When is the hot hatch going electric?
The all-new Cupra Born gets its name from Barcelona, the place where the Born was developed and designed. Cupra, the Spanish sub-brand of Seat, is focused solely on performance and crazy Spanish design language, but how much of that Spanish flare has been peppered into the new Born; an electric hatchback that looks very similar to another electric hatchback from Germany? But we'll leave the pesky ID.3 behind, the car on which the Born is based. Consider this review to be set in a world in which the ID.3 does not exist.
With that out of the way, let's talk about the basics. The Born is set to be the first electric hot-hatch. What has Cupra done to conquer this new segment? First of all; the looks. Some say it's ugly, some say it's bold. We think it looks striking, especially from the rear. The continuous light bar coupled with sharp edges makes the rear of the car easily the highlight of the car. Cupra's new design language suits the Born well. We're not that sure about the front though; maybe the aggressive styling is a bit too much. But in the end, this design is supposed to make a statement about the brand itself. It certainly makes the car look sporty and different. A first step to being the world's first electric hot hatch. Secondly, the 20-inch wheels dominate the side of the car. The Born also gets big brakes and which are combined with the regenerative braking from the electric motors. A big perk that you get in EVs.
The Born sits on the MEB platform, which is used for the VW ID.3 and ID.4. It sits 15mm lower on the front axle and 10mm lower on the rear axle compared to other vehicles on the MEB platform. This has allowed Cupra to fit the Born with adaptive dampers that can change in stiffness according to the drive profile. Also, the weight is distributed 50:50 over the front and rear. This makes the Born agile and nervous to drive. The 20-inch rims are wrapped in 235mm wide tires that have been chosen specifically for the Born. The perfect weight distribution is helped by the fact that the batteries sit under the floor, to make the center of gravity as low as possible.
Speaking of batteries; there are two options available. A compact 58 kWh version and a more expansive 77 kWh option. The smaller variant has a realistic range of 350 km. Powering the Born is a single electric motor on the rear axle that normally produces 204 horsepower. But now there is an exciting option available: the e-boost. This extra boost gives the car a power upgrade of 27 horsepower temporarily. The boost adds up to 231 horsepower and 310 nm of torque, enough to propel the Born to 100 km/h in 6.6 seconds.
We tested both versions of the Born, but we will mainly focus on the e-boost variant for the driving dynamics. The e-boost not only gives you more power, but you also get a custom CUPRA drive profile, that makes everything even more dynamic. One huge advantage is the adaptive dampers, which can absorb bumps on bumpy roads to help keep the car stable and controlled. Coupled with the 50:50 weight distribution, the Born is thrilling to drive fast. One other big factor is the steering. Unlike other electric cars, it's engaging. The CUPRA drive profile unlocks all the potential the Born has to offer. The ESC can be switched into a SPORT setting, that can temporarily unsettle the rear tires. But don't cheer too early, it cannot be switched off completely. It'll interfere very early, even when switched into the sportiest setting. In CUPRA mode, the steering gets heavier, the throttle response is immediate and the dampers are set up for maximum performance.
We wish we could end it here, but we asked ourselves the question: is the Born the first electric hot hatch? Up until now, the facts have been promising, but things are holding it back. First off, even though the e-boost is supposed to be the quick version, it still feels very slow off the line. You don't get that immediate kick in the back electric acceleration. We have driven both the normal and e-boost variants and the extra power is only noticeable when already rolling. The difference is especially apparent from 40 km/h. We wished that the initial acceleration would've been better. To set itself apart from other hot hatches (of which all use internal combustion) we hoped that the instant acceleration would be something different. Another large factor were the dreadful tires. Especially the front axle suffered from immense understeer under load, because Cupra fitted the Born with rubbish EV tires. A huge missed opportunity. The Born on P-Zero tires would be a blast!
One thing that Cupra got right was the interior feel and look. Every visible panel is either lined in eco-friendly nylon materials or Alcantara. The dashboard does house some nice metal and copper accents. Speaking of copper: this is Cupra's signature accent color and it is used sparingly. The bucket seats are made of recycled plastic from the ocean named SEAQUAL. Above you is a huge panoramic glass roof that cannot be opened.
Our verdict? Is it the world's first electric hot hatch? We think it cannot be called a hot-hatch because it's just way too slow to keep up with anything. Dynamically, it is very fun and engaging, but there are still things left to be desired. The steps taken though are great and we hope that there will be an even better version in the future.