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Cupra’s first EV looks rather like a Volkswagen ID 3. Is the difference in the driving?

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With ever-increasing pressure on car manufacturers to meet ZEV mandate requirements and sell electric cars in greater and greater numbers, the competition in the affordable EV niche only gets fiercer. And that's the segment where the Cupra Born has been seeking to carve out an existence since its introduction in 2021, when it became the emergent Cupra brand's first electric model.

Over its first three years on sale, this car's model offering has already grown a fair bit. Cupra introduced more powerful e-Boost models not long after its launch cars, in 2022; and it has just added the Cupra Born VZ hot hatchback performance version as well.

Entry-level Borns get 18in wheels, V2 trim upgrades to 19s and V3 cars have 20in items, while 227bhp cars have the option of two alternative 20in designs. The intricate design with plastic inserts neatly hides the small front disc brakes and rear drums.

The Cupra brand has existed since the 1990s as Seat’s performance brand. Its marketing doesn’t mention it very often any more, but the name is actually a contraction of cup and racing, to reference Seat’s activity in rallying with the Seat Ibiza kit car in the 1990s. Today’s Cupra still serves to make performance versions of Seats, but its remit has widened to be a sportier, sub-Audi premium brand, offering models you won't find with Seat badges.

It’s getting rather crowded within the Volkswagen Group, though, so Cupra really needs an identity of its own. It started forging that personality with the Formentor, but its second model, the electric Born, bears an uncanny resemblance to the Volkswagen ID 3. Does the Born sufficiently differentiate itself from the VW, then; and what does it tell us about what Cupra stands for? Read on to find out, with the help of a high-spec 201bhp version.

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The Cupra Born line-up at a glance

Cupra offers two battery sizes in the UK. On versions with the smaller battery, it is possible to get the more powerful e-Boost motor as an option. The more powerful motor is standard on bigger-battery Borns.

There are three trim levels, simply named V1, V2 and V3. Getting the more powerful motor automatically bumps you up to V2.

VersionPower
Cupra Born 58kWh*201bhp
Cupra Born 58kWh e-Boost227bhp
Cupra Born 77kWh e-Boost227bhp
Cupra Born VZ 79kWh322bhp

*Model tested

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Cupra Born

DESIGN & STYLING

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cupra born review 2024 02 side panning

That the Cupra Born looks so similar to the VW ID 3 is unsurprising, and somewhat disappointing. Like its German relation, it is based on the shared MEB electric architecture. The platform has been around for a few years now, but VW Group brands have been struggling to give the cars based on it a distinct identity. The larger VW ID 4, Skoda Enyaq iV and Audi Q4 E-tron all have a similar silhouettes also.

It is an issue the designers have acknowledged, and they have promised the supermini-sized Cupra UrbanRebel will look “radically different” from its VW and Skoda siblings. But that’s not due until 2025.

It wouldn’t be the 2020s without new cars with obligatory rear light bars, and their brands spelled out on the rear hatch. The Cupra badge doubles as the boot release – a trick that Volkswagens have employed for a long time.

The Born itself has had a remarkably long gestation period. It was originally shown as the Seat El-Born Concept at the 2019 Geneva motor show, where it was announced it would go in sale in 2020. Then the top brass decided the El-Born and Formentor should become Cupras to help launch the brand, and then the pandemic and ensuing chip shortage happened, causing even more delays. 

So what is actually different from the ID 3 here? At first glance, certainly not the car's overall shape. While every other Seat and Cupra is built at Seat’s headquarters in Martorell, the Born is made alongside the ID 3 in Zwickau. Mechanically, not much is different either, aside from forgoing the VW’s entry-level battery and motor combinations.

There are now three battery sizes and three motor outputs available: 58kWh (62kWh total capacity) and 77kWh (82kWh) in the regular model, and 79kWh (84kWh) in the VZ. The smallest battery can be specified with either 201bhp or 227bhp, while the middle-sized one always comes with the more powerful e-Boost motor.

Even its most powerful motor, the Cupra Born VZ gets an official WLTP electric range stretched to 366-372 miles. That’s better than the Kia Niro EV and up there with the Polestar 2.

As with all MEB cars, the main drive motor is at the back. Right now, all Borns drive their rear wheels only, but a four-wheel-drive ID 3 is reportedly in development; so a similar Born could follow.

We are testing the 58kWh version with the 201bhp motor. It tipped Millbrook’s scales at 1794kg, 37kg more than the ID 3 we tested last year, but quite a lot lighter than the Mercedes-Benz EQA, which uses an adapted combustion-engine platform. Suspension-wise, it is the familiar recipe of MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link rear.

INTERIOR

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cupra born review 2024 08 interior

The first area where the Cupra Born makes a really clear case to pick it over an ID3 is in the interior.

On a fundamental level, much is still a little too similar to what you'd find in the VW. The Born has the same minimal digital gauge cluster that is mounted on the steering column and is fused with the BMW i3-style gear selector that also features in VW’s EVs. It works but feels a bit mean and plasticky. 

