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Cupra’s first EV worked its way under our skin during its 5750-mile test. Here’s why

Why we’re running it: Could the Cupra Born finally be an EV that appeals to both the family driver and hot hatch fan? 

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5 Cupra born static

Life with a Curpra Born: Month 6

Cupra’s first EV worked its way under our skin during its 5750-mile test. Here’s why - 11 January

That the Volkswagen ID 3 has become so ubiquitous so quickly should come as no great surprise. In a brave new world where everybody wants to buy an EV but few know which one to go for, it's natural to trust the world's best-selling car maker to get it right.

And there's nothing wrong with that, especially when the car in question is capable. For keen drivers, though, it's just a bit... well, vanilla. 

So it hardly seemed the obvious place for Cupra, VW Group's hot-headed Spanish arm, to start when building its first paprika-infused EV. Yet it didn't take long with our Born to discover there is a bit of magic at work in this car. Take the looks: you can tell that it's an ID 3 underneath, but only if you know your cars. Few conventional hatchbacks I've driven in recent times have generated more intrigue: everyone wants to know what it is and whether they should buy it, because they all love how it looks. 

The bronze detailing inside and out may date in time, but here and now it looks great - aided on 'my' car by the optional (£840) Aurora Blue paint, the 20in Hurricane alloy wheels and the tinted rear windows, which give it a dose of hot hatch intent that signals what's to come. 

In fact, the spec is worth singling out. Short of an electric tailgate (useful when pre-opening the boot to receive muddy dogs on a wet walk) and the inexplicable omission of keyless entry, I never found it wanting. The heated seats and steering wheel were a joy on cold mornings, the massage function was a luxury after a long day, the head-up display was a useful addition and the large screen infotainment system offered all the functionality I could want - albeit frustratingly slowly and occasionally making it unnecessarily difficult to find what I was looking for through its menus. 

Such as the 'sport' button, for instance. And it would be worth making easier to find because when you're in the mood, it makes quite a difference to the way the Born drives. The whole car feels stiffer, more agile, more alive. Cross-country, its nimbleness defies its whopping near-1800kg kerb weight - aided by having its battery pack sited so low down in the floor - and it's genuinely entertaining thanks to the sharp steering combined with a throttle-adjustable rear-drive platform.


Read our review

Car review

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

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As road test editor Matt Saunders points out, it would benefit from a less intrusive traction control system - it cuts in too early to stop you from having too much fun - but that's only really going to be a consideration for a small percentage of buyers. 

And when you're not in the mood, it's a pretty good daily companion too. Our main gripes centre on a ride that's a bit too firm around town and a lack of refinement: the impression of both road and wind noise is arguably better in my aged diesel VW Touran. The A-pillars that prevent you from getting a good sighting through a corner can also be a pain in everyday use, blocking your vision at a junction. 

The only problem to necessitate a return to the dealer was a regular shunt in the driveline, but it was something engineers were unable to replicate - despite it happening once again on my drive home from the dealer. But these relatively minor gripes are more than compensated by the Born's general usefulness. It's hugely roomy, front and back, with a boot whose practical shape makes it feel larger than the quoted 385 litres, and whose seatbacks drop at a pull of a lever to give you a cavernous load bay.

It's not flat, because there's no raised boot floor on my car, but it does have the benefit of the seatbelts being to one side of the opening, so there's no fiddling around to avoid them getting caught in the catches when you raise the seatbacks. 

That it's taken this long to raise the spectre of range perhaps goes to show how little of a consideration it was - at least once I'd had my EVIOS charger installed because the ability to top up at home makes life with any EV easier. 

The worst I ever saw indicated in the depths of the most recent cold snap was 140 miles from a 100% charge, but as soon as the heater blowers settled down that climbed; and the best was 264, but I never got close to that.

In daily use the range was generally around 200 miles if you avoided the air-con where possible and drove sensibly, which was perfectly good for everything except long, out-of-town runs - for which opting for the 77kWh Born might be a better bet. 

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You could never really call it groundbreaking, but there is something discreetly significant about the Born. Before this, electric cars fell into three camps: practical but mundane, fun but quirky, and brilliant but heinously expensive. 

Now we have an EV that's to all intents and purposes a 'normal' car, but thanks to some nifty Spanish sleight of hand, it has real personality - and is easily entertaining enough to reward keen drivers. And all of that from a reskinned Volkswagen ID 3? Cupra, we salute you. 

