Cupra is coming!

Cupra is coming!

Off-shoot of the seat brand is headed for OZ promising Audi S model performance for VW money. So what are its chances?


Cupra’s copper-coloured badge packs subtle significance that’s worth spelling out. While copper isn’t in the same league as the precious metals, it’s still valuable, useful stuff. It’s up there on the podium – bronze is mainly copper – but below gold and silver. This symbolises Cupra’s position in the market, between traditional premium brands and the mass-production mainstream, explains a senior brand executive.

The Cupra name also echoes copper’s chemical symbol, Cu, derived from its Latin name of cuprum. No matter that Cupra, pronounced cooprah, is actually a compression of Cup Racing, the designation applied to hot roadgoing models from the Volkswagen Group-owned Spanish brand Seat since the 1990s. Cupra grew out of Seat Sport, the company’s competition and performance car division, and continues to be active in racing.

Copper is highly conductive, and electrification is a big part of Cupra’s present and future. Later this year it will launch the Born, its first pure EV, in Europe. Basically a restyled VW ID.3, it’ll be produced in Germany. It’ll be followed in 2024 by the designed-in- Barcelona Tavascan, another EV also based on VW Group’s MEB platform. In the meantime, plug-in hybrids loom large in Cupra’s model mix.

Almost everything Cupra currently has in production will head to Australia for its planned second-quarter 2022 launch; the Leon hatch, Ateca small SUV and the Formentor compact crossover. The only thing missing, compared to Europe, is the long-wheel-base wagon version of the Leon. In production only since late 2020, the Formentor is the freshest Cupra model of them all. It’s also the most popular by miles, accounting for two-thirds of the brand’s rather modest current sales; only 27,400 in 2020, but growing strongly this year.

Around 40 percent of Formentor sales in Europe are the front-drive plug-in hybrid versions. Only the more powerful 180kW PHEV will make it to Australia, along with 140kW, 180kW and 228kW purely ICE-powered variants, all with seven-speed DSG transmissions and all-wheel drive. The 228kW Formentor, likely to top the line-up in Australia at around $60,000, is a lively and engaging drive.

Its engine is the VW Group’s EA888 turbo 2.0-litre four so familiar to Golf GTI fans, with the same level of tune as in the latest Audi S3.

On challenging roads in the hills west of Barcelona, the top Formentor’s drivetrain delivered the kind of cracking performance its sharp-creased styling promises. The firm chassis set-up certainly favours handling over comfort. Its interior is decently roomy, even in the rear, despite its long-nosed proportions. Least costly of the Cupra line-up for Australia will be the Leon hatch, which launched globally in early 2020. It’s essentially a Golf Mk8 with flamboyant Spanish style.

There will be a plug-in hybrid, with the same 180kW maximum system output, turbo 1.4-litre four and six-speed DSG as in the Formentor, plus 140kW, 180kW and 221kW turbo 2.0-litre ICE-powered variants. Expect the least powerful of these to be priced around $40,000. All Leons will be front-drive only.

While even the 180kW Leon is a properly feisty hot hatch, its very firm suspension calibration seems likely to make it a rough rider on Australian roads. Still, such shortcomings haven’t stopped other cars like this succeeding.

Unlike the Formentor and Leon, the Ateca isn’t produced in Seat’s big Martorell factory outside Barcelona. It’s a close relative of the Skoda Karoq, and rolls off the same assembly line in the Czech Republic. The Ateca shares its roof, door and core body structure stampings with the Skoda SUV. It was launched as a Cupra in 2018.

Only the 221kW version of the Ateca will head to Australia, equipped with a seven-speed DSG and all-wheel drive. Although its interior design is a little dated compared with the other current Cupras, the hot Ateca has lots of grip, grunt and a very well-sorted chassis. It should work very well on typical Aussie roads.

Cupra’s basic brand proposition is performance and tech up to Audi S model levels for little more than VW money, with a dash of Mediterranean flair. The appeal is obvious, but...

Australia is a graveyard for synthetic brands like Cupra, the result of business plans and marketing strategies. Toyota’s Lexus is perhaps the only one to have succeeded. Nissan’s Infiniti failed here not once, but twice. Citroen’s DS sub-brand flopped. Mazda halfheartedly tried to make upmarket Eunos work as a sub-brand in the 1990s and that didn’t work either.

Parent Seat hopes Cupra will be the route for the brand to go global in a modest but profi table way. In Cupra’s favour is that it’s ultimately backed by the might of the VW Group, like Toyota a deep-pocketed giant of the global car industry. But history shows that establishing the copper-coloured Cupra badge in Australia will be somewhere between very difficult and impossible.

Electrification is a big part of Cupra’s present and future

We won’t get this


DAMN FORMENTOR VZ5 NOT FOR THE

Most exciting model so far from Cupra won’t be heading to Australia. It’s the new Formentor VZ5, powered by Audi’s trademark in-line five-cylinder engine. For the Cupra it’s tuned to deliver 287kW, only a fraction less than in the RS3. With a torque-vectoring rear differential, drift mode, big brakes and a capable chassis, it’s a hoot to drive. But Cupra will produce only 7000 VZ5s, and they’ll all be sold before the brand reaches Australia.

Copper is Cupra’s significant signature. It’s seen inside and out as an accent colour for everything from air-vent surrounds to exhaust tips.


CIRCUIT ELECTRICS

Cupra’s past, as Seat Sport, is full of competition success: in WRC, BTCC, ETCC and WTCC. Though the brand’s Leon TCR still competes in WTCC, the racing emphasis has lately shifted away from noisy ICE-powered machinery. With EVs at the core of Cupra’s future, the brand competes in both Extreme E and, with its Leon-based Cupra e-Racer, in the new Pure ETCR series.

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