Cupra has capitalised on the Born’s rear-wheel drive and rear-engined EV layout, making for an intriguing alternative to the VW ID.3
This is where it gets serious for Cupra. The embryonic Spanish brand may already refer to its superhero-esque copper badge as ‘iconic’, which seems a tad presumptuous given the timeframe since its birth four years ago, but after spreading its wings away from SEAT with the unique-to-the-brand Formentor crossover, it’s jumped to the sharp and fast-moving end of the new car market with this, the Born, an EV hot hatch based on the VW group’s MEB platform. It is Cupra’s ID.3. But hopefully better than the VW damp squib.
You could probably have figured that out from looking at it, for despite the Cupra design touches the overall shape and proportions are tied closely to its VW twin; compact overall, if rather tall. Nevertheless, that’s not to say that the Born is dull, because it certainly attracts attention on the road – it’s quite obviously not an internal combustion engined car, and probably all the better for it.
Under that skin lie the MEB fundamentals. There’s an electric motor mounted within the rear axle, and battery pack under the floor, making it rear-wheel drive. Four ‘powertrain’ options are offered. The entry level model is a 148bhp with a 45kWh battery, good for a claimed 211-mile range but won’t be coming to the UK, then two models that use a 58kWh battery, one with 201bhp, the other with 228bhp courtesy of an overboost function under full throttle that isn’t available on the VW. Both of these variants provide a claimed 260 mile range. Finally, there’s another 228bhp model with a larger – and heavier – 77kWh battery, which extends the range to 335 miles. All models, regardless of power or battery size, produce a maximum torque of 229lb ft.
Performance is pretty even across the board. The 203BHP 58kW battery car reaches 60mph in 7.3-seconds, the 230bhp 58kW e-Boost shaves seven-tenths from that time with the larger 230bhp 77kWh e-Boost battery model taking 7-seconds to reach 62mph.
Climb into a Born and that sense of driving something fundamentally different continues. MEB enables generous interior space for the overall footprint, but unlike the ID.3 the Born’s cabin is a cosier, sportier place to be, with a high central tunnel offering voluminous storage and some interesting recycled fabrics in use. There’s less headroom in the back compared to the VW.
Click here for our Volkswagen ID.3 review
The drive selector is a rotary controller off one side of the drivers display, and a twist into D (or B if you want the regen braking effect) is all that’s required to get the car moving. Like any EV, driving the Born is simplicity itself, with much of the driving done simply with the accelerator pedal, and the simple driver’s display directly ahead reflects this: speed, range – these are the crucial bits of information these days.
It’s quiet, fuss free, and there’s that whack of torque on tap, instantly, just when you need it. In fact, you soon learn that drilling every gap with a burst of it is unnecessary (and does no favours for the range), so utilising some restraint soon feels natural. The steering is light, feedback-free, yet precise, and can be made a little heavier and slightly more connected just off-centre by switching up the driver modes, or alternatively selecting the Individual mode and tailoring steering, ‘engine’ and other attributes. If the car doesn’t have the DCC adaptive damping then the ride feels composed, insulating the occupants from poor surfaces, at least on the largely smooth roads where we’ve driven it so far. However, start to lean on the Born’s grip and the resulting body roll begins to show, the car triggering its esp setup early to try and keep what is a very heavy (1,700-1,870kg, depending on the battery fitted) machine under control.
Driving a ‘170’ with optional DCC reveals a more sportier side to the Born. The standard car does everything you might want from a daily EV well, but registers very little on any conceivable excitement scale. However, the e-Boost function injects just a little more pep into the Born’s already strong initial acceleration; good for a quick overtake, but even so, as the speeds rise the usual waning in the rate of acceleration is noticeable.
In the smaller battery model without the e-Boost function the performance tails off much earlier, the rate of acceleration hitting an invisible brick wall before you reach the National Speed limit sign, pegging your progress but aiding your range. If you were to venture on track the tail off on acceleration and the 99mph top speed would make you crave a Cupra Leon within a lap.
Having the ability to firm up the damping makes for a car with much improved body control, and one that can be hustled down a good road at surprising pace. The discs are slightly larger on the 170, and need to be, because there’s a lot of mass charging along. Cupra allows an ESP Sport function, and this gives just enough of a clue that there could be some real fun to driving the Born when the wider 235mm tyre option becomes available: with them fitted, Cupra will offer an ‘ESP off’ function. We mention this, because it’s not too hard to provoke the Born into power oversteer – even in the 203bhp 58kWh car, as odd as that sounds – or at least the very beginnings of it, before the stability control drastically attempts to recover the sensation.
In top spec V3 trim 20-inch wheels are standard, and even without active dampers the ride remains impressively compliantly ironing out the low frequency shuffle such a large wheel and tyre package normally induces. There’s one benefit for that portly weight. The other trim levels are V1, which includes 18-inch wheels and enough kit to justify its £34,715 price, and V2 that starts at £36,635 and provides 19-inch wheels, heated seats, head-up display amongst others. V3 trim is available with all three combinations of powertrain, starting at £38,390 for a 58kW 203bhp model and climbing to £41,975 for a 77kW e-Boost V3 model.
Charging times vary depending on the source, but a zero to 100 per cent charge on a 11kW charger will require six hours 15 mins. Find a 135kW charger and you can replenish the battery from five to 80% in 35 mins. Find a 350kW charger and you’ll have 60 miles of range in seven minutes.
Overall the Born is an intriguing mix – a 50:50 weight distribution with all the mass arranged low and centrally gives it definite poise and very neutral handling characteristics, but a rather high up driving position and weight you’d associate from one, if not two classes up also take their toll. Just as with its looks, it feels nothing like a conventional car to drive enthusiastically.
Of all the MEB models we have driven, from Audi’s Q4 e-tron, Skoda’s Enyaq and VW’s ID.3 and 4, the Cupra Born is the most interesting to drive. The one with a small dusting personality and character that elevates it from its family members from being merely an automotive white good to a car.
Prices and rivals
Only the 58kW 203bhp Born is available in all three trim lines: £34,715 for the V1, £36,635 for a V2 and £38,390 if you go for the top spec V3. The 58kW e-Boost models only come in £37,445 V2 or £39,195 V3 trim as do the larger 77kW battery models, which cost £40,215 and £41,975 respectively.
VW’s ID.3, with the same 58kW battery starts from £33,435. Outside of the VW Group it’s still early days for manufacturers producing head to head rivals, at least when it comes to price. If you’re looking at the top of the Born line-up Tesla’s Model 3 starts at £42,500 and Polestar’s new single-motor 2 at £41,900, but offers a far more premium interior.