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Driving the Scotland NC500 route in the Cupra Formentor

by Staff

2023 Cupra Formentor

The Cupra Formentor is the brands crossover SUV. It features the same ride height and similar underpinnings of the Cupra Ateca, except with a sloping roofline. It shares VW’s MQB A1 platform with the North American VW Taos.

Trim
V73

Model
Formentor

Engine/Motor
2.0L TSI I-4

Horsepower
306 @ 5,450 RPM

Torque
295 LB-FT @ 2,000 RPM

Drivetrain
Front Engine, AWD

Transmission
7-Speed DCT

MSRP
£47,843 ($60,621)

0-60 MPH
4.7 Seconds

Pros

  • Stylish and attractive looks
  • Practical enough for family life
  • Fun to drive
  • Intuitive adaptive cruise control
  • Great build quality
Cons

  • Hard to use infotainment system
  • Boot space is limited compared to rivals
  • Touch-sensitive climate control system is frustrating
  • Not a lot of value offered in the VZ3 trim over the VZ2
  • Not the best fuel economy

Volkswagen has several global brands that it doesn’t sell in North America, including Cupra, which confusingly parted ways with Seat to become a separate performance-oriented brand in 2018. However, VW has started testing the waters to gauge interest in bringing the brand across the Atlantic, so we thought that was enough of an excuse to take a road trip in a current model.


There are some great routes around the world, and if you love driving, then you’ll surely have at least one road trip on your bucket list. The road trip that I was fortunate to drive is set in a country that is known for its rallying heritage; the famous Scotland North Coast 500 route. Dubbed one of the best road trips in the world, the 500-mile NC500 incorporates winding A-roads, scenic coastal roads, and historic sites. Think of it as the greatest hits of Scotland connected together by a ribbon of tarmac.

I had the Cupra Formentor for the trip, with a 310 PS 2.0-liter TSI engine and a DSG-auto transmission and four-wheel-drive in VZ3 trim. Sharing the MQB A1 with the VW Taos, it is an ideal companion in this vast landscape, capable of tackling the trip with ease. For most of the journey, the engine is quiet and refined, but when called upon it can turn into a competent beast, delivering thrills by the mile. Zero-60 MPH is dispatched in under five seconds.


The Scotland NC500 Has Increased Tourism In The Region

The NC500 is a circular route around the Scottish highlands. While the exact route is often disputed, the most accepted one is 516 miles, which starts and ends at Inverness Castle. In 2015, the Tourism Project Board of the North Highland Initiative (NHI) launched a scheme to increase tourism in the area, marketing the route as the NC500. I’m sure the NC516 wouldn’t have the same ring to it. The NC500 is sometimes referred to as “Scotland’s Route 66.”

Since then, tourism has increased in the region with over 29,000 visitors in the first year. The route is not just popular for motorized vehicles either, as many visitors will try to cycle or even run the entire journey. Now Travel Magazine has listed the NC500 in the “Top 5 Coastal Routes in the World.” Since the NC500 has been so popular, it has caused other routes to be launched in and across Scotland, like the South West Coastal 300 (SWC300) and the Heart 200. Despite this, the NC500 remains one of the most popular road trip destinations in the world.

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Cupra Formentor
Naveed Hussain / Hotcars

Once known as SEAT Sport, Cupra Racing was formed in 1985 to increase the brand’s participation in rally championships, but since 2018, Cupra has been a standalone brand, producing premium versions of SEAT vehicles alongside some exclusive models. The racing arm is currently known as Cupra Racing.

The most popular Cupra model is the Formentor, which boasts an attractive modern design. The entire car has sharp features like the sculpted bonnet and bodywork to signify a performance pedigree. There’s a feeling that the design is familiar but fresh, a reflection of the edgy brand that seems to be going through a disruptive design phase. Whatever they’re doing seems to be working as sales are booming.

Cupra Formentor Engines And Trim Levels

There are several engines and trim levels to choose from, starting at the 1.5 TSI in the entry-level V1 spec that comes with 158 horsepower. At the higher end of the performance food chain sits my 306 horsepower VZ3 2.0 TSI DGS-auto. Before you part with that much cash, you’ll want to know what you’re getting. The VZ3 spec benefits from Brembo brakes, sports suspension, and 19-inch “Exclusive” copper/black alloy wheels. You also get features like 12-inch touchscreen navigation, heated steering wheel, and digital cockpit. There’s also a VZ5 model available in some European markets with a 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine good for 385 horesepower.