Second Opinion

It’s been great having the Born on the fleet, because it’s definitely the kind of car you need to spend time in. Appreciating it just depends on context and perspective. My first couple of test drives in one left me underwhelmed, but the car at our ‘Best Fun EV’ test last autumn easily rose above rivals on driver appeal. All it needs, to me at least, is a slightly freer traction control system.  

Matt Saunders

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Love it:

Usable space Compact outside, massive inside, the Cupra is a Tardis of a car, with lots of room in the back and boot.

Cabin storage Ideal for a hoarder such as me, the Born has fantastic storage options in the cabin for everyday junk. 

Smart seats Dinamica seats look great and are cool in summer and warm in winter. Heat and massage function a treat. 

Loathe it:

Just button it The touch-sensitive controls are a pain, opening windows or changing the volume when you don't want to.

Lane-keeping assist It's so intrusive as to be almost dangerous at times - and it has to be turned off every time you start.

Final mileage: 7803

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Public charging still proves to be problematic - 4 January

Twice in the past few weeks, I’ve taken the Cupra to a public charger, left it for a while and returned to find an error message saying ‘charging unexpectedly stopped’, meaning another lengthy wait. Yet the car is charging happily on my EVIOS unit at home. I realise I’m at risk of sounding like a stuck record, but the UK really needs to get its public EV charging network sorted, and fast.  

Mileage: 7623

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Life with an EV should get a lot easier now there’s somewhere to charge it - 21 December

Five months into EV ownership, and finally I can charge it at home. And it is truly transformational. No more is there the pre-departure stress of searching for a top-up charge, and I can head home with only a few miles of range left, knowing I can plug it in as soon as I get back.

After a bit of shopping around, I found EVIOS, which promises easy-to-use but sophisticated charging functionality at home, for a sensible price. Installation is included in the price, but with my home not being in the first flush of youth, I thought it might be prudent to get a site survey done first.

That cost £200, half of which is refunded if you go ahead with your order. Engineer Davide reckoned it could be done for the standard fee and recommended that with my preferred, slightly concealed location, a 7.5m rather than 5m cable might be prudent.

Ordering was a doddle – as easy as shopping on Amazon. I went on to, selected a One Charge Point single-phase 7kW charger (£1195) with a 7.5m cable upgrade (£45) and checked out. Within a few days my unit arrived and Davide was back with colleague Colin to install it.

They did a brilliant job, routing the cabling beneath the floor to leave the house looking as if they had never been, then running me through the app that controls and monitors the charger. Neat features include a colour screen on the unit, which can be integrated with solar panels (if I had them), and by telling it what car is being charged and your electricity supplier’s tariff, it can estimate the miles added and the cost. And it’s PIN-controlled,

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so I can let up to six friends use it with their own codes, then tell them how much they owe me afterwards. All of which is so simple that even I can operate it. The only drawback is that, because it has a tethered cable, you’re restricted to one type of plug – CCS in this case, so my sister can’t charge her Nissan Leaf with its Chademo socket.

But with most car makers (even Nissan, with its new Ariya) opting for CCS, it shouldn’t be too much of an issue. I’m revelling in the peace of mind it brings – not least because the cooler weather has hit the Born’s consumption, now down to a more disappointing 3.4mpkWh average.

Love it 

Feeling hot, hot hot

As winter sets in, I’m grateful for the Cupra’s heated seats, but the heated steering wheel is a treat.

Loathe it 

Chilly in the back

While those in the front are nice and cosy, the kids have been moaning about the lack of warm-air outlets in the rear. 

Mileage: 7432

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Life with a Cupra Born: Month 5

A trip to the local Cupra dealer appears successful - 23 November

I booked into my local Cupra dealer, WJ King of Bromley, to check out the thump from the rear when pulling away. They returned it clean and having sorted a recall to the brake control unit but couldn’t replicate my issue on a lengthy test run and after checking the engine mounts and driveshafts. Is it just me, or has anyone else experienced this? 

Mileage: 6945

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When broken chargers, traffic wardens and the in-laws collide - 9 November

Life with an electric vehicle has left me with a serious sense of humour failure recently. I’m writing this sitting in the Cupra Born, somewhere in the wilds of Oxfordshire, having finally found somewhere to charge it after a third wild goose chase in as many days to keep myself on the road.

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It all began when I offered my wife’s parents a lift to their holiday in Chipping Norton. With that in mind, I ensured the Born was fully charged – the last thing you want is to be left stranded with your in-laws on board. In theory, the Cupra’s range should – just – manage the return trip from my home in Surrey but, as I discovered, in practice it’s some way off, even in warm weather and with a full battery. So as soon as I’d delivered my passengers, I began looking for somewhere to get a top-up before turning south.