There’s no need for a transmission tunnel, yet the centre console is oddly tall, and the storage bins are not that deep. Other EVs make better use of this space.

Also reminiscent of VW EVs – in a bad way – is the centre screen and the touch-sensitive slider controls that make for slightly frustrating usability.

The Cupra is a cut above the VW in terms of material quality, however. The door cappings remain plastic, but there are more soft-touch materials dotted around the cabin, and the textured silver trim pieces lend some interest to what could otherwise be a featureless dashboard.

In line with Cupra’s sportier positioning, all Borns get sports seats. The seats in lower-grade cars are upholstered in black cloth that is made from plastic litter reclaimed from beaches. Top-trim V3 models like our test car get Dinamica microfibre, which is made from recycled plastics but feels very plush.

Since no space has to be reserved for an engine, the car’s footprint can be used more efficiently for passengers and luggage. Indeed, the rear leg room in the Cupra in very impressive indeed, equalling that of a BMW 5 Series. The bench isn’t set too low either, benefiting the seating position and preserving a decent amount of head room. 

Space in the boot isn’t quite as impressive, because there’s a battery pack under the floor, but at 385 litres it’s still on a par with a VW Golf. Unfortunately, a false boot floor, to create a flat load space when the rear seats are folded and to hide the charge cables, is a £325 option. There are a few hooks for shopping bags, but that's it in terms of clever features.

Infotainment

The Cupra Born has essentially the same set-up we've seen on VW's various smaller ID-brand EVs so far, with a Seat/Cupra-specific skin.

It still has the unlit temperature control-cum-volume bar; it still needs a moment to boot up in the morning; it still doesn’t always respond instantly; and the layout is still a bit unintuitive. 

The built-in navigation is decent enough, though. Both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto can be used wirelessly, but an inductive charger is optional on all Borns. CarPlay proved buggy, and switching to the native interface and back is clunky.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

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cupra born review 2024 19 under the bonnet

The Cupra Born comes with a single 201bhp rear motor as standard. E-Boost models actually use the same motor, though it can put out 26bhp more for a short time. That boost is triggered either by pressing the throttle past the kickdown switch, or by pressing the ‘Cupra’ button that the steering wheel of e-Boost cars sprout.

The performance of our standard 201bhp car was nearly identical to that of the ID 3 we tested in 2021. The Cupra was marginally faster, but that was most likely thanks to more favourable conditions rather than any mechanical differences. The Born reached 60mph in 6.7sec and 100mph after 20.7sec, at which point it runs into its limiter. A Hyundai Kona Electric takes exactly the same time to reach 60mph, and would pull away from the Cupra after that; but the Born would likely close the gap in its more powerful forms.

For something that’s supposed to be a bit sporty, you might expect more that the standard car offers. Fitting the 227bhp motor to the standard version of the Born might well have been just the thing to differentiate it from the ID 3, even if we suspect that the additional power and 0.7sec-quicker 0-62mph time will be an incremental rather than a transformative performance improvements.

Even so, and as expected for an EV, the Born feels pleasantly brisk, especially below 40mph. The regenerative braking adjustment options are very limited. In D, the car varies the amount of regen depending on the speed limit, the level of traffic and whether a corner is coming up. It generally does so in a reasonably astute way, but is not infallible and on occasion can give you less retardation than you might have anticipated.

Some testers preferred the B mode, which ups the regen to a constant but still relatively mild level. It can be slightly too harsh on the motorway, but in most situations, and with a bit of anticipation, you can avoid using the brake pedal most of the time. It stops short of offering one-pedal driving, however, since the car will never come to a stop by itself. Autohold can be toggled in the settings. 

When you do need to use the left pedal, it feels reassuringly solid and the two braking methods are intuitively blended. In an emergency stop from 70mph, the Cupra will pull up in a distance that is two metres shorter than the Kona Electric, despite its rear drum brakes.

RIDE & HANDLING

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cupra born review 2024 21 rear panning

The Born's rear-motored platform delivers a 50:50 weight distribution, but the car's fairly firm suspension allows it to take full advantage of that by keeping the body roll in check, and handling in a responsive, balanced fashion that's quite agile and entertaining, and that feels rear-driven.

Standard Borns come on fairly eco-focused tyres with the same 215 width as the VW ID 3. However, e-Boost models can be optioned with alternative 20in wheels and 235-section Michelin Pilot Sport rubber. That also automatically adds adaptive dampers.

We would stick with the standard wheel and tyre package, as grip is decent enough for the road, and the car turns in keenly and precisely. Sport driving mode brings more weight to the steering than Normal. Unfortunately, the Born always defaults to Normal, and the option to change it is buried so deep in the infotainment screen that most people will probably never bother to explore the different modes.

You might be more compelled to do so if you option the car with adaptive dampers. However, our test car had the standard passive set-up and we never really wished for the ability to fiddle with the settings. The standard set-up is on the firm side, but not excessively so, soaking up bumps without disturbing the balance.

