Test Cupra Tavascan – little chili pepper, otherwise salt-free

Finally we can drive the Cupra Tavascan. Spanish cousin of the ID.5.

Almost five years ago, in 2019 at the IAA in Frankfurt, the then newly independent Cupra presented a study model: the Tavascan. Finally the time has come and we can drive the Chinese-produced cousin of the VW ID5, among others. Did he get enough chili to make something nice?

A Cupra, so a sporty SUV?

A Cupra was once the faster, wilder version of a Seat, in 2018 it became an independent brand within the VW group. The emphasis is still on sportiness and the superlative is now the VZ (short for Veloz, Spanish for speed). The abbreviation Cupra stands for Cup Racing. The first real own model is the Formentor, the first EV is the Born, a sister model of the VW ID3. The plan now includes the Raval, a compact, electric SUV and the Terramar, a plug-in hybrid SUV. In the meantime, we wonder what will happen to Seat. The current Leon (which is also supplied under the brand name Cupra) is still quite fresh, the Ibiza is almost at the end of its life cycle. The brand also has the older SUVs Arona, Ateca and slightly younger Tarraco. Last year, Thomas Schäfer, chairman of the board of directors of the VW Group, already indicated that Cupra is the future of Seat. Perhaps Cupra will succeed in becoming Volkswagen’s ‘Alfa Romeo’, something that failed miserably with Seat. Not so long ago, customers were pampered with hot turbo engines and roaring, popping exhausts, but now we’re hitting the road with a dead-quiet SUV that weighs more than two tons.

What makes the Cupra Tavascan different from its electric cousins?

To distinguish the Tavascan appearance from a VW ID5 GTX or Skoda Enyaq Coupé RS, everything has been done and during the welcome talk it cannot be emphasized enough how thoroughly Spanish this Cupra is. This starts with a fairly aggressive-looking front, in line with that of the Born. With the novelty of an illuminated brand logo in the middle, the Cupra tribal. And there is more play with light: the headlights contain three triangles and thus provide a recognizable face. In terms of dimensions, it is almost identical to the aforementioned MEB derivatives. Another striking detail are the A-pillars in high-gloss black and the obligatory copper-colored accents are reflected in the wheels. At the rear we encounter a similar light signature and an illuminated logo there too, as part of a full-width light bar. The bottom of the rear bumper looks like a diffuser and a wiper on the rear window is missing (just like on the ID5 and Enyaq Coupé). But the true experience only starts in the interior. With a rather wild-looking dashboard, lots of copper-colored plastic and the so-called ‘spine’ as an eye-catcher. This muscular-looking spine runs from the dashboard over the center tunnel.

Is the Tavascan interior as beautiful as that of the Formentor?

Only at dusk does the interior reveal its true face, with plenty of ambient lighting, including dozens of small points of light in the doors. The 15-inch screen of the infotainment system is central and is now (optionally) linked to a speaker system from the Sennheiser brand. The sports seat with high backrest is comfortable and extra sporty shell seats will be available at a later stage.

And what is the first driving impression?

We drive the VZ, the fastest version. On the steering wheel there are two round push buttons for the driving modes: on the left a conventional one, the one on the right provides direct access to the ‘Cupra’ mode and if you press it again, everything returns to the last selected mode. We start in ‘Comfort’ and then the Tavascan feels like a normal electric SUV. A bit cumbersome, not overly comfortable and of course quiet. Then scroll through the menus on the big screen to silence all the meddling and sometimes maddening assistance systems. We cruise quietly along the Spanish highway, the Cupra does that well and the rolling noise of the 21-inch tires is not too bad. Meanwhile, the famous intro to ‘Hotel California’ sounds through the 12 speakers and the sound is sparkling, with lots of detail and excellent bass.

But it’s a Cupra, so what if you pedal hard?

So much for relaxed cruising, we leave the highway to head into the hills towards Montserrat. Just press the button with the Cupra tribal with your right thumb and the stiffening of the chassis is immediately noticeable, thanks to the electronic shock absorbers. The response to the power pedal also goes from lazy to hungry. The front engine is now also present and when you suddenly release and then press the steam pedal again, it feels more like an on/off switch. Hard blows go through the drivetrain, it seems like a wild beast has been unleashed. The Tavascan is suddenly extremely aggressive and can no longer be driven in a nuanced manner. Maybe fun in case you are alone on board and feel like really pedaling, but this is no party for your passengers. Fortunately, there is a slightly milder, but also sporty driving mode. With the chassis sharpened, the carriage leans less, but when the bends become sharp and the speed is high, the front tires still throw in the towel.

So a real Cupra?

The high weight takes its toll. We also notice that the brakes are having a hard time. You feel it in the pedal and you smell it when standing still after a rough ride. You can recover using paddles behind the steering wheel in three positions or by turning the direction lever to position B. The Tavascan is a Cupra in name, but as a whole it does not embody the true DNA of the brand. So it is above all a sporty-looking and somewhat salt-free and probably cheaper alternative to the other coupe SUVs on the MEB platform.

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