Niche European brand Cupra is planning to bridge the gap between mainstream and prestige when it arrives Down Under next year. With an emphasis on design and performance, the Volkswagen-owned newcomer will start with three models, each named after parts of Spain, where the brand has its headquarters.
With a small but growing European footprint, Cupra is an offshoot of Seat, which briefly sold cars here in the late 1990s.
It will be backed by the muscle of Volkswagen Group Australia, which looks after Skoda, Audi and Volkswagen locally.
Cupra brand director Ben Wilks says the newcomer is not chasing big sales volumes and mass acceptance.
“We’re not a brand for everybody, we’re not a brand that’s designed to be liked by everyone. We’re a brand that wants to be loved by some.”
The maker will embrace electrification from the start, offering two plug-in hybrid SUVs that can run on electricity alone for up to 60km.
“We’re not a brand that’s anchored in the past,” he says. “We’re not looking towards our history, we’re looking towards our future.”
The brand will use existing engines, underpinnings and components from the Volkswagen Group and the range will include the Leon small hatchback, Ateca compact SUV and Formentor mid-sized crossover.
Cupra will take a different approach to sales, employing customer relations staff called “Cupra masters” to be a single point of contact for buyers.
The maker will create between 10 and 20 stand-alone “outlets”, some of which could be in shopping centres or retail strips. Servicing, parts and after-sales support will be provided by some of the 180-plus Volkswagen Group locations already dotted around the country.
Wilks says distinctive design will be key to Cupra’s appeal.
That includes aggressive bodywork, copper coloured accents inside and out and quality cabin finishes with hi-tech touches including digital screens in front of the driver.
The most affordable model will be the Golf-sized Leon, which should be priced from the low-$40,000 mark. It will be sold with three different four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engines, with choices of 140kW, 180kW and 221kW outputs. Each will drive the front wheels. The Leon will also be offered as a plug-in hybrid with 180kW. The Ateca compact SUV will be a single model with a 221kW four-cylinder turbo driving all four wheels.
The larger Formentor is likely to be the best-selling model. It already accounts for two-thirds of Cupra’s global sales and will be offered with 140kW and 228kW four-cylinder turbos driving the front wheels. A 180kW version will drive only the front wheels. The Formentor will also be sold as a 180kW plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV).
That model will be the most expensive in the nine-strong range, starting at more than $60,000. Beyond that, the brand will be looking to introduce electric models, the first of which will be the Born, which is based on the Volkswagen ID 3.
By 2024 the Tavascan electric SUV will also be available and Wilks says the company will know next year if that car will come here. “It’s a car that would be hugely valuable for us.”