24 October 2022

Spanish car brand sets up shop in Canberra, so we take its bestseller by the horns

| James Coleman
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2023 CUPRA Formentor VZe

The 2023 CUPRA Formentor VZe at the Minto Galloway bull farm, along the Barton Highway. Photo: James Coleman.

Once upon a time, there was a Spaniard called SEAT. SEAT bore a child and in 2018, this child left home to pursue a sporting career. The child’s name? CUPRA.

That about sums up the car I’m putting to the test at one of Australia’s leading bull farms, Minto Galloway, in the Mediterranean-esque countryside just over the ACT’s northern border.

CUPRA has now decided to come to Australia. So what better place?

There are three models available at a new Lennock dealership on Melrose Drive in Phillip – Leon, Formentor and Ateca, with the fully-electric Born to come.

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After drooling over the examples on display inside, with their matt paintwork, copper-coloured highlights and crisp styling, CUPRA master Elliot Morgan hands me the keys to a Formentor VZe.

“This is the one receiving the most interest here in the ACT,” he says.

The little “e” in the name designates this as a plug-in hybrid. There’s a 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine, electric motor and lithium-ion battery all crammed under the bonnet.

The battery can be charged from a standard wall socket within four hours in exchange for 58 km of pure electric range, before the engine has to kick in. Total range is estimated at 2105 km – more than half the distance between Canberra and Perth.

I’m not sure what to call the Formentor – “curious compact coupe SUV thing” probably – but it’s cool and youthful, not in a shirtless-skateboarder-type way though. It’s classier than that.

“One of the first things people say is that they’re not sure about the copper-coloured highlights, but they very quickly change their mind when they see it in person,” Elliot says.

The second pleasant surprise is the price, he says.

“The driveaway cost is $63,990, and that’s cheaper in the ACT than anywhere else in Australia because – as an plug-in hybrid – there are lower stamp-duty and registration costs.”

But add in the $2100 sunroof, full leather and power seats for $2750 and it quickly escalates to the premium price tag you might have been expecting.

So, what do you get? In short, a Volkswagen. In the early 1990s, SEAT and its sporty spin-off CUPRA left its history of support by the Spanish government (and Fiat) behind and became subsidiaries of the Volkswagen empire.

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Today, this means there’s a lot of sharing going on.

You notice it first when you open the door. Yes, the seats are clearly racy and the steering wheel a work of art, but the indicator and wiper stalks are straight out of a modern Volkswagen Golf, as is the touchscreen, the gear lever and all the buttons.

The engine has been in countless VWs for years, and as for the six-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, that’s another VW hallmark.

It’s as if VW provided all the boring bits and left the Spanish to do the rest, which is probably better for everyone on reflection. Except in the case of the infotainment system, which is joyously SEAT’s and not VW’s digital disaster.

Around town, the Formentor behaves like any other VW – superbly. The steering, suspension and general driveability are all spot-on. The hybrid integration is remarkably smooth for a first-time effort too, although under pressure, there can be a jolt as the engine wakes up.

But VW would be shooting itself in the foot if CUPRA didn’t have a party trick. Being part-Spanish only gets you so far.

Sure enough, it doesn’t take much to cajole the Formentor out of placid commuter mode and into CUPRA mode. It’s almost at the point where you wonder if maybe there’s too much power – the way the front tyres skirm under hard driving can be a little off-putting. Especially on the dirt roads.

Then there’s the noise. Somehow, the four-pot does a surprisingly good rendition of a V8 burble.

Enough to scare away the Galloway bulls, as it turns out.

2023 CUPRA Formentor VZeA Spaniard with quite a few German influences. Photo: James Coleman.

2023 CUPRA Formentor VZe

  • $63,990 driveaway (ACT)
  • 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine and 12.8 kWh battery, 180 kW / 400 Nm
  • 7-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox
  • 1.9 litres per 100 km combined fuel usage
  • 0-100 km/h in 7 seconds
  • 1730 kg
  • One to six month(s) wait time.

This car was provided for testing by CUPRA Garage Canberra. Region has no commercial arrangement with CUPRA Garage Canberra.

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Rory Breaker1:45 pm 04 Jan 23

2105 km range?

Sounds more practicable than an all electric. Most of the driving in town, the short trips can be done using electricity; plus it can be charged overnight on an ordinary power point. This also means when travelling. For the occasional longer trip, there’s petrol.
Shame it’s still so expensive.

Wow, 54km range on electricity after a 3 hour charge. I can’t even drive from home to work without petrol kicking in. What’s the point?

How far from work do you live? That would have done me for three days getting to work, but I chose to live within cycling distance and cycled, and even if this was my car, I would still have cycled.

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