No problem, I thought, I’ll just pop into the motorway services. Except when I got there, I found both units at the Oxford Welcome Break were out of order, with their cables cast malevolently into the bushes. After checking the Zap-Map on my phone, I found a 50kW BP Chargemaster unit that wasn’t much of a detour from the M40, sited in a Mercure hotel car park in Watlington.

Cupra born parking ticket

Unfortunately, by that stage the heavens had opened. It was biblical. So just plugging the car in and getting the machine to recognise my contactless card was enough for me to be utterly drenched. And no, I didn’t have a change of clothes. In order to avoid a rerun of this madness, and having still not had a home charger fitted, I was keen to ensure the car was fully charged before setting off on a return visit to the Midlands the following day.

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After more app searching, I found a Ubitricity lamp-post hook-up within walking distance of my home, and smugly plugged in – only to return a few hours later and find a parking ticket on the car. I didn’t spot the variable parking restrictions, making that a very, very expensive top-up. Fast-forward to the end of the day, and I once again had to run the charger gauntlet. Three broken units later, and one occupied, range anxiety had turned to range panic, until I finally arrived at my old favourite in Watlington showing just 20 miles left.

While these problems reflect a systemic network failure rather than a fault with the Born itself, if it had just a little more range none of this would have happened. Two important lessons learned. First, I really need a home charger. And second, with another long trip looming, I’ve already asked my wife if I can borrow her diesel MPV.

Love it

Easing the stress

As someone who suffers from backache, the massage seats that come with V3 spec are a godsend, quickly soothing any pain.

Loathe it

Snatch and grab

I prefer to have Auto Hold engaged, but it can cause the brakes to grab suddenly if you’re trying to creep out of a junction.

Mileage: 6234

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Life with a Cupra Born: Month 4

“To the manor, Born, and be quick about it” - 26 October

It was no surprise for me to see the Cupra doing so well in our electric driver’s cars super-test (28 September). Finishing fourth, it beat some pretty serious opposition and was only bettered by a trio of significantly pricier machines. That tallies perfectly with my experience: even in everyday use, it’s rewarding enough to raise a smile, and that’s despite me rarely troubling the Drive Profile Selection and generally sticking to Comfort mode.

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While running late for a friend’s wedding recently, however, my wife was persuaded to give me rare permission to really go for it, and I was surprised at how much of a difference it made when switching the Drive Profile to Performance and setting the stability programme to the slightly less draconian Sport ESP.

On tight, twisting, undulating Essex country lanes out to the spectacularly scenic Leez Priory venue, the Cupra danced down the Tarmac like a traditional hot hatch. In its most extreme mode, the ride feels pretty firm, but the body control is hugely impressive, regenerative braking is increased so that you don’t have to use the brakes much, its 201bhp makes it feel potent between bends and the already lively throttle response gets even sharper.

The Born’s grip is impressive and its rear-drive balance is a joy, feeling entertainingly throttle-adjustable – at least up to a point, because even in its reduced mode, the ESP is pretty intrusive. Throw in sharp, responsive steering – albeit without a huge amount of natural feel – and the Cupra gives you the confidence to really enjoy it, even on unfamiliar roads. In a genre that’s best known for its pure utility, it’s a welcome addition. 

Having charged the car beforehand, I was keen to try to complete the journey without requiring a top-up, because there was nowhere to charge at our overnight stop. I wasn’t particularly confident, though, with much of the route being motorways and fast dual carriageways. In the end, the Born managed the return trip with ease, covering the 151 miles on a relatively chilly day at a 3.5mpkWh average, so we drove back on to our driveway at the end of the weekend showing 16% battery (for 33 miles of range) left.

I mention the temperature because the Cupra is becoming increasingly sensitive to the prevailing weather conditions. At the height of summer, its estimated range was routinely 210 miles-plus following a full charge, but that number tumbles as the mercury drops – exacerbated by the need to run the air-con to clear the windows. The worst recorded so far was a range of 140 miles, but that did nudge up by 30 miles or so once the blowers had been turned off. At this rate, I’m just praying for a mild winter... 

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Love it 

Turn up the volume

The amount of space inside the Born is remarkable. There’s bags of room in the back; drop the seats and it’s like a small van.

Loathe it 

Bum steer

When I first set off in the morning, there’s an odd graunching noise from the front wheel on full lock, like from an old hydraulic set-up. 