Cupra Formentor VZ3 Specifications

Power

306 HP

Top Speed

155 MPH

0-60 MPH

4.7 Seconds

Torque

295 LB-FT

Price

From around $56,000

Comfort And Practicality

Cupra doesn’t currently offer any of their vehicles in the North American market, but there has long been speculation that they are planning an expansion to US shores. Cupra later confirmed that they are planning to sell cars to American buyers, and initial tests have been very promising and very positive, according to Cupra’s CEO, Wayne Griffiths. Newer Cupra models like the Terramar and the Tavascan, which have only recently been revealed and are not yet available to buy, are likely to be the first Cupra models available in America. Both cars are fully electric SUVs.

The interior feels notably premium, with a variety of materials that feel nice to touch, and plenty of bronze trim—a CUPRA staple. The Formentor’s infotainment system is where it falls: Its touch sensitive controls aren’t very sensitive, and can be frustrating to use. Thankfully, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto mean the entire experience isn’t all that bad.

There’s even ambient lighting, which includes a light bar that extends across the dashboard through to the front door cards. This wraparound interior light acts as a front collision warning light by flashing to warn the driver when an oncoming hazard is detected, or a lane departure warning system that glows orange when a vehicle is detected in the driver’s blind spot. An elegant touch.

Cupra Formentor V73 Road Trip Highlights

  • The Scotland NC500 is one of the very best road trips in the world.
  • The Cupra Formentor is certainly a worthy car for a road trip.
  • The Cupra brand will soon be available in the North American market, but we’re not sure when.

The premium feel continues in the rear, where two adults can sit comfortably, while a third adult would struggle with space for their feet. Despite the Formentor having a sloping roofline, there’s plenty of headroom. The optional panoramic sunroof gives a great view of the clouds as they pass by. The boot is a respectable 14.5 cubic feet, plenty of space for a week’s’ worth of luggage to explore the wilderness.

A Scottish road-trip also demands a vehicle with decent fuel economy and the Formentor, according to CUPRA, delivers 32.1 – 32.8 MPG (WLTP). These figures are easily achievable over the 500 or so mile journey. While these figures aren’t ideal, they are a compromise if you want all of the 306 horsepower.

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The Scotland NC500 road trip is definitely worth considering if you’re looking for road trip ideas.

Cupra Formentor on the NC500 Route
Naveed Hussain / Hotcars

As far as road trips go, the mix of winding coastal roads and impressive mountain tracks means that the NC500 certainly is one of the very best out there. There’s also plenty to see besides the impressive scenery and the stunning roads. The western side of the Scottish highlands features some of the best driving roads in the world. For starters, there’s the Kylesku Bridge, which has been featured in Top Gear and The Grand Tour episodes, alongside the cover of EVO magazines’ 2021 Car of the Year cover.

It doesn’t end there for keen drivers. The Bealach na Bà is a winding road that extends through the mountainous region of the Applecross peninsula. Despite this road only being a single track road, it attracts many visitors due to its impressive views from the top. I recommend visiting Bealach na Bà during off-peak times.

If you’re into castles, then you’re in luck because the NC500 passes several historic castles, including my personal favorite, Dunrobin Castle. It is the largest house in the North of Scotland with 189 rooms, and was once the family seat of the Earl of Sutherland and the Clan Sutherland. It sits on the eastern side of the Scottish highlands in a region known as the Black Isle. Slightly north from the castle is the Duncansby Stacks; a couple of large sea-stacks perched off the coast of the North Sea. Each stack is 60 meters high, standing rigidly against the unpredictable conditions of the sea.

In the northwest corner of the Scottish highlands lies Smoo cave; a unique cave formed by the sea with inner passages as a result of rainwater. The mixture of both means that there aren’t any other caves like Smoo in the whole of the UK. Not far from Smoo is Sango Sands, a beautiful beach with stunning views from the viewpoint.

These are just some of the things that you can find on the NC500 route, as well as impressive waterfalls, beautiful lochs, and even filming locations for some of the world’s most successful movie franchises, such as James Bond and Harry Potter. I am certain that there is something for everyone along the NC500 route.

The Cupra Formentor Is A Good Road Trip Car

Refinement isn’t something that you will have to worry about with the Formentor. After all, Cupra is part of the Volkswagen Group, so there’s plenty of technology that can be borrowed. Engines from the Volkswagen Golf GTI and Golf R are available in the decidedly more handsome Formentor. The styling is modern and leaves little to be desired, and the range of trims means that there’s something for everyone.

The Formentor VZ3 went through a vigorous test of over 1,300 miles, over 47 gallons of fuel, and various weather conditions. It stands mighty as a great all-round car that can do what is required when called upon. It comes with a respectable range of equipment perfect for longer journeys or popping off to the shops. The performance from the 2.0-liter engine means the Formentor never struggled despite the undulations and steep mountainous climbs. In fact, it was enjoyable! The Formentor in Scotland is undoubtedly a trip worth experiencing.

Sources: Cupra and Parkers.

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