As far as hot hatches go, I’d call myself a bit of an afficionado. Having owned the staple Golf GTI as well as something as far afield as an Alfa Romeo 147 GTA, my claim isn’t unfounded. The particular category of car is an important one to me as it is the very lifeblood of performance motoring in many ways. The hot hatch is both practical as well as performance orientated but in such a way that its limits can be explored on a good back road rather than a high speed track, affordable too!
They embody a certain fun loving driving characteristic, something which I have found lacking in the unemotional and rather soulless world of electric vehicles. However, enter the Cupra Born. The creation of a brand that is dedicated to driving enjoyment and style, can this ‘electric hot hatch’ embody Cupra’s characteristics while still offering an EV experience?
Full disclosure, after spending the last three weeks behind the respective wheels of the Leon V, Formentor VZ Tribe Edition and Leon V Sports Tourer, the Cupra brand has grown on me significantly. All three cars demonstrated individuality not only in styling but also in driving characteristics and I enjoyed all three in different ways. All of them were petrol powered though with the two Leons including mild-hybrid tech.
The Born is different. It is the first fully electric production vehicle from the house of Cupra. My review car in particular was the V+ model which is the range topper so it added some more niceties too and a better range. Speaking of ranges, the Born hails from Volkswagen Group family, sharing a particular likeness with the Volkswagen ID.3.
Though as you can see from the photos, the underpinnings might be similar to the ID.3 but not the styling. That’s where Cupra have excelled in creating differentiation for the brand, one look at the Born and those in the know will be aware of exactly what brand it belongs to. Never mind the big stickers on the side that say “New Cupra Born”! Certainly a striking car to look at, the Born blends a sharp design with hatchback proportions to give it a unique stance. This Quasar Grey colour complemented the lines well but my pick would have to be the gorgeous Aurora Blue shade, it makes for an excellent combination with the Copper accented 19inch ‘Typhoon’ wheels.
4.3m long and 1.5m tall dimensionally, it is slightly larger than the average hatch but an intelligently designed set of lines give it a hunkered down look. Don’t forget the cherry on the Cupra cake which arrives in the form of the rear light bar, always an eye catching feature!
Speaking of eye catching, there’s isn’t actually that much to catch the eye on the interior. The layout is as minimalist as can be. The driver’s interaction with the car is restricted to the touch screen and steering wheel controls for the most part. That then leaves room for plenty of storage space in the centre console area where several coverable spaces are located. All framed in the signature Cupra Copper of course!
Speaking of frames, there’s something rather unique attached to the frame of the instrument cluster and that is the gear selector! A trait of the VW I.D family, the Born shares the same integration of the shifter on side of the drivers display screen. It’s convenient in the way that it frees up space in the centre console but not so convenient when you want to actively switch between ‘D’ (Drive) and ‘B’ (regen braking mode).
The other feature that takes a bit of getting used to is the ON/OFF function because the car turns on as soon as you step inside with the key, foot on the brake and it’s ready to drive. Once you’re done driving, pop into ‘P’ (Park), step outside and the car is off! For those less comfortable with this, there is a button on the steering column to assist. Speaking of assist, the Born will help out with range conservation wherever possible. I noticed the air conditioning will only activate dual zone if there is a passenger in the seat, otherwise it is turned off.
The suite of safety systems is equally intelligent with ‘Adaptive Cruise Control’ working particularly well, although the steering wheel mounted touch capacitive buttons can make some of the adjustments a bit tricky. Though the buttons are about the only gripe one can have with the steering wheel as they are normally a highlight of any Cupra. The weight feels good and certainly encourages dynamic driving in the ‘Sport’ and ‘Cupra’ modes while the steering lightens up when either ‘Range’ or ‘Comfort’ is desired. The forecasted range also adapts accordingly to the changing drive modes.
The range of drive modes changes the characteristics quite a bit with ‘Cupra’ mode sharpening up the throttle response, regen braking, steering and so on. While ‘Range’ mode tends to relax all of these, allowing for the car to roll along in a much smoother way. Speaking of which, letting go of the accelerator, lets the car coast but it does so in an unnatural sort of way, barely loosing speed in the process! The sensation can be compared to coasting in ‘Neutral’ in an ICE powered car.
When you do want to use the accelerator, there is plenty to poke at. 170kW of power, 310Nm of torque mean that this 1.9 tonne car can hit 100kph in 7 seconds! It’s not only for hoons though because the Born also rewards efficient driving with an 77kWhr usable (82kWhr total) battery putting up a respectable 548km of WLTP range. With a variety of driving conditions, I found my Born’s predictions to be accurate at 498km on a fully charge.
Charging is quick too with the Born V+ allowing for up to 170kW of DC charging which will make light work of topping up the battery. I had some gripes with the charging during my week with the Born but those are related to the infrastructure and were not the car’s fault, enough said. Returning to the previous point, light work is exactly what the Born makes of corners, the rear wheel drive set-up allowing for fun when the road gets twisty. The incredible 0-50kph time of 2.7s makes for a thrilling drive in a straight line too!
The Cupra Born V+ is an interesting proposition. Yes, it’s Cupra’s first EV and they have done an excellent job in differentiating the car from its VW Group sibling. It was an eye catcher wherever I took it, even in a supermarket carpark where it copped a trolley too. It was as impressive to look it as it was to drive, sprinting through the straights and hugging the corners with gusto. A fun drive all in all but it still lacked that hot hatch engagement that draws me to this category, the engine note and gear changing experience simply cannot be replicated. However, in the electric world, this is as good as hot hatches can be, for now!
2023 Cupra Born V+: 4/5
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Car courtesy of Cupra New Zealand and EMD. Words and photos by Matthew D’Souza.