- Max Speed
Is this basically the Cupra Leon eHybrid in a Formentor suit?
It is. I mean, it should be. And yet… it’s somehow a lot more than that. Meet a very curious sort of not-quite hot hatchback. A split personality, on stilts.
What’s under the bonnet?
The more powerful version of two plug-in hybrid systems available in the Formentor. And that’s already weird, isn’t it?
Cupra – as Seat is very, very keen to tell us – is a Proper Performance Brand. A racing-honed go-faster adrenaline pump bursting at the seams with latent Catalan rage and flamenco passion.
Yet, you can buy a 148bhp version of this very car. Or a slower Cupra Formentor eHybrid with a mere 201bhp. Then for £2,500 more, there’s this one, with 242bhp. Why go to all the trouble of inventing a new company with a mystery badge, and then sling in your usual sensible engines?
That’s like telling all your mates you’re now a devil-worshipping Satanist with a pet snake and an ‘I Heart Lucifer’ face tattoo, but still living in your parents’ spare room and asking your mum to iron your leather trenchcoat.
But isn’t going hybrid the future of fast cars?
Seems to be, and sure enough this tried-and-tested powertrain – teaming a 148bhp 1.4-litre turbo engine with a 114bhp e-motor – has already found its way into not just Cupra’s Leon, but the VW Golf GTE and Skoda Octavia vRS.
Everyone from Peugeot to Porsche to McLaren and Ferrari is busy with the same equation. Petrol + short-range electric = best of both worlds for fast cars.
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Give me some cold, hard numbers.
Because the Cupra’s petrol engine doesn’t peak in output until the e-motor is ramping down, total system power here is 242bhp, with a Civic Type R-sized 295lb ft of torque. All very respectable and Golf GTI-sized.
But because of the lardy batteries gobbling up stowage beneath the boot floor, this Formentor weighs over 1.7 tonnes. The 306bhp not-a-hybrid version is over 100kg lighter despite benefitting from four-wheel drive, which this semi-‘leccy car doesn’t get.
If you’ve got juice in the 12.8kWh battery, you’ll go from 0-62mph in 7.0 seconds. If you haven’t… set an earlier alarm.
What about the nitty-gritty tax-friendly EV bit?
Well, against a claim of 34 miles of battery power, our test car managed a useful 25 miles of range. Performance in E-Mode alone is still spritely enough to keep up in town traffic without getting in anyone’s way, and if you use the battery tactically Cupra says this car is good for up to 188 miles per gallon and just 33g/km of CO2. If you’re looking for a company car or only go further than the town centre every other weekend, your search probably stops here.
During a week of bumbling about between supermarkets, outdoor activity centres, hardware shops and home as a family crossover does, it’ll average 70-80mpg so long as you’re keeping the battery alive. With a brimmed tank and full battery, total range was over 300 miles.
On a household socket, you can charge up in five hours – fine for an overnight plug-in.
This all sounds very sensible and not very ‘Vamos Spanish flair Cupra-ish’.
Well don’t worry, because here’s where things start to go a bit wrong if you’re simply after a good-looking five-seater hybrid, though amusing if you like cars that are a bit of a handful.
You expect an oozing, silent thrust of electro-torque, carefully and seamlessly blended into an eager turbocharged surge as the eHybrid accelerates.
What you actually get is torque-steer, interrupted by a yelp from the 1.4-litre engine as if you’ve stood on its paw while it was sleeping, and then a heap more torque-steer. Maybe in the opposite direction, just to keep you concentrating.
It’s a properly lively powertrain – way wilder than in the Golf GTE or Cupra’s own Leon PHEV. And all the while your ears are confounded by the dubbed-in electro-blare soundtrack that shouts through the speakers, like your teenage next-door neighbour’s playing Gran Turismo with the volume cranked up.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way. Take it out of Cupra mode and tool about on battery power, and the Formentor immediately shapeshifts back into a Richard Curtis film, all warm, comforting and untaxing on your brain.
Fine. But I ask again, why have a Cupra at all if you’re not going to occasionally drive it like a getaway car?
How’s the handling?
The words ‘mixed’ and ‘bag’ come to mind. The steering is gloopy – it’s actually a relief when the motors grab hold of the steering rack and give it a Chinese burn so you’re reminded it’s connected to anything at all. And yet, the car rides extremely comfily, despite the jacked-up crossover body, and the 19-inch rims, and all that battery flab.
What’s more, it does a better job of pretending to be a hot hatch in the corners than Cupra’s half-electric Leon. I have no idea why, but somehow where the Leon feels locked-down, grippy and rather binary, the Formentor has more of that ‘on tiptoes’ sense we seek out in fun cars. It’s been set up to feel alive and gameful. Hurrah!
Believe me, you can actually use that anvil of battery weight to swing the back end around on the exit of a corner, while your rippling, torque-steer wrestling forearms burst out of your shirt-sleeves like an angry Hulk.
So you’re saying this hybrid VW Group crossover is – wait – a surprise package?
Somehow – perhaps not entirely deliberately, on Cupra’s part – yes. This is a crossover hybrid with some personality.
I liked the Formentor’s impeccably polite in-town manners, and looked forward to my next wrestle with the steering wheel. It can be entertaining in the corners, but it doesn’t jostle or rattle your family about on the straights either.
And if that sounds a bit over the top then hey, there’s always the slower, cheaper plug-in hybrid Formentor instead.