Mileage: 5608

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Bodywork looks can deceive - 12 October

The Born feels robust, but looks can deceive. On returning to it recently, I noticed a little ding in the front-left wing, and on closer examination I realised just how slender the panel is – a result of the weight-saving efforts to compensate for the heft of its battery pack. This isn’t a car to sit on and gaze at the stars, or you may give it an inadvertent restyle.

Mileage: 5123

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Taking away our stresses and strains might have been too much for the EV - 5 October

One of the defining characteristics of life with the Cupra Born is its ease of use. Rarely have I spent a prolonged period of time with a car that’s simpler to live with, the tedious intricacies of charging aside.

Apart from the manual tailgate operation and having to take the key out of my pocket to unlock it (odd anachronisms in a car with such a strong focus on automation), the Born tries to do everything it can to remove the stresses of the daily grind. I don’t even have to wake it: it detects my backside’s contact with the driver’s seat and is ready before my hands have touched the wheel.

And once my hands are at ten-to-two, they rarely have to leave it with the automatic lights, rain-sensing wipers and auto-dimming rear-view mirror on. Even the gear selector, a rotating knob mounted on the small instrument pod, is no more than a hand span away, which makes it ideal for flicking between normal ‘D’ and highly regenerative ‘B’ mode to give the battery a boost on hill descents.

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Even washing it is easy. The 20in Hurricane alloy wheels look terribly fussy – their composite design combining alloy rims with plastic panels – yet they’re a doddle to clean. Adding the semi-rigid fitted boot tray (a £60 dealer-fit option) has cut down the mess in the back with two dirty spaniels on board, too. Only the external deep recess of the rear screen beneath the spoiler is a pain, and it gathers a lot of dirt, due to the way the air flows over the car.

In recent weeks, the Born has developed a few irritations, however. A truly first-world problem concerns the infotainment system, which continues to frustrate with its delayed responses and has now decided not to recognise my phone on some journeys. It’s hardly a deal-breaker but is definitely aggravating – particularly as it only resets itself after I’ve used the classic IT help desk method of turning it off and on again.

Of rather more concern is the pronounced shunt that I can feel somewhere in the driveline when pulling away from rest. Part of me wonders whether that wonderfully convenient gear selector is partly to blame, encouraging lazy switches from forward to reverse and back to forward before the car has come to a complete stop when I’m executing a manoeuvre.

Alternatively, it could be down to some over-eager deployment of the Born’s generous 229lb ft of torque. Either way, I suspect it may lead to my first trip to my local Cupra dealer for further investigation. 

Love it

Display is snow joke

I didn’t always notice the useful head-up display, but a switch to Snow mode has turned the digits an attention-grabbing blue.

Loathe it 

Hot and bothered

The climate controls at the base of the central touchscreen are hard enough to see in the day, near impossible at night. 

Mileage: 4987

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Life with a Cupra Born: Month 3

Why going for the quick fix of a fast charger doesn’t always leave you feeling a winner - 28 September

Having spent most of its early time in my custody pootling around town or on shorter local journeys, our Cupra Born has recently had a change of scenery, pounding up and down the M3 and A303 for a series of trips to Somerset to visit family.

Unlike an ICE car, which is usually at its most frugal in these sorts of conditions, the efficiency of a smaller EV such as the Born tends to suffer at sustained high speeds. That has meant plenty of planning ahead, ensuring that I’ve scheduled in a few pit stops at prudent intervals to keep the battery topped up.

Overall efficiency has taken a slight hit, from 3.7 to 3.6 miles per kWh over my time with the car, but I’ve also noticed a charging quirk that I hadn’t anticipated.

Being an impatient sort, I’ve taken to tracking down the most powerful charging stations I can find (for this journey, the 120kW Instavolt units at Solstice Park services are ideally placed) so that I can charge the Born at its peak rate (100kW) and don’t end up spending forever sitting – and invariably snacking – while waiting for the battery to be refreshed.

Quite apart from these being more expensive (at 66p per kWh, as opposed to 28p per kWh on average at home), I’ve never felt that the energy gained at a rapid charger seems to last quite as long as when I’ve trickle-charged the car at home.

“I must be going mad,” I thought to myself, but just to check, I asked my far more technologically savvy brother-in-law, and he pointed me towards a brilliant article on LinkedIn by renewables and energy storage engineer Peter Stratford of consultancy Everoze. It turns out that I’m not completely wrong: the amount of energy you can get out of a battery does indeed depend on how you use it.

