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Cupra Formentor VZ3 2024 review – a quicker, more affordable alternative to the BMW X2 M35i

The most popular model in Cupra’s armoury has been given a facelift for 2024, and the results are promising

Evo rating
  • Strong refinement; sharp design; improved HMI
  • Uninspiring (if effective) powertrain; we’d prefer a Leon Estate

The Formentor is the most popular model in Cupra’s lineup by quite some margin, and for good reason. Sharp looks and pleasant handling in a practical compact SUV package make it a very desirable offering for the masses, and it’s been given a comprehensive update for 2024. Facelifted alongside its Leon relative, it’s been given a design overhaul inside and out, with tweaks to its powertrain and chassis designed to make the range-topper more engaging than before.

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Most notable at first glance are the changes Cupra has made to its exterior. While that tight, distinctive coupe-SUV shape remains, a more angular ‘shark nose’ front bumper has been applied, with its headlights (LED matrix as standard on the range-topper) updated to match. The rear has received the same treatment, with a more angular aesthetic and a full width lightbar which now incorporates an illuminated Cupra badge, matching the design changes on the new Leon.

> Cupra Leon Estate VZ3 2024 review – Cupra’s rival to the Mercedes-AMG CLA35 Shooting Brake

While platform constraints (and budgets) make it near-impossible to redesign each and every element of the car, Cupra has made a real effort to improve the Formentor’s interior – particularly the old, fiddly HMI system. Like all new MQB Evo Volkswagen and Audi products, the central touch sliders are now illuminated, with the primary display larger (12.9-inches) and snappier than before. There’s also an improved 12-speaker, 423-watt Sennheiser sound system available as an option on the VZ3. Materials are noticeably more premium (and sustainable) than in the previous car, and there are fewer hard plastics too. Unfortunately the cheap-feeling centre console and stubby shifter are here to stay, but from the improved ambient lighting to the uprated materials, it all feels more polished than before.

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Opt for the VZ3 range-topper we’re driving and you even get standard carbonfibre Sabelt ‘CUPBucket’ seats, lowering the driving position, adding bolstering and recycled microsuede upholstery. These seats are also available in the Leon and are of a design and finish you'd expect to find in a much more expensive car. Don’t think they sacrifice comfort for figure-hugging support either – we spent hours in them without any sign of discomfort, although your mileage may vary. 

Changes extend to beyond the cabin, with the ubiquitous EA888 2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder now producing an additional 22bhp in VZ3-spec for a 328bhp total – torque is unchanged at 310lb ft. Tweaks to throttle mapping and transmission response have also been designed to improve urgency on the whole, but from our time in the car, there wasn’t much of a difference in straight line pace. Regardless, there’s no doubt it feels as quick as its 4.9sec 0-62mph time suggests, but it still lacks the top end zing (and sound) we’d really like to see. Transferring power to all four wheels (with the help of a new torque splitter rear diff) is the same slick seven-speed DSG unit as before.

Elsewhere in the range, you can now opt for a plug-in hybrid 1.5-litre powertrain for optimum efficiency, capable of up to 62 miles of all-electric running. There are also lesser pure-combustion offerings available, including an entry-level 148bhp 1.5-litre petrol with a manual transmission.

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On smooth, sun-baked Spanish tarmac, initial impressions are that the Formentor is supremely refined for motorway miles, with very minimal wind noise, tyre roar and ideal spring rates and damping for such a use case. Head to trickier tarmac and the Formentor is just as well judged as the original, nimble and confidence inspiring with slightly softer responses than we’ve become accustomed to in performance cars today – perhaps this is to help manage its high 1566kg kerb weight, which actually happens to be 10kg less than the Leon Estate.

The star of the show is the inclusion of Volkswagen Group’s trick new rear-axle torque splitter, borrowed from models such as the new Mk8.5 Golf R, Audi RS3 and the Formentor's closest relative, the Leon Estate. Utilising an electronically-controlled multi-plate clutch to send power to the outside rear wheel under load, the Formentor is now more playful than before when pushing on, allowing for predictable rotation and a more neutral balance in certain scenarios. The rotation can feel a little artificial on the limit, but it gives the Formentor a welcome dynamic edge nonetheless.

Steering lacks the fine feedback we’d really like, but given the constraints of the platform, it’s a solid effort. In standard modes it’s very light, with not much heft throughout the range of motion, but Cupra mode increases weight off centre to provide an improvement in sense of accuracy. A lack of feedback and response off centre in its standard mode can make it tricky to place the front wheels on initial turn in, but it provides just enough precision to make it pleasant to drive spiritedly when the conditions allow.

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Brakes have seen an upgrade for 2024, with the VZ3 receiving larger 375mm, six-piston Akenobo items on the front axle and 310mm discs at the rear (357 and 310mm discs are standard elsewhere in the range). Despite its relatively high kerbweight, brakes inspire confidence with strong initial bite and a resistance to fade even on the downhill sections of the route we tested them on – they are a little hard to modulate at low speeds, but this is likely something you could quickly become accustomed to.

Price and rivals

UK pricing is yet to be confirmed for the Formentor VZ3, but expect it to cost more than the £39,830 outgoing car when first cars hit the road in Q3 this year. The compact SUV market is as popular as ever and the Formentor has plenty of rivals, spanning from the £45,550 Volkswagen T-Roc R to the £50,785 BMW X2 M35i and the pricier £53,205 GLA35 from Mercedes-AMG.

While most of its rivals command a higher price, none of them offer the same level of on-paper performance, with both the Volkswagen and BMW producing 296bhp and the AMG 302bhp (plus a 14bhp boost from an electric motor). We’ll have to drive the new Formentor on UK roads to know where it places in the pecking order, but on first impressions, it seems a promising new offering from the Spanish marque.

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