There are two ways to look at the Cupra Born, the brand’s first dedicated EV, and now on sale in the UK. Objectively it’s as well sorted as might be expected from anything built off VW’s MEB architecture – more on which in a sec – but there’s a whole lot more to discuss from an emotional point of view.
The first way to consider the Born is as any other £ 35k hot hatch. Perhaps that’s not quite fair, but this is a five-door family car that can sprint to 62mph in six and a bit seconds in its most powerful guise, comes with chunky bucket seats, the option of wider, stickier tires and assurances that the engineering effort has “gone to extremes to make sure that the Cupra Born justifies carrying the iconic copper badge.” Battery power or otherwise, it all sounds very hot hatch-y. You can even get big alloy wheels that look a nightmare to clean.
And while it’s short on old-school thrill – obviously the Born doesn’t have any lag, exhaust parps, front wheels scurrying for traction or a rev limiter to reach – the Cupra acquits itself pretty well. Being lower than an ID.3 makes the Cupra feel more immediate, and the standard passive suspension (DCC is optional) actually does an admirable job over testing tarmac, with a slight pay off in low speed driving like a proper pocket rocket. Don’t be surprised to find a Cupra Born keeping up down a B-road, despite what the stats might say, thanks to a telling combination of immediate power, sharp responses and a laudable ability to tack down an M3-rivalling kerbweight.
Nevertheless, details let the Born down. Where the best hot hatches always remind you of their specialness, the Cupra (said to be a “vehicle like no other”, no less) is a bit plain when you aren’t driving it like a stolen golf buggy. As mentioned at launch, it could be enlivened by relatively minor tweaks, little changes to mark it out as a tad more driver focused. If ever a model called for a space-age EV soundtrack, for example, surely it’s the Cupra hot hatch?
Same goes for the regenerative braking – paddles on the wheel to adjust its power, to ‘downshift’ into a corner without going near the pedal, would make the experience more memorable. (And for all the time said to be spent on pedal feel, the Born’s brakes can’t match the best for confidence.) There’s an ESC Sport mode that isn’t all that lenient (at launch we were told the only way to get an ESC Off mode was to pay for the stickier tires) and no clever torque vectoring in the Genesis GV60 mold. Perhaps it’s a tad early for that sort of thing in a £ 35k EV but, once more, in the worthy world of the electric car a sense of humor goes a long way.
Even the hot hatch basics – a set of racy dials and a prominent drive mode selector – are missing here. The driver’s display with speed, range and so on looks like a big alarm clock, and the four settings – Range, Comfort, Performance, Individual, tweaking steering, throttle and so on – are buried away in that maddening touchscreen. You don’t want a delay when the stars align and a good bit of road is free, which is why these things are so often buttons by gear levers or on steering wheels. If these sound like minor qualms, it’s probably because they are – but without much in the way of drivetrain differences going forward it’ll be the small things that mark good EVs out. The Born feels like something of a missed opportunity to really stamp some Cupra identity on a very good base product. Because nice seats can only achieve so much.
The other way of benchmarking the Cupra Born is to be a tad more reasonable. If you like a Civic Type R or a Focus ST Edition, that’s probably going to be the kind of car you’ll want to buy for a little while yet. Instead the Born compares much more favorably – as Ibiza Cupras and Leon Cupras have over the years – with its VW twin. And they were never that much different to Polos or Golfs back in the day. Here’s a car that’s just as powerful as an ID.3, with a much sharper look (a 30mm lower roofline works wonders) and an improved interior that’s also ever so slightly better to drive, too, if memory serves. Seldom in the history of GTI vs. Cupra has the latter felt so much like the default recommendation. No longer will a buyer pay a premium for a V6 engine or a nicer cabin in the VW…
In some ways, then, the Cupra Born is a resounding success. The brand has taken the MEB architecture and created the most interesting vehicle yet from it. But interesting for MEB is still some way short of compelling by any other metric. It does all that’s required, and is more than competitive across the board; problem is the Born lacks much by way of delight for those already sold on EVs, and likely won’t entice conventional hot hatch enthusiasts with its detached driving experience. Maybe a flagship car with the extra power and upgraded tires will help, but don’t count on it. The Cupra Born is a likeable, accomplished electric vehicle, and preferable to an ID.3. But we still await the great leap forward in zero-emission hot hatches.
SPECIFICATION | 2022 CUPRA BORN V3 58kWh 204PS
Engine: Permanent magnet synchronous electric motor powered by 58kWh battery
Transmission: Direct drive single speed gearbox, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 204
Torque (lb ft): 229
0-62mph: 7.3 seconds
Top speed: 99mph
Weight: 1,811-1,934 kg
CO2: 0g / km (driving)
MPG: 261 miles (WLTP), 4 miles per kWh-3.45 mi / kWh
Price: £ 38,390