Credit where it's due to Cupra, it's moved fast. Just three years since the Ateca arrived, and a couple since we were giggling about Leons with funny copper-coloured badges, the Born is here. This is the car, Cupra believes, that best represents its intentions going forward, a new era for the brand as "electrification and performance are a perfect match." Look at its support for Extreme E (including the recent Tavascan concept) and its 600hp electric Leon touring car for additional proof. Expect more cars like the Born once it's in the UK next year, because Cupra is fully invested in electric.
To that end, this is not simply a VW ID.3 with the badges switched. At least not from the outside. While Cupra's claims of a 'fast silhouette' and 'dynamic attitude' need to be qualified - it's recognisably related to the VW, meaning it looks large and not all that athletic - the Born does a better job than the ID.3 of generating some visual excitement. The 'coast to coast' rear light bar looks smart, as do some of the optional wheel choices and the chunky rear spoiler, all helping to convey a sportier aesthetic than you get with the VW. Which has always been the point of combustion-engined Cupras, of course, so it's nice to see it continuing into the BEV era. The front end perhaps isn't quite as successful, though we're probably neither young nor progressive enough to assess whether the Born is a looker. That it is easily differentiated from the VW is the most important thing.
Built from the electric MEB box of bits that also underpins cars like the ID.4 and Skoda Enyaq, the Born will initially be offered with a 58kWh battery in either 204hp or 231hp outputs. Smaller and larger batteries will come in time, with commensurate reductions and increases on the 424km (263-mile) range. Which all sounds a lot like the VW, you might say, but Cupra has gone to some effort underneath to differentiate them as well. And fitted some really nice bucket seats.
As standard, all Borns ride 15mm lower at the front and 10mm at the rear than an ID.3, using a bespoke tune for the DCC dampers, progressive steering and ESC. There are interesting options, too, including a brake upgrade and a 20mm wider (235-section) performance tyre. Opt for the latter and the Cupra Born's ESC can be fully deactivated, too. Which doesn't say all that much for the standard low rolling resistance Goodyear (215-section at each corner in our case, with up to a 20-inch wheel) but, again, it's nice to know the choice is there.
Which makes the Born's unerring similarity to the ID.3 as perplexing as it is disappointing. It ought to feel different given the changes made. Perhaps a test of a fully optioned-up Cupra, or a direct comparison with the VW, would be more revealing, but on this test they're near enough impossible to tell apart. Which is hardly an awful result; it means the Born rides very nicely even on its biggest wheels (in Spain at least), and in its most aggressive 'Cupra' drive mode adds a sensible amount of weight to the steering, encouraging you to take advantage of its inevitably well-balanced mass and super-accurate throttle pedal. But the Born's ID.3 impersonation even extends to a slightly sticky brake pedal and very cautious ESC. If nothing else, you'd think Cupra would've wanted to smooth out the earlier car's wrinkles.
Perhaps that's too much to expect. Fast VWs and Cupras have always been closely linked, right back to the earliest days of Golf GTIs and hot Leons. Shared EV architecture is probably not going to lend itself to distinctiveness, and Cupra is likely counting on its various visual tweaks to help buyers tell the models apart. Nevertheless, a few well-chosen additional touches would surely have elevated the customer experience. Some augmented noise, for instance, or paddles to adjust the regenerative braking (like a Honda e), rather than just the single drive selector. Alcantara on the wheel and not just the dash always makes a difference, and a shortcut ESC button (as found on the Cupra Leons but missing from the GTI) would all have contributed to a better sense of driver focus without going overboard. Heck, even a Cupra mode that was super stiff would mark the Born out as different.
Unsurprisingly, the shared interior architecture doesn't do it any favours either. Even with those very fine seats (trimmed in sustainably sourced materials, of course), there aren't many noteworthy improvements. Instead the ID.3's shortcomings are carried over: the screen isn't as responsive or as intuitive as it should be, some of the plastics are sub-par and the display for important stuff like speed and range is too small. And the infuriating driver assist tech is hard to deactivate. Perhaps with familiarity comes acceptance - though suffice it to say it doesn't make for a favourable first impression, in this, Cupra's first EV.
None of this thwarts the bottom line; there's a very worthy battery-powered car under the Born. On this test there wasn't an opportunity to eke out every last mile of range or sample charging firsthand, but as a driving experience the car is hard to find significant fault with beyond its familiarity. After all it does everything you might reasonably expect a £35k EV to do, plus a little more on top. It's fast enough, handles tidily and is super refined on longer trips. It's also cavernous inside. But aside from some design flourishes, the Born doesn't deliver on the excitement which is supposedly a key signifier of the Cupra brand. Perhaps with the dynamic options added it might flourish. As is, without knowing precisely what it will cost in the UK, the styling - and those seats - make the Born subjectively preferable to the equivalent ID.3. But for all the advantages of arriving on the scene early, this is no reinvention of the hot hatch. Not by a margin.
SPECIFICATION | 2022 CUPRA BORN
Engine: Electric motor powered by 58kWh battery
Transmission: Direct drive single speed gearbox, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 231
Torque (lb ft): 229
0-62mph: 6.6 seconds
Top speed: 99mph
Weight: c. 1,800kg (est.)
CO2: 0g/km (driving)
MPG: 263 miles (WLTP)
Price: TBC, on sale Q1 2022
1 / 13