Cupra Formentor Driving, Engines & Performance | Top Gear
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What is it like to drive?

We’ve driven the most powerful version of the Formentor, complete with a 306bhp wallop and a standard-fit seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, as well as the entry level V1 also with DSG fitted.

You get an added sense of occasion in the higher spec car. A button hung from the steering wheel starts the engine, which immediately sounds raucous and purposeful – mainly because it’s being amplified through the speakers. If that’s getting tiring, you can tell it to shush by cycling though the many modes – use the Cupra steering wheel button for that.

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There’s Comfort, Normal, Sport, Cupra and Individual settings to choose from, with the latter letting you tailor the drivetrain’s mood, steering weight, and endlessly fiddle with the ride comfort by altering a sliding scale. It feels terribly scientific.

It's still just an SUV though isn’t it?

This isn’t a high-riding road warrior – in fact with the supportive bucket seat lowered electrically into its base position, you could be forgiven for forgetting you were ensconced in a Leon hatchback, not a flagship SUV. There’s a slightly diminished sense of occasion in the less powerful car, with fewer fancy buttons. The 1.5 offers a promising burble at idle, which is fine as long as you don’t go anywhere, it’s not quite as characterful on the move. 

About town, the Formentor is easygoing, as we’re used to for a modern hot hatch. Obviously it feels a bit bigger, but never cumbersome – the steering is quick and light at low speeds, and even on hulking 20in rims the ride isn’t crashy in Cupra mode. It’s better still if you slide it into Comfort, though. And better yet on the squishy 18-inch wheels of the V1 model, but you didn’t come here for a limo-like ride.

Sometimes the twin-clutch gearbox gets caught in two minds slipping its clutches as it does its best softly-softly impression of a true automatic, and it can be tardy to switch between forward drive and reverse when parking, but the Cupra is far from the only DCT car so-afflicted.

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In short, this is a sporty crossover that will handle the daily grind chores without complaint. And on the motorway, it’ll cruise at the national speed limit at a tickle over 2,000rpm. Wind noise is hushed up well for a taller car, but that fat rubber kicks up a fair bit of tyre roar.

And if I want to take it for a proper drive? 

Normally, a decent job around town and on the motorway would be job done for a family faux-by-four – for a Seat. But since this is stubbornly a Cupra, it’s supposed to also be an enthralling, thrilling performance car when it’s let off the leash.

With everything dialled up the Formentor behaves like a slightly overgrown VW Golf R. It’s not the first time we’ve seen these ingredients (remember the VW T-Roc R?) and the results are pretty similar. It’s rapid point-to-point, with the advantages of seamless gearshifts, 4x4 traction, huge on-demand torque and a slightly higher vantage point blending to create an undemanding overgrown hot hatch. It’s easy to go fast in, though the overdubbed engine noise in Cupra mode might get on your wick after a while.

The Formentor retains its composure even when you get properly aggressive with your inputs and ambitious in the corners, but it never feels anything other than FWD with lots of traction, rather than a properly balanced 4WD. Is it a sweaty palmed life-affirming invigorator? Well no, but neither are lower slung ‘true’ hot hatches like the Audi S3 or Octavia vRS, and this is never going to be as tactile or involving as, say, a Honda Civic Type R.

That said, if you want to dabble in the Porsche Macan experience for a heap less cash, the not-a-Seat ticks that box.

Predictably the entry-level version of the car doesn’t feel remotely hot hatch-like, but it does at least feel promisingly un-SUV-like. The steering offers decent feel and it is reasonably satisfying to push on through a decent A-road. Motorway manners are respectable too, but nobody really wants to go sugar free unless the doctor tells them to, right?

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