Cupra born public charging

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Stratford is particularly good at simplifying complicated concepts. Here he calls on a bottle of ketchup. If it’s flung around at a kids’ party, it will be considered ‘empty’ within minutes when there’s still plenty left, whereas when left upside down at home, the ketchup will slowly trickle to the bottle’s neck and you will probably get all but the last dregs out. “So it is with batteries,” he writes. “If your application is a kids’ party type, you can expect to have a significantly lower usable capacity, whereas if your application is slow, you can get all of it.”

So the higher discharge rate when I’m roaring along the motorway at high speeds in full kids’ party mode – invariably with the air conditioning on – results in the Born’s battery appearing to be nearly empty at a level when it would still have plenty of life left for town driving. 

The same is true when charging, although here Stratford switches his ketchup bottle for a bucket of gravel.

“Shovel the gravel in quickly until the bucket is full, then shake the bucket, and it will settle so you can get a bit more in,” he explains. “How quickly we get the gravel into the bucket affects how much we can get in. Slow (trickle) charging a battery can get more energy into it than fast-charging it.” A fast charger will race towards a state of charge of around 80% but then automatically reduce its output, because the battery can’t take the higher rate all the way to full.

This is an issue that hits us in the wallet, too, because the provider still charges that premium-rate price per kWh even after the output has been reduced. Stratford says: “As a society, we’re (unfortunately) entirely used to paying for more than we use.”

It’s certainly something that I will be more conscious of with the lifting of the energy price cap, and I plan to invest in a home charger in the near future – along with planning my journeys more carefully to take advantage of slower (and cheaper) charging stations.

Love it 

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The novelty of the Transformers-style logo being projected onto the pavement when you unlock the doors at night still hasn’t worn off.

Loathe it

Mixed grille

I like the Cupra’s styling, but I’m not a fan of the non-functional grilles in the front – presumably there to avoid alienating traditionalists? 

Mileage: 4561

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CCS proves to be the smarter buy over Chademo rivals - 21 September

I met up with my brother-in-law, an early EV adopter, this week. He’s more interested in environmental performance, so wasn’t fussed about the Born’s sporting ambitions, but he was impressed by the design and packaging, and jealous of the CCS port allowing up to 100kW on a fast charger, where his Nissan Leaf’s Chademo port is limited to 50kW.  

Mileage: 4230

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Electric hatch continues to please with good looks backed up by practicality - 7 September

It's rare to find a daily driver with style and substance, but I reckon Cupra has cracked it with the Born. Every time I see an ID 3, I marvel at how neatly the Spanish firm took Volkswagen’s ugly duckling and turned it into a swan – or at least a better-looking duckling.

Park them together and the shared lineage is clear, not least in their near-identical silhouettes, but in isolation, the Cupra is far better looking. It’s aided by some nifty details, like the dynamic, diamond-shaped relief let into the rear pillars, which give a sense of speed even at standstill, plus the aggressive headlights and the shapely sills. Tinted rear windows and 20in ‘Hurricane’ alloys round things off with a bit of gangster chic.

One element that has divided opinion – within our family, at least – is the brushed copper-effect detailing. Inside it can feel cheap, but to my eyes on the outside it looks terrific, particularly against the optional Aurora Blue paint. My wife is spot on when she says the badge looks a bit like a Transformers logo – although it does look pretty cool when projected from the door mirror as a get-you-home light at night.

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But what about the substance? I’ve yet to find a task that the Cupra shirks, be it school shuttle bus, late- night taxi for my wife, long-distance cruiser or dog-walking wagon. It even makes a surprisingly capacious miniature van when called upon...

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I do a lot of lugging of boxes from a storage unit and back again, and it never ceases to amaze how much can be crammed into the Born. Officially, the boot is a decent but unremarkable 385 litres, yet in practice it seems like a lot more.

The high load lip isn’t ideal for the dogs, who have added a couple of scratches, but the low boot floor (which is hard to explain, bearing in mind that the electric motor lies beneath) means you can fit a surprising number of boxes in there.

The Cupra’s stiff suspension – needed in a car with a two-tonne kerb weight thanks to all those batteries, particularly one with sporting pretensions – means it isn’t upset by being heavily laden, either.

The lack of a split-level boot floor prevents you from hiding valuables away unless you keep the parcel shelf in at all times, but beneath the dealer-option branded boot mat I’ve added, there’s a useful cubbyhole that I’ve crammed with all those useless things I carry because I think they might come in handy, but are unsightly and noisy if left to roll around in the boot. 