Even on the road, the Born shows the beginnings of throttle adjustability, gently rotating on the throttle out of corners and tucking its nose in following a lift in a fast corner.

At the moment, affordable EVs with real driver appeal remain thin on the ground - but this is certainly one of them. The Fiat 500 Electric is a hoot on the right road, but comes with some very obvious compromises, while the Kia EV6 is more expensive and a fair bit wider, limiting its appeal on narrow UK roads.

In its class, the Born is the car of choice for those after an EV that handles with some brio.

Comfort and isolation

Given the Born’s remit as the VW ID 3’s sportier relation, there was the real danger that comfort could go out of the window. Thankfully, that’s not the case, and the Cupra is beautifully judged in this respect.

The suspension is relatively firm but very well controlled and feels expensively damped. You would never guess that our test car, like all top-spec V3s, rode on 20in wheels. It won’t appeal to those seeking the floaty ride you find in something like a DS 4, but almost anyone else will find that Cupra has struck a very good compromise here. It does, however, rather make the optional adaptive dampers redundant.

Just as important as the ride are the seats, and in our V3 test car at least, they don’t disappoint. The sports seats are luxuriously padded but supportive, and offer a decent amount of lateral support without being hard to get in and out of. The steering wheel comes out quite far as well. We have yet to try a lowlier Born, which has essentially the same seats but without adjustment for the cushion angle or lumbar support.

With 65dBA recorded at 70mph, the Born is marginally quieter than the ID 3, which is already very hushed for a car in this price class. The Hyundai Kona Electric and MG ZS EV both let much more noise enter the cabin on the motorway.

Track notes

On an empty track, the Born reveals a beautiful rear-wheel-drive balance that backs up sharp turn-in with the beginnings of throttle adjustability.

Despite Continental EcoContact tyres and drum brakes at the rear, ultimate roadholding is adequate and the brakes don’t struggle to slow this comparatively heavy car when descending steep hills.

The car's stability control system can feel a little bit intrusive, but still allow greater freedom than you get in most EVs. In the wet, the Born will slip sideways quite progressively, but the ESC shuts things down before angle is allowed to get out of hand, and it’s impossible to turn it off: there is only a Sport mode.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

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cupra born review 2024 01 front tracking

Cupra doesn’t offer the entry-level motors and batteries from the VW parts warehouse; and yet even so, the Born looks like quite a lot of EV for the price. The company took a little under £2500 off list prices early in 2024, so now an entry-level car can be had for less than £35,000, and a mid-spec 77kWh model for less than £40,000, with good manufacturer finance support in place. 

The car is priced similarly to the Kia Niro EV and Renault Mégane E-Tech Electric with comparable levels of equipment. Unfortunately for the Born, those two go about 40 miles further on a charge than the 58kWh version’s 249 miles. The Citroën ë-C4 has a similar range and is not as spacious inside but is significantly cheaper.

The Born turned out to be very efficient. Granted, conditions were ideal, requiring very little use of either the air conditioning or the heating, but an average of 3.8mpkWh is still impressive given our heavy motorway use, making a 200-mile range a realistic prospect; and close to 250- for the 77kWh version. On occasion we also saw 4.0mpkWh. A heat pump is a £925 option to squeeze out the maximum amount of range in the winter.

The 58kWh Born can charge at a maximum speed of 120kW, the 77kWh model 135kW. At their fastest charging speed, they can replenish their batteries from 5-80% in 35 minutes and 36 minutes respectively. Those numbers are about what we would expect from an affordable EV.

VERDICT

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cupra born review 2024 25 front static

When first introduced, perceptions of the Cupra Born suffered a little due to association with Volkswagen's closely related ID 3. Those inevitable comparisons weren't instantly flattering for the Born; but, over time, it's become clearer what an impressive piece of dynamic tuning and product positioning this car represents.

Fresher affordable EVs have come along since 2021; but none quite levels with the Born's combination of compactness, desirability, efficiency and range, sporting performance and handling, practicality and value for money. While opponents specialise on particular strengths, the Born really does offer a bit of everything.

It is top of the compact electric-car class for driver appeal, even in entry-level form. The interior stands comparison with the Citroën ë-C4 and upcoming Kia Niro EV, but its practicality over-delivers thanks to the MEB platform’s use of space. And its rear-wheel-drive handling and ride are miles ahead of rivals

Despite some missed opportunities, then, that makes the Born a very appealing EV for the keen driver, and an easy car to recommend; albeit one lacking an identity to fully call its own.

Illya Verpraet

Illya Verpraet Road Tester Autocar
Title: Road Tester

As part of Autocar’s road test team, Illya drives everything from superminis to supercars, and writes reviews, comparison tests, as well as the odd feature and news story. 

Much of his time is spent wrangling the data logger and wielding the tape measure to gather the data for Autocar’s eight-page road tests, which are the most rigorous in the business thanks to independent performance, fuel consumption and noise figures.

Cupra Born First drives