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Used test: BMW X1 vs Cupra Formentor vs Volvo XC40 interiors

These plug-in hybrid SUVs keep running costs low and, as two-year-old used buys, buying costs reasonable. Which is best? We have the answer...

BMW X1 2022 interior dashboard


Driving position, visibility, build quality, practicality

A key feature of an SUV is its high driving position. To some, that's appealing for the pleasure of staring wistfully over car rooftops at the horizon, while others enjoy the ‘mine’s taller than yours’ one-upmanship. Either way, you’ll love the Volvo XC40 because it’s by far the highest. From the driving seat of the Cupra Formentor you’ll be looking some hatchback drivers squarely in the eye, and the BMW X1 isn’t much loftier.

On the subject of elevation, our road testers are a mix of heights – from 5ft 3in to 6ft 3in – so you could say we represent a good swathe of the population.

The shortest of us found that the Formentor’s driver’s seat dug slightly into the undersides of his thighs. Another, who’s much taller and longer in the body, couldn’t quite see the dials unless the steering wheel was set unnaturally high (all three cars come with wheel height and reach adjustment). The Formentor is the only one with a standard electrically adjustable driver’s seat from new, and we all agreed that it offers the best shoulder support.

Cupra Formentor 2022 interior dashboard

Never mind electric adjustment, the X1 didn't even come with adjustable lumbar support as standard from new, and it’s the only one of the trio not to (it was a £230 option). In addition, its pedals are offset noticeably to the right. On the other hand, it has the most steering wheel reach adjustment, and even our tallest tester could find a good setting with it.

No one had any major complaints about the XC40’s basic driving position. In addition to the adjustable lumbar support, you get an extendable seat squab (which the X1 has too), and its seat was universally acclaimed as the most comfortable on a long journey. The cons? The seat has the least side support when cornering, but that’s a minor gripe.

Best hybrid small SUV 2022 - Volvo XC40 dashboard

The XC40 and Formentor came with digital instrument dials as standard so you can see information such as the sat-nav map directly in front of you.

In the Formentor, you can pick from a number of virtual instrument styles, but, annoyingly, it returns to the default if you bring up the driver assistance menu. That’s not an unusual requirement – it’s how you swap from the cruise control to the speed limiter function, for example. The cruise control/limiter also resets without you asking every time you switch the ignition off, so the Formentor is definitely a bit of a control freak.

If the X1’s analogue dials seem a bit archaic, they’re also the epitome of clarity. We can’t fault its simple dashboard controls, either. They’re all ‘proper’ buttons, while most of the XC40’s features are controlled using the touchscreen.

Still, that’s better than the Formentor, which has some of the air-con controls on the touchscreen, plus touch-sensitive sliders to change the interior temperature. They’re hard to use generally but even more so at night, because they're not illuminated. Can you help us identify just one advantage of having them? Answers on a postcard, please...

BMW X1 xDrive25e 2021 boot

You get a big (12.0in) touchscreen in the Formentor that’s well sited on the dashboard. There’s a lot going on visually, so getting the hang of the operating system takes a bit of time. Once you’ve learned your way around, though, it’s relatively easy to use. The XC40's 9.0in, portrait-oriented touchscreen looks a bit like an iPad, but don’t be fooled, because it’s nowhere near as slick. It can lag as you swipe between screens, and it’ll do the same from time to time when you press an icon. 

The X1 has the best infotainment system here. That’s because as well as being controlled using Amazon Echo voice control or the touchscreen (10.1in if you have an example with the Technology Pack II, 8.8in without it), you can use the dial between the front seats – the least distracting method for the driver.

The Formentor also has the least rear visibility. Its coupé-like rump is more restricted compared with the X1’s squarer rear, and even the XC40’s swept-up rear window line isn’t as inhibiting (although it still blocks your rearward view quite badly).

That said, the Formentor is the only one here with a standard rear-view camera, although all three car have rear parking sensors. The X1 and Formentor had front parking sensors fitted as standard from new, but all three cars are fine for forward visibility. They all have relatively narrow windscreen pillars and it’s possible to judge where their bonnets end from the driver’s seat. All three have LED headlights, too.

Cupra Formentor e-Hybrid 245 2021 boot

The XC40 was the cheapest car here when new, but it doesn’t feel it. It has the most pleasant mixture of interior materials and they’re all fixed down sturdily. The X1 is very good too, with smart metal trims that add a touch of class to go with its high standard of fit and finish. The Formentor is decent, but is let down by the plastic heater vents that flex slightly and the hard plastics of its centre console.

If front leg room is your chief concern, try the X1. It has the most space, followed by the Formentor, and both provide levels of head room that’ll leave you incredulous. Unless you’re way over six feet tall, you’ll fit just fine in the XC40, which, by the way, has the widest interior. It also has huge front door bins that are carpeted to prevent things from rattling around, although none of these cars leaves you short on stowage space for bits and bobs.

Our contenders can all fit six-footers in the back seats, but the Formentor feels the smallest. For a start, you sit lower down than in the other models, and your knees end up closest to the back of the seat in front. There’s a small gap remaining, though.

Volvo XC40 Recharge T4 2021 boot

The X1 has an extra centimetre or so of knee room, but offers the least head room because the rear seats are much higher than the ones in the front. Still, only the tall middle-seat passenger risks brushing the roof, because the central back seat is even higher. On the plus side, the X1 has the lowest central floor hump, so it’s easy to slide across to the middle seat.

The XC40 has the best rear accommodation. It has by far the most head room, as well as the best leg room (although only just, compared with the X1), and the most foot space under its front seats. As the broadest car here, it’s the best for carrying three in the back.

Points for seating flexibility go to the X1. It’s the only one with reclining rear seats and the seatbacks fold in a 40/20/40 split for greater flexibility than the 60/40 arrangement in the other two. The Formentor and XC40 have a ski hatch as compensation. Helpfully, you can drop the Formentor’s rear seatbacks using handles in the boot, whereas the others require you to go around to the rear doors to unlatch the seats.

What about the boots themselves? Well, the Cupra Formentor boot is the only one with a noticeable loading lip, and it’s the smallest. It can hold just five carry-on suitcases below the parcel shelf, and there’s no underfloor storage for the charging cables, so they take up boot space. There’s room for the charging cables under the BMW X1 boot floor, as there is in the Volvo XC40 (even if the optional spare wheel was fitted from new), and both cars can swallow seven carry-on cases in their main boot compartment.

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