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Love it

Throwback seats

I wasn’t sure about the look of the rather 1980s Dinamica trim, but it proved really effective at keeping us cool in the recent heatwave. 

Loathe it 

Room without a view

Those rear pillars might look good, but they give the Born a hefty blindspot, matched up front by the thrust-forward windscreen pillars. 

Mileage: 3989 

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Life with a Cupra Born: Month 2 

A quick supermarket charge isn't quite enough to benefit from - 31 August

Supermarket vouchers for money off petrol are common, but not actual free fuel. Yet that’s what several chains offer EV owners, with free chargers at larger stores. I’ve taken advantage and it’s a great initiative, but don’t expect life-changing savings: with a 7kW Pod Point and a three-hour maximum stay, you’re looking at around 70 extra miles if you’re a very slow shopper. 

Is the grass greener for Born buyers with deeper pockets? - 17 August 

There are few things more irritating than deciding on a new car and then realising just a little way down the line that you’ve backed a loser. So it was with some trepidation that I approached the range-topping Cupra Born e-Boost 77kWh that a colleague recently had in on test.

Boasting a healthy 227bhp over 201bhp, as well as that larger battery (77kWh compared with 58kWh), it looked to have my Born soundly beaten – as you would expect for its £41,975 price, some £3585 more than mine, spec for spec.

Out in the real world, however, the difference in performance isn’t immediately obvious – certainly not as much as it would be between my car and the 58kWh e-Boost, which combines the higher-output motor with the lighter weight of the smaller battery to sprint from rest to 62mph more than 0.5sec faster.

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Cupra 0

The electric motor’s instant hit of torque means that even a normal Born feels plenty sprightly enough, particularly in its more dynamic driving mode, so I’m not sure that I would need to spend the extra £800 or so for an e-Boost version.

The heavier battery of the 77kWh model more than halves the e-Boost’s advantage, too, so the additional performance is barely noticeable unless you happen to come across a 201bhp car at the traffic lights – and even then you will need decent reactions to leave it in your wake.

Where the bigger-battery car really scores – perhaps unsurprisingly – is in its range. My colleague reported seeing estimated 320-plus miles on the dashboard readout, whereas mine is generally pretty exhausted after 200 or so.

Having opted for a 77kWh car will also be a boon when you pull up at a rapid charger, because it permits a useful 125kW input, whereas mine has a self-imposed 100kW limit to avoid frying the batteries.

Is that combination worth the extra £3595? If I were frequently doing longer journeys, perhaps, because sitting around tied to a mains socket when you’ve a deadline to meet is a pain. The majority of the time, however, my Born is trundling around town on shorter runs – be it commuting to work, shuttling my children to their various activities, taking my dogs to the park or, as was the case recently, delivering dozens of parcels.

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For that kind of low-speed, stop- start activity, particularly when it’s getting regular top-ups in between, circa 200 miles seems plenty.

A different battery size wouldn’t affect my few gripes with the car, either, which mostly centre around the silly touch-sensitive ‘buttons’ and the intrusive blindspot that presents when you’re trying to pull out of junctions – an inevitable result of those thrust-forward A-pillars. Isn’t it reassuring to know that you’ve made the right decision, rather than an expensive mistake? 

Love it 

Born for the family

It’s not a huge car, at 4324mm long, yet the Born is remarkably spacious inside. Limited rear head room aside, I’ve yet to find it wanting. 

Loathe it 


The touchscreen infotainment system is just so slow, both to connect to my phone and to toggle between functions – a major flaw in this day and age. 

Mileage: 3634

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Modern controls aren't always as useful as they look - 10 Aug

When building an EV, manufacturers seem to feel the need to ‘modernise’ things that worked perfectly well before. Take the buttons in the Born: they’re touch sensitive, and even the slightest brush operates them. Not ideal when it means every time you go round a corner you turn up the stereo’s volume or – worse – increase the speed of the cruise control.

Mileage: 3320

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We test our electric hot hatch’s range with a rare trip beyond the limits of London - 3 August 

Not everyone has the ability to charge an electric vehicle at home, and although I’m lucky enough to have a driveway on which to park our Cupra Born, I don’t yet have a proper charger installed.

