I’ve never run a long-term test car that gets quite as many glances as the Cupra. Whether or not people genuinely like the look of it, or simply don’t recognise the badge, I’m never sure.
Those that have stopped have always asked: ‘What is it?’. And, much as I hate myself for saying it, I just reply with ‘oh, it’s basically a Seat’. It’s a statement that will get eyes rolling in Cupra’s boardroom, but it’s simpler than having to explain it’s a ‘new Spanish performance brand’ and having to deal with a blank look.
Up until 2018 Cupras really were just sporty Seat models, though, and when the new brand officially split, it didn’t help itself by launching with the Cupra Ateca – a car you could also buy as a Seat.
But the Formentor I’m running here felt like a big step forward as it was the first Cupra that really wasn’t just a Seat with a different badge and more power. It will likely go down in the brand’s history as a turning point, but just how different is it from the original Seats? To see, I thought I’d compare it to a Seat Leon Cupra, and – helpfully – my Uncle owns one.
His is a 2014 three-door model, which he’s owned almost from new and has covered only 50,000 miles. He’s the kind of demographic that suits the Formentor too – buying the Leon Cupra when he was younger and before he had kids, he now finds his three-door hot hatch a bit impractical.
Though eight years and different bodystyles separate these models, there are some clear traits shared across them both, For starters are the sharp LED lights. This generation of Leon was the first car in its class to get this type of lighting, and it helps to keep things fresh and current, even on a car that debuted almost a decade ago.
There are also some other similar cues, too, such as a sharp crease line that runs from the front wing right the way to the edge of the front door, while around the rear they both have larger ‘CUPRA’ lettering, albeit with different brand badges.
Though the Formentor is the bigger car (unsurprisingly for an SUV), parked next to each other, the difference isn’t quite as much as you might expect, with the new Cupra not sitting as high up as many of its rivals, while it’s ‘only’ 20cm longer than the old Leon at 4.45m.
Moving inside, the Formentor’s tech-laden cabin feels like a big step forward, but the Leon is still able to hold its own, with good build quality and a small touchscreen meaning it doesn’t feel too old. That said, the Formentor’s large 12-inch touchscreen and digital instrument looks seriously advanced in comparison.
I asked my Uncle what he thought of the Formentor, and he actually wasn’t quite as positive about it as I expected. Though he liked the way it looked, he still preferred a traditional hot hatch, and couldn’t get overly excited when I said ‘my’ Cupra only had a 148bhp 1.5-litre petrol engine – a good 100 horses less than his Leon. It’s worth noting there are more powerful versions of the Formentor available, though.
Elsewhere this month, a recent Heathrow run – a 400-mile round trip from here in North Yorkshire – has tipped the mileage over 4,000 and re-established to me just how good it is on longer trips, where you appreciate how comfortable the leather bucket-like seats are.
Some of the software gremlins are remaining with the touchscreen though and I’m yet to get a ‘fix’ from Cupra. Hopefully that will come soon, as it’s about the only thing I can criticise the Formentor for.