A brand new model line from a new manufacturer brings with it a familiarly old-school crossover feel

Seat's push of the newly independent Cupra brand has now extended to its first standalone model, the Formentor.

Traditionally, Seat tried to pitch itself as the dynamic badge of the Volkswagen Group (remember Volkswagen's answer to Alfa Romeo?), but I’m not sure it ever really managed it. So here comes Cupra to, perhaps, do the job instead. We’ll see.

As you flick from Comfort through Sport and Cupra modes, the suspension gets sharper but never reaches the point that it’s unbearable even on British roads, which is a pleasant surprise

It’s clearly serious about the Cupra project, because it has gone to the lengths of launching its own vehicle. At least, a vehicle as different as a Volkswagen Group car gets; we’re not talking Alpine A110 levels of differentiation.

The Formentor sits on the MQB architecture, from which the Cupra Ateca crossover already hangs, and this is even more cross or over – whichever means it’s lower. It’s as much a tall hatchback as a short SUV, with its height of 1511mm being a full 150mm less than the Ateca and only around 50mm more than the Cupra Leon.

If anything, it has the vibe of an Audi Allroad or Volvo XC model or, when you gaze at the silvery plastic that runs around the bottom rim of the body, perhaps even the Subaru Forester, a car to which we’ll return.

The bodywork appears far more cab-rearward than on most Volkswagen Group SUVs and crossovers, there’s a long bonnet and, in this colour and with these surfaces, it looks as much like a Mazda as much as anything else. And I’ll admit that I quite like it.

Our test car came with a 306bhp 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine and a drivetrain familiar to those who know the Ateca, Leon or Volkswagen Golf R.


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Inside, there are bespoke Cupra elements, with the bronzed highlights and that Transformer-like logo meaning you won’t mistake it for anything else. But fundamentally it’s built to Volkswagen Gorup specifications, which means the seating ergonomics and driving position are really good, while there’s a decent amount of head room and knee room for adults both front and rear.

The Formentor is 4450mm long, with a 420-litre boot when the rear seats are in place, which isn't cavernous – only a little bigger than that of the Golf hatchback – but with levers near the bootlid to send the rear seats folding.

In the front, there’s a Cupra-fronted infotainment system with 12.0in touchscreen that’s given a bit too much to do, with haptic controls for everything else and a diddy gear selector. A fully digitised instrument pack gives you six different layouts to pick from, plus changeable submenus from there.

There are driving modes to pick from, too, obviously. There are two big buttons mounted on the steering wheel, one the start button and one for the modes: Comfort, Sport, Cupra, Individual and Off-Road.

The Formentor runs adaptive dampers, which I imagine will be standard in the UK (pricing and equipment are still to be confirmed), which the driving mode adjusts, along with the steering response and throttle and gearbox.

The tyres are 235/40 R19s, which is a reasonably racy size for a crossover, but they’re Bridgestone Turanzas, which are all-rounders.

A similar phrase sums up the Formentor’s demeanour. It rides relatively pliantly, with a little thud over poor surfaces and some head-toss when road surfaces turn really excitable, but for the most part is allowed to flow. There's more looseness than in the Ateca over crests and bumps, but with the benefit that the ride isn't bone-rattlingly hard.

As you flick from Comfort through Sport and Cupra modes, the suspension gets sharper but never reaches the point that it’s unbearable even on British roads, which is a pleasant surprise.

So is the steering, which takes on a little too much gloop as you move up through the driving modes but in general is accurate and slick. It's not overblessed with feedback, but it takes on a bit of weight as you move closer to the car’s limits. I found the Formentor a much nicer car to get on with than the Ateca.

If you do push on, the Formentor shows an ability, if not an overt willingness, to tuck in on the way into a corner and a mild nudge into front-end grip limits on the way out. And that’s as it should be.

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The powertrain does what this 2.0-litre-and-dual-clutch-gearbox Volkswagen Group combination usually does – spin smoothly and change gear willingly – but with some added reluctance to kick down or respond too quickly in Comfort mode, presumably because the fuel consumption drive cycle would rather you lugged it out in a higher gear.

The Formentor isn’t a wildly exciting drive, then, but it’s a well-rounded one and rewarding, given this is a tall, relatively practical fast car. Its character isn’t unlike that of an old Forester in that it’s surefooted and a useful few centimetres taller than average yet resists being either floaty or crashy.

Which is great but unexpected. With Seat never quite becoming the dynamic brand it promised to be, I would have expected Cupra to pick up those ambitions and be more like maybe ST is to Ford or R is to Volkswagen. Instead, the Formentor arrives with a striding, relaxed, straightforward and slightly old-school demeanour.

Was that really what they were going for? Doesn’t matter: I’ll take it.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Cupra Formentor

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