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Long-term review

Cupra Formentor VZ Edition 310 – long-term review

£48,045 / £48,660 as tested / £595 PCM
Published: 09 Aug 2021
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SPEC HIGHLIGHTS

  • SPEC

    VZ Edition 310

  • ENGINE

    1984cc

  • BHP

    310bhp

  • 0-62

    4.9s

Can the Cupra Formentor 4x4 actually go off-road?

So the saga of the Cupra’s infotainment has been settled. Or at least partially. Having now messed with, prodded and poked it, it would seem that the latency and general grumpiness of the system has been banished after the update. It’s not magically made it a nicer user experience in terms of layout, but at least now I can get to experience the layout. And to be fair, I’ve dug around and figured out some shortcuts and set-up conveniences that have helped. For instance, if you press the Cupra button on the steering wheel and hold it, it switches from Cupra mode (full attack), into whatever mode you were in last, instead of cycling the settings. 

This is handy, because after a bit of fiddling and testing, I’ve found a set of parameters for the ‘Individual’ setting that suit the backroads driving I tend to do. Takes a couple of minutes to set up. And, like most, I generally opt for softer suspension settings mated to the more responsive throttle etc. Works well on a bumpy backroad with shonky, warped edges.

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I do find that the wheels and skinny tyres feel a bit big-slash-stiff for this kind of driving though - they just don’t suck up the smaller bumps, transmitting everything through your bum and palms. Not so weirdly, the 1.5TSI that I tested last month on smaller wheels and a bigger tyre profiles was better at taking out some of the jiggling, and you don’t lose too much in outright grip or precision for the extra flex in the sidewall. It would - obviously - show up far more on somewhere like a racetrack, but that’s not where I drive this car. 

Saying that, special mention must go to the Brembo brakes, which are probably more suited to track work than road - because they simply do not fade. Repeated, reliable stopping power with great feel, they’re the kind of brakes you always want to back up your inconsistencies. Proper stuff - and they make the car much more enjoyable. If you can’t stop, you can’t go fast and all that. Or you go fast once, and then end up smearing yourself across a farmer’s field. 

I’ve also realised that I haven’t been troubling the all-wheel drive system much on dry roads, and to be honest, 85 per cent of the time, this thing just feels like a very well sorted front-wheel drive machine. I also keep noticing the little ‘Off Road” mode and Hill Descent Control functions, so decided to give them a quick check through in an old quarry.

Basically, the off-road setting will alter the 4x4 system to be less front-wheel drive, slacken off the suspension and generally try and eke out more grip by being less front-biased. It’ll also possibly raise the idle speed if needed, be less reactive to steering inputs and generally a bit calmer, with the HDC managing ABS and traction control on hills more than 5 per cent (in forwards or reverse gears), as long as there’s, y’know, traction to be had. 

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With the bottom of the car some 18-20cm off the floor, it’s not actually a bad set up. Traction is good on dry and rocky stuff, and as long as you’re careful and don’t get too excited, it’ll clamber over geography you couldn’t even vaguely safely manage in a normal hot hatch.

This feels perfect for anyone who has to manage the odd gravel or unmade road, or something like a snowy approach in dodgy conditions, where the front won’t be so much of a plough. Obviously the road-biased tyres end up being the limiting factor, but they’d be easily changed for some winters if you knew what you were facing. And if you pop a wheel in the air, the car will happily compensate and slow it down so that you can progress. 

In fact, the only real issue is that double-clutch ‘boxes don’t like this sort of thing. They like to know what’s coming, and crawling around off road is the least reliable place for predicting what comes next. No problems or failures for the Formentor, but hands up here, I did start to smell a faint whiff of clutch after a couple of big ascents/descents where we had to slow over the crest to see what was on the other side. A quick drive on the road and it was sorted, with no noticeable affect from the gearbox since.

Thing is, in terms of capability, I honestly think the Formentor nails it if you occasionally need some extra capability. Yes, I’d run it on winters, but the odd farm track would be fun where a common-or-garden hatch would be a 3mph crawl. Not an off-roader, but light off-road capable. In light of that, I obviously immediately fitted a trashy roof rack that I had in the yard, and huge lightbar.

Which I think makes the Formentor look even better. Though that, after some opinions from my Top Gear colleagues and peers, seems to be somewhat debatable. 

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