2022 Cupra Formentor, Leon, Ateca first drive review

The Cupra Ateca, Leon and Formentor parked on a track.

Craig Duff

Posted April 26, 2022


The Spanish-pedigreed Cupra brand is the latest to launch in Australia, with plans for the three-model line-up to expand in early 2023 with the electric Born.

Cupra can be interpreted in a couple of ways, but all are good news for Australian driving enthusiasts.

The brand is a spin-off from the Seat marque and the tag was originally used to denote its high-performance models.

The name is a contraction of Cup Racing, but Cupra is also happy to play on its association with the Latin term for copper (cuprum) by anointing its cars with copper-hued highlights inside and out.

More than 7,800 Australians have already expressed their interest in owning a Leon hatch, Formentor crossover, or Ateca SUV.

If just 10 per cent of those invest in the Spanish product, the first year’s allocation will be all but gone.

Cupra chief executive, Wayne Griffiths, will probably re-stock the garages, given the emphasis he is putting on the brand's performance Down Under.

“We see Australia as a big step in testing our ability to take Cupra global,” he said.

Put that down to the intense level of competition for a very limited volume of sales by international standards.

If car companies can make it here, they can make it anywhere.

On this page

The Cupra Leon VZx sends 221kW to the front wheels.
The Cupra Leon is based on the Volkswagen Golf platform.
Skoda and VW owners will quickly recognize components in the Cupra's interior.

How much does the Cupra Leon, Formentor and Ateca cost?

The cars officially go on sale in June, but early adopters will be catered for with a pre-sales event involving around 100 cars from early May.

Launch editions will see a top-spec Ateca in graphite grey with Akrapovic exhaust and copper alloy wheels sell for $69,990. The Cupra Formentor VZx in graphene brey or blue matte paint with Brembo brakes will sell for the same money, while a range-topping Leon with Brembos will be priced at $67,990.

Regular pricing will kick off at $43,990 plus on-roads for the Cupra Leon V, which won’t be available until later this year.

For now, the cheapest way to get into the hatch is in the form of the Leon VZ, which has a national driveaway price of $56,990.

The plug-in hybrid Leon VZe will cost $65,490 driveway in Victoria.

The headline hatch is the high-performance VXz, priced at $64,990 driveaway.

The Formentor crossover (think of it as more a high-riding hatch than an SUV) starts at $54,990 for the V version. The Formentor VZ sees power and prices climb to $58,490 driveaway.

Victorian buyers will pay $66,490 to put the VZe hybrid in their drives. Ditch the hybrid for a conventional performance drivetrain, as found in the Formentor VZx, and the price will be the same.

The Ateca SUV is only being sold in top-spec VZx guise, with a driveaway price of $65,990.

All Cupras come with three years’ complimentary servicing. The brand is still determining how much the fourth and fifth year services (corresponding to the warranty period) will cost.

Are the Cupra Leon, Formentor and Ateca safe?

ANCAP has yet to rate the Ateca but has adopted EuroNCAP’s five-star assessment of the Leon and Formentor.

The Leon was tested in 2020 and achieved strong results across the board.

Adult occupant protection was rated at 91 per cent, child occupant protection was deemed to be 88 per cent, vulnerable road user came in at 71 per cent and safety assist features were 80 per cent.

The Formentor was rated as a five-star car in 2021 and scored 93 per cent for adult occupant protection, 88 per cent for child occupant protection, 68 per cent for vulnerable road users and 80 per cent for safety assist.

The major criticism applied to both models was the absence of autonomous emergency braking when reversing.

The Ateca has yet to be crash-tested but is based on the Skoda Karoq, which scored a five-star rating back in 2017.

 

Cupra's Formentor is essentially a high-riding hatch rather than a traditional SUV.
All-wheel drive helps the top-spec Formentor quickly put 228kW/400Nm to the road.
As the newest of the Cupra models, the Formentor's cabin looks and feels slightly classier.

What are the Cupra Formentor, Leon and Ateca like inside?

The good news is the digital displays, both cockpit and infotainment, are hi-resolution and quick to respond.

Likewise, the tactile surfaces are soft-touch and look quality.

The downside is the lower-level plastics are generically VW Group. That’s not to say they’re low-rent, but they’re durable and anti-scratch, rather than being a more visually appealing look.

