more serious £39,830. Standard equipment is strong, with great heated leather seats, a full-spec infotainment and hi-fi system, 19-inch alloy wheels and crisp all-round parking cameras. The top-level VZ3 is priced from £42,200 and adds in the Brembo brake package and a different 19-inch wheel design.

‘Crossover’ rivals include the expensive and odd-looking £46,775 BMW X2 M35i and £44,015 Mercedes-AMG GLA35 (the less said about the Audi SQ2 the better, but it is at least cheap, relatively speaking, at £37,315). Volkswagen’s T-Roc R is priced at £40,715, which feels a bit steep when compared to the Formentor’s superior... well, everything.

Stick to traditional hot hatchbacks and the Audi S3 is also pretty underwhelming at its £36,315, while the BMW M135i and Mercedes-AMG A35 trade blows in even smaller packages. If a hatchback of this type is desired, the £39,270 Mk8 Golf R really is the standout offering right now, thanks largely to its trick rear differential and the playful new edge it gives to the otherwise sensible Golf. The also very good CLA35 AMG Shooting Brake could also be considered a left-field alternative at £41,800.