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As a result, life with an EV takes a bit of forward planning to ensure I always have the charge I need before I next get an opportunity to plug it in. I’m fortunate to have access to 11kW chargers at work, and one of my closest friends is a true EV-angelist who lets me leave the Born on his driveway for a few hours when I’m running low. He has even lent me the three-pin hook-up from his Jaguar I-Pace for emergencies – although it’s so slow that it’s barely worth the effort unless I can leave the car alone for 24 hours.

When I’m only doing short journeys around town (which, to be fair, has proved to be the central part of the Born’s remit so far), that’s usually plenty. The problem occurs when I have a long journey ahead, as I did with a recent trip from my home in London to deepest Worcestershire.

At around 160 miles each way, it would result in at least one charge being needed, particularly because I hadn’t until then spent much time on motorways, so its energy consumption at speed was a bit of an unknown quantity. (As a rule of thumb, I tend to get around 200 miles from a charge but will usually be looking for a plug after 180 or so.)

Using a combination of a charger at work and a socket at home, I ensured the battery had 100% charge before leaving and decided that the Instavolt Stroud Park charging station in Banbury, just a stone’s throw from the M40, would be an ideal top-up point.

At speed, the Born is a serene companion, its refinement and instant power delivery making it a fine motorway cruiser (even if, as with most electric machinery, its top speed is fairly limited).

Having left early on Sunday morning, I was feeling relaxed and confident by the time I arrived at Banbury with 53% of the 58kWh capacity left. I nabbed one of the remaining 125kW outlets (noting that the Volkswagen ID 3 nearby had been hooked up for 12 hours, hogging one of the fast chargers) and popped over the road for a coffee and a bacon roll while the car took 25 minutes – at a cost of £10.05 – to get back to 82%.

From there, it was a 120-mile round trip to Shelsley Walsh hillclimb, where I was due to spend the day at the brilliant Classic Nostalgia event. I thought I would have plenty in hand but, perhaps because I had been enjoying the Born’s rewarding chassis on the fantastic country lanes around Shelsley, it was beginning to look touch and go on the return trip to Banbury.

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In the end, I had to turn off the air-con in the stifling heat of one of the warmest weekends on record to avoid using up too much juice (on a full charge, the estimated 264 miles drops to 220 as soon as I touch the temperature control).

I limped back into the Stroud Park station showing just 16% and a 34-mile range and quickly demolished another large Costa and a toasted sarnie as the fast charger got the car back up to 85% over the ensuing 39 minutes for a further £23 – more than enough to get me home and leave plenty in hand for the next morning’s commute.

None of the above felt like a chore, particularly because I was driving solo on this occasion, but those stops combined did add an hour or so to an already lengthy journey time – and while it’s cheaper to fill than a petrol car, I swear that any savings I’m making on fuel costs I’m spending on coffee and baked goods... 

Love it

Quick and slick

The instantaneous and refined power delivery remains a novelty that refuses to wear off. Around town, it’s a joy. 

Loathe it 

Intruded upon

The lane-keeping assistance is rather more ‘helpful’ than I would like, so much so that at times I find myself wrestling with the wheel. 

Mileage: 3105

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Life with a Cupra Born: Month 1

Welcoming the Born to the fleet - 20 July 2022

Over the past few years, the electric vehicle market has matured rapidly. No longer does an EV have to be self-consciously quirky to catch the imagination of buyers (think BMW i3 and Honda E), but that shift has resulted in a swathe of newcomers that are undoubtedly worthy but, well, really rather dull.

Spend enough and there are plenty of thrills to be had from the top-end Porsche Taycans, Audi E-trons and Teslas, but what if you have only a modest budget and fancy something that’s entertaining to drive as well as environmentally friendly?

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Cupra reckons the Born could be the answer, even if the raw ingredients aren’t exactly enough to set your trousers aflame: it doesn’t take much of an automotive expert to spot that beneath the bespoke badging and sharply defined copper detailing lurks nothing more exciting than the Volkswagen ID 3’s underpinnings.

That at least means it’s practical. The boot feels larger than its 385 litres – and, thanks to a dealer-fit optional rubber mat, it’s now dog-friendly, too – and the compact electric motor and single-speed transmission leave acres of room for passengers in the cabin.

Plenty of decent-sized SUVs would struggle to better the Born’s rear-seat space, which has masses of leg room, although my kids have complained that the central seat is both too firm and too high, so even my 13-year-old’s taller friends are almost touching the ceiling.


Things are pretty rosy up front. At first, I was unsure about the Dinamica trim – which looks uncannily like late-1980s Ford Escort RS Turbo velour – wrapping the inviting-looking bucket seats.

