Cupra Born 2021 review – has VW’s MEB platform finally delivered a driver’s car?
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, but after spreading its wings away from SEAT with the unique-to-the-brand Formentor crossover, now it jumps to the sharp and fast-moving end of the new car market with this, the Born, an EV based on the VW group’s MEB platform. It is Cupra’s ID.3.
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 above the rear axle, and battery pack under the floor, with 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, 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 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.
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 ID3 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.
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 wadge 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.
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. I mention that, because it’s not too hard to provoke the Born into power oversteer, as odd as that sounds – or at least the very beginnings of it, before the stability control drastically attempts to recover the sensation.
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 that extreme weight also take their toll. Just as with its looks, it feels nothing like a conventional car to drive enthusiastically.
Charging times vary according to the source, but on a typical 7kW home wall box the different battery sizes would take from just over seven to just over 12 hours; rapid charging from 10-80% with 100kW is as low as 26 minutes (for the 45kWh battery).
Prices and rivals
Cupra won’t release pricing until the final quarter of 2021, but you can expect a small increase over VW ID.3 models, the range possibly starting from around £32,000. In such a new market the Born really doesn’t have much in the way of rivals.