The Cupra's Split Personality

  • The Cupra's character can be changed at the press of a button
  • It can be a fairly fuel-efficient family car or a hell-raising hot hatch
  • We've been exploring the different modes - which suits us?

The Cupra has a button on the dashboard that you can see above, and it does some very interesting things.

A relatively new trend in modern cars is the inclusion of what’s called ‘adaptive dynamics’. These adjust the car’s overall character by tweaking factors that affect the way it drives.

On the Seat Drive Profile system installed on the Cupra there’s a huge amount to tweak. Factors you can change include the suspension’s firmness, the weighting of the steering, the engine and gearbox response, the air conditioning performance, the differential lock, the cruise control and even the adaptive headlights.

You can pick from three set-ups that the firm has dialled in for you – Comfort, Sport and Cupra - plus there’s an Individual setting which allows you to customise the car to your tastes. You push the button once to open up the menu on the touchscreen, then select the mode you require by either touching the screen or toggling through using the button.

I’ve done a lot of work evaluating the various parameters and deciding on my own personal specification. For longer journeys you’d think it makes sense to be in Comfort mode, where the suspension is softer, the steering lighter and the powertrain not quite as responsive. It still goes quickly if you bury your right foot, but it isn’t as sharp to respond as you may expect.

For me that became a problem after a while. I like the car to go when I ask it to, and learning to drive around this issue isn’t easy since you have to predict what’s going to happen next. One answer is to move the car into a sportier set-up, but that comes with its own penalties.

The main issues with driving around in Sport or Cupra mode are these: the ride quality gets far harsher and the fuel economy goes through the floor. While the former is to be expected in a performance car, its disappointing the latter is so drastically affected. 

Actually, I prefer driving it around in Cupra mode for the most part. You’re reminded constantly that you’re driving something quick since the exhaust note is a lot sportier, and it feels infinitely capable.

The suspension setting is confidence-inspiring and it’s so fast that you struggle to get near the limits of the car on the open road. Luckily, my colleague James Taylor has also driven the Cupra on a race track so we already know what it’s like when the gloves are off.

At lower speeds you simply don’t want to be in Cupra mode, though. It’s far too uncomfortable over speed bumps and it’s very jerky to drive thanks to the throttle response and the gearbox holding onto gears.

I can’t get my head around the Sport setting either though. It’s a half-way house which doesn’t seem to solve any of the problems above, so I find I’m using this setting the least.

My Individual set-up is still under some debate. I’ve set everything as per Comfort except the differential lock and the steering, with the aim that I should have a car I can live with day-to-day yet still drive in a spirited fashion on my favourite B-road.

The only disappointment here is that you can’t alter the throttle and gearbox response separate from the exhaust note; I’d like it to sound a bit nicer but I don’t want the jerkiness.

In this respect the Cupra has surprised me. I was expecting to find an Individual set-up and stick with it, but instead I’ve found myself using the button a lot. I alternate between Comfort and Cupra depending on the sort of driving I’m doing and of course who else is in the car with me.

This is possible because when you swap modes, the changes happen almost instantaneously. I suspect you could tweak it on a corner-by-corner basis if you wanted to, though we’d suggest keeping your eyes on the road is probably a safer way to go about.

With that in mind my only real criticism of this system is the button. It’s quite a reach away from the driver and I’ve found myself wishing it was placed on the steering wheel or by the gear lever as on other marques’ machines.

Mileage: 3,300

Fuel economy: 22.5mpg