It feels hard-wearing, though, and under hard cornering (of which more later) is grippy as well as comfortable. And because my car is a top-spec V3, it adds 12-way electrical adjustment, pneumatic lumbar support and an opulent massage function to the heated seats and wheel of V2 cars.

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A set of snazzy seats, buckets or otherwise, does not a hot hatch make. But return to the spec sheet and there are plenty of positives on paper for the keen driver. First of all, 201bhp in a small family hatch is a decent figure, even if it does have nearly 1800kg to haul around. (A more potent 227bhp version is available, should that not prove sufficient.)

Second, that double century is delivered to the rear wheels, and the positioning of the battery pack beneath the floor leads to near-perfect weight distribution. The above is all true of the ID 3, of course, and that’s hardly a ball of fire.

But the Cupra has retuned, stiffer sports suspension to give it that longed-for hot hatch feel. It’s pretty swift, too: in our road test (6 July), this very car sprinted from rest to 60mph in 6.7 sec – highly respectable for a family hatchback, and slightly swifter than a Mk5 Golf GTI.

As for the rear-drive layout, don’t go thinking that will turn it into a lairy, tail-sliding monster; but there is no doubt that the Born has a genuinely playful chassis.

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The steering isn’t full of feel yet it’s precise and accurate, and the Cupra turns in to corners keenly. The biggest surprise is how adjustable it feels on the throttle, tightening its line neatly with a little lift – yes, like a proper hot hatch. At a shade over 4.3m long and 1.81m wide, it feels compact, too, and quickly inspires confidence on a back road.

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And that’s in Normal driving mode. There’s also a Sport option, but it’s so hard to find among the endless menus that I usually struggle to summon the enthusiasm. So many of the car’s functions are buried deep in the infotainment system that it makes it all the more infuriating that this system is so slow and unintuitive to use.

After a forensic search, I eventually tracked down and engaged Auto Hold, but I’m not sure I could find it again without a map. When you’re not in the mood to thrash it, the Cupra is a pretty relaxed companion.

Its 229lb ft of torque is available from rest to 4200rpm, giving effortless pace, and, despite the 20in wheels that come with V3 spec, it rides pretty serenely most of the time: firm, but with bump and thump well isolated from the cabin by quality dampers.

That contributes to an overall sense of impressive refinement, and the range is pretty decent, too: 200-plus miles per charge is easily achieved from my 58kWh car, even when driving briskly, although relying on the air-con during the recent hot weather did put a dent in that.

If you often have to do longer distances – or opt for the more powerful motor – the larger, 77kWh battery might be a better option.

It remains to be seen whether the e-Boost motor tips the Born into full hot hatch territory, but there’s also a fine tradition of ‘warm’ hatches that offer just enough entertainment to satisfy enthusiasts without compromising their family car qualities. It’s a moniker that seems to suit the Cupra perfectly. 

Second Opinion

I looked after Alastair’s Born for a while and it really grew on me. After the initial frustration with the infotainment and touch-sensitive steering wheel, I came to appreciate the sorted chassis and comfy driving position. I wouldn’t have minded being able to keep it for a bit longer... IV 

Illya Verpraet 

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Cupra Born specification

Specs: Price New £38,390 Price as tested £39,230 Options Aurora Blue paint £840 

Test Data: Engine permanent magnet brushless motor Power 201bhp Torque 229lb ft Kerb weight 1811kg Top speed 99mph 0-62mph 6.7sec Range 209 miles economy 3.6mpkWh Faults None

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Join the debate

Add a comment…
Arge 30 January 2023

Mileage nearly 4000 on our 58KWh e-boost (230bhp) and I have to say the "hardware" side of things is very well put together and great to drive. As mentioned in the review the slooooww screen and silly buttons (and having to log in to the screen to do anything) really lets it down. If I was a software engineer at VW I'd be ashamed to admit it. The thing that isn't mentioned here but has annoyed me from day 1 is the left-hand drive wipers fitted to a RHD car. These back to front wipers give the passenger a nice clear view and leave a line of water right down the middle of the driver’s side. Ridiculous laziness/cheapness from VW (it's the same on the ID3).

manicm 23 November 2022
Just an ID3 with bad lipstick. Sorry, I'm nonplussed by this.
scrap 25 September 2022

Why does it need stiff springing? Yes it's heavy but the low centre of gravity mitigates that to a large extent. Car manufacturers need to work harder to understand how to work with EV platforms and improve the dynamics. BMW seems to have done this with the iX.

No excuses, and no more lazy journalism please.