The Formentor, which the is brand’s first bespoke interior (both the Leon and Ateca are derived from the Seat products sold in Europe) is a step up on all fronts.

The infotainment systems are the same, but the front cabin layout looks appreciably different, and when you’re chasing a point of difference as a challenger brand, that can only be a good thing.

What’s under the Cupra Formentor, Leon and Ateca bonnets?

There’s a range of engines in the Cupra line-up, ranging from ordinary (for a brand based on delivering a stellar drive) to spectacular. The Formentor and Leon entry versions start with a 140kW/320Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine. It’s good, but not great, especially given the brand’s claim as a performance outfit.

That said, as an entry into the range, drivers who buy the Cupra for its aesthetics rather than its ability won’t be disappointed.

The VZ models introduce the same engine tuned to 180kW/370Nm. That wasn’t available to test, but the numbers are more indicative of a performance brand.

VZe variants combine a 1.4-litre 110kW/250Nm engine with an electric motor good for 85kW/300Nm. Cupra claims a combined output of 180kW/400Nm. Now we’re talking.

For those chasing outright responsiveness, the VZx versions deliver 221kW/400nm in the Leon and Cupra models, or 228kW/400Nm in the case of the Formentor.

This is where the going gets seriously good.

Are the Leon Formentor, Leon and Ateca efficient?

Buy the Leon hatch and the 180kW VZ variant uses a claimed 6.7 litres/100km. That rises to 6.8 litres for the VZx and drops to a combined use of just 1.8 litres for the VZe-plug-in hybrid. The base V has yet to be officially rated but expect somewhere around 6.5 litres.

The 140kW Formentor V uses a frugal 7.0 litres/100km on the combined cycle (given it’s an all-wheel-drive version). That falls by 0.1 of a litre on the front-wheel-drive Formentor VZ, then jumps back up to 7.7 litres/100km for the 228kW VZx, while the VZe is stated to use 1.9 litres/100km.

The 221kW Ateca consumes 7.8 litres/100km on the combined cycle, allowing for the fact the SUV is unapologetically all-wheel drive.

 

Cupra's Ateca is a compact SUV loosely based on the Skoda Karoq.
The Ateca is only sold in the high-specification VZx variant in Australia.
The Ateca is fitted with a quality infotainment screen and digital driver's display.

What are the Cupra Formentor, Leon and Ateca like to drive?

We sampled the top-spec Leon, which proved to be the most entertaining drive, if not necessarily the quickest.

Pumping 221kW through the front wheels is always going to be an experience yet the Leon handled predictably and progressively through high-speed corners and tight turns.

It is easily balanced on the throttle, letting the driver adjust the attitude mid-corner with just a slight lift of the right foot and it doesn’t scrabble for grip when you boot it exiting the corner.

In terms of outright entertainment, it’s the most enjoyable car of this trio.

The Formentor was tested in base 140kW and top-spec 228kW guise. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to analyse which was the most enjoyable on track.

There’s a degree of lag on the base model as it responds to right-foot inputs and a natural tendency to want to push wide.

The VZx is better controlled and much more responsive but lacks the outright dynamics of the VW Golf R we tested on the same circuit a week earlier. The lack of rear torque-vectoring and a $10,000 difference in price may help to explain that.

Finally, the top-spec Ateca SUV proved to be a tractable and quick SUV, but it still feels like a high-riding vehicle and leaves you reserving some inputs to account for the extra body roll and more elevated centre of gravity.

Should I buy one?

Short answer is that the Formentor and Leonare good options, with caveats.

The hi-performance variants are accomplished for the cost but don’t match their more expensive VW Group stablemates in terms of outright handling or interior ambience.

The plug-in hybrid versions may prove to be the pick of the bunch, but we need to reserve judgment on those vehicles until they arrive in Australia.

Likewise, it is hard to get a feel for suspension tune until these vehicles have hit our local roads and corrugations.

Initial impressions are that as a first-up effort, Cupra has hit the nail on the head, if not driven it completely in.

 

The information provided is general advice only. Before making any decisions please consider your own circumstances and the Product Disclosure Statement and Target Market Determinations. For copies, visit racv.com.au. As distributor, RACV Insurance Services Pty Ltd AFS Licence No. 230039 receives commission for each policy sold or renewed. Product(s) issued by Insurance Manufacturers of Australia ABN 93 004 208 084 AFS Licence No. 227678.


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