The new car brand Cupra is rapidly expanding its range

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The VZ models sit a step above the entry-level Cupras, offering more power and larger 19-inch wheels for a premium of around $5500.

A modified version of the Volkswagen Group’s 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder produces 180 kW and 370 Nm, which is 40 kW and 50 Nm more than the base engine.

It’s the same engine that powers Volkswagen’s much-loved Golf GTI.

The Leon VZ we drove costs $56,990 drive-away, although that price is about to increase to $57,490 as Cupra adds a larger 12-inch center touchscreen.

That’s a lot of money for a small car, but the VZ essentially offers hatchback performance for a few thousand less than the GTI, which now costs over $60,000.

The Formentor, which is about the same length as a VW Tiguan but less roomy inside thanks to its sleeker profile, costs $58,490 drive-away.

Both vehicles feel a cut above traditional rivals, with tech-laden cabins, soft-touch materials and ambient lighting with a choice of different hues.

The Formentor has a larger touchscreen than the Leon, but both cars have a 10-inch digital screen that allows drivers to choose from a range of different layouts, from traditional dials and hands to minimalist displays that focus on the essential like speed. .

Buttons and dials are sparse in the cabin, giving a clean, modern look. The downside is that functions such as the climate control are trickier to use because they require the driver to scroll through menus on the touchscreen.

Both of our test cars had a $2,450 “leather and sound” package that included leather trim, heated and power-adjustable front seats with a memory feature, a soft-touch dashboard with copper stitching and a nine-speaker Beats audio system.

A sunroof will set you back an extra $1,800, while premium paint costs an extra $475.

Both cars are technologically well equipped. Along with the large twin screens, there’s a wireless charger, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, satnav and four USB-C ports.

Rear passengers are well taken care of. Legroom is equally generous in both vehicles and passengers have their own climate controls and USB ports.

All the expected active safety technologies are standard, including a warning if you’re about to open the door to passing traffic.

There are also sports supplements for driving enthusiasts. One-piece sport-bucket seats provide good support for tight corners, while paddle shifters on the steering wheels let you manually shift the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic.

Four drive modes are available: Economy, Comfort, Sport and Cupra, which has the most aggressive throttle, exhaust, steering and suspension settings. To tune the suspension for comfort or cornering ability, you adjust a slider in the drive mode menu, choosing from a much wider range of settings than on competing machines.

All of this contributes to an engaging driving experience. On a twisty road, the Leon feels lively and nimble. The dual-clutch auto instinctively selects the right gear for maximum thrust in slow corners, while the engine feels strong across a wide swath of the rev range. The only thing missing is a satisfying exhaust note – even at full throttle the engine feels a little docile.

The Formentor isn’t as light on its feet as the Leon and Cupra says the Leon will sprint from 0-62mph in 6.4 seconds

Both cars are easy enough to live with in the daily grind, although the low-profile 19-inch wheels can occasionally bump over sharper bumps and broken road surfaces. There’s also tire roar on coarser tarmac.

The engine is impressively efficient on the open road. We saw around 6.0 L/100 km on the highway in Leon and a little more for Formentor. Around town, these numbers can turn into double numbers in heavy traffic.

Both cars make a strong impression. Only question mark, pricing, ambitious for a start-up.

CUPRA FORMENTOR VZ DETAILS

PRICE From $58,490 by car

WARRANTY/MAINTENANCE 5 years/unlimited km, free for 3 years

SAFETY 10 airbags, automatic emergency braking, lane keeping and blind spot assist, driver fatigue detection, exit assist

ENGINE 2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbo, 180 kW/370 Nm

THIRST 6.9L/100km

space saver

TRUNK 420 liters

CUPRA LEON VZ DETAILS

PRICE $56,990 by car

WARRANTY/MAINTENANCE 5 years/unlimited km, free for 3 years

SAFETY 10 airbags, automatic emergency braking, lane keeping and blind spot assist, driver fatigue detection, exit assist

ENGINE 2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbo, 180 kW/370 Nm

THIRST 6.7L/100km

space saver

TRUNK 380 liters

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