Track test: Cupra Formentor VZx, Cupra Leon VZx, Cupra Ateca VZx



The Volkswagen-owned Cupra brand is just around the corner with a range of hot hatches and SUVs. Here’s a taste of what’s to come.

Australia’s new-car market is about to get a little more crowded – and buyers will have more choice.

The Spanish Cupra brand – owned by German car giant Volkswagen – is ramping up ahead of Australian showroom arrivals from the middle of this year.

Cupra was the name previously given to high-performance Seat models in Europe.

Four years ago, the company decided to split Cupra into a standalone badge.

The arrival of Cupra in Australia is part of a bold plan to take the brand global.

The theory: if Cupra can gain acceptance in Australia, it can carve a niche in other markets.

While Volkswagen itself has enjoyed record sales locally, it hasn’t always had an easy run with the introduction of other brands from within the group.

Seat was introduced in Australia in 1995 but was axed in 1999 due to weak sales.

The Volkswagen-owned Czech brand Skoda has taken more than a decade to gain momentum here.

Volkswagen’s luxury division Audi has fluctuated over the past 10 years or so and continues to trail Mercedes-Benz and BMW locally. 

Indeed, Audi sales have fallen by more than a third over the past five years.

Against this backdrop, Volkswagen has decided to inject Cupra into the mix.

Cupra Leon VZx
Price From $64,990 drive-away
Engine Turbo 2.0-litre, front-wheel-drive
Output 221kW/400Nm
0-100km/h 5.7 sec (claim) 

If Skoda cars are like Volkswagens but with a bit more space and a few eccentric features, Cupra cars are like Volkswagens but with a bit more power and subtle hints of Lamborghini styling cues.

The three models leading the charge locally are the Cupra Leon hot hatch (which shares its underpinnings with the Volkswagen Golf), the Cupra Ateca small SUV (which shares its underpinnings with the Skoda Karoq), and the Cupra Formentor SUV (which Cupra says is a standalone model not currently shared with other cars in the VW Group).

In a major coup likely to be celebrated inside the Cupra headquarters, the fully electric Cupra Born is due in Australia early next year – well ahead of the Volkswagen ID electric hatch on which it is based.

During a media preview drive we got to sample the three flagship petrol-powered models that will launch the Cupra brand locally, though they will eventually be joined by a mix of plug-in hybrid and fully electric models.

The Cupra Born electric hot hatch was off limits until closer to its showroom arrival.

Cupra Formentor VZx
Price From $66,490 drive-away
Engine Turbo 2.0-litre, all-wheel-drive
Output 228kW/400Nm
0-100km/h 4.9 sec (claim) 

There have been three Cupra Born electric cars in Australia for local testing ahead of production ramp-up later this year.

However, these development vehicles were tangled in cables and computer equipment, so we will need to wait our turn to get behind the wheel. 

Our test drive was limited to a race track because these three overseas models – Cupra Leon, Cupra Ateca, and Cupra Formentor – weren’t certified for local roads.

So while we don’t yet know how these cars handle the bumps and roundabouts of the daily grind, it was a taste of what’s to come.

First up was the Cupra Leon VZx hot hatch priced from $64,990 drive-away.

It’s powered by a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine with VW Golf R outputs (221kW/400Nm)

But there’s a big difference: all that power goes to the front wheels only, rather than via an all-wheel-drive system as in the VW Golf R.

That could explain why the 0 to 100km/h claim is 5.7 seconds rather than 4.9 seconds for the VW Golf R.

On the track it felt lively and had plenty of grip. The brakes could also cop a punishment. Optional Brembo front brakes are available at extra cost ($3600). 

Cupra Ateca VZx
Price  From $65,990 drive-away
Engine Turbo 2.0-litre, all-wheel-drive
Output 221kW/400Nm
0-100km/h 4.9 sec (claim)

The matte paint finish you see in these photos is $2300, versus $475 for metallic paint. A sunroof adds $1800.

There are subtle hints of Lamborghini in the shape of the air-conditioning vents in the cabin, the faux carbon-fibre pattern on the steering wheel airbag cover, and the creased design language on the external bodywork.

Next up was the Cupra Formentor VZx hot SUV, powered by the same turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine as the Leon VZx but with a few extra kilowatts (228kW/400Nm) and all-wheel-drive in a bigger, heavier body.

It’s priced from $66,490 drive-away before options.

The Cupra Formentor VZx has an impressive 0 to 100km/h claim of 4.9 seconds thanks to its all-wheel-drive traction versus the front-drive Cupra Leon VZx (5.7 seconds) – and a slight bump in power from 221kW to 228kW. The torque rating of 400Nm is the same on both cars. 

However, as you might expect, the Cupra Formentor does not have quite the same sharp reflexes in corners as the sleeker and lighter Leon.

It’s fair to say most SUV buyers won’t be putting a Cupra Formentor through its paces on a race track. But it was our first foray into the car.

Cupra Australia says the Formentor has received the most interest of all the models in the launch range.

Track test: Cupra Formentor VZx, Cupra Leon VZx, Cupra Ateca VZx-0

Finally, we got to test what on the surface appears to be the most subdued model in the line-up, the Cupra Ateca VZx.

Its understated appearance is deceiving. This is one quick car.

While there are four model grades in each of the Cupra Leon and Cupra Formentor line-ups, there is just one variant of the Cupra Ateca.

It’s powered by a turbo 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine (221kW/400Nm) paired to all-wheel-drive and, as with the others gathered here, a seven-speed twin clutch auto.

This was the surprise packet of the trio. Compared to the others it felt perky and nimble, even though it’s the oldest of the three cars here.

It’s similar in size to a Skoda Karoq but with a heap more power – and poise. 

Cupra also confirmed the Born electric hot hatch is coming to Australia, though we are yet to sample this model locally.

Production is due to start late this year ahead of showroom arrivals next year.

Track test: Cupra Formentor VZx, Cupra Leon VZx, Cupra Ateca VZx-0

Price is yet to be announced, but Cupra says it hopes to position the electric Born in a similar price range to other hot hatches. 

While we look forward to test driving the Cupra Born electric hot hatch later this year or early next year, we’ve kept our driving impressions on the three launch vehicles brief for now, given it was a track test rather than on real roads.

Nevertheless, the early signs are good, and the ingredients are there. 

Drive will do a more thorough test of the initial Cupra line-up closer to local showroom arrivals.

Joshua Dowling has been a motoring journalist for more than 20 years, spending most of that time working for The Sydney Morning Herald (as motoring editor and one of the early members of the Drive team) and News Corp Australia. He joined CarAdvice / Drive in late 2018, and has been a World Car of the Year judge for 10 years.

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