One of the great things about bespoke pure-electric vehicles is that most are made on a “skateboard” type platform with a pretty standard box of bits. So a single carmaker can make a bunch of really different models simply by changing the “top hats” (that’s what car designers call them, honest) and tuning the controls and suspension.
When the carmaker is as big as Volkswagen Group, that means no niche need be off limits. And that’s great news for us car enthusiasts.
Which brings us to the Cupra Born, the first-ever battery electric vehicle (BEV) from the Spanish maker. At the risk of boring you, it’s based on the VW Group MEB EV platform and that’s important because it’s a really close relation under the skin to the likes of the VW ID.3 (not currently sold in New Zealand, but coming), ID.4/5 (imminent) and Skoda Enyaq (here now).
But unlike all of the above, Born is not a sensible family car. It’s arguably the world’s first BEV hot hatch, compact in size and tuned for driving fun.
It’s truly compact: 4.3m long, so supermini-sized. Which is what hot hatches are supposed to be.
It has a big 77kWh battery for a small car (range 511km) and the 150kW output shared with similarly powered (but larger) MEB cars like ID/4 and Enyaq can be extended to 170kW in e-Boost mode for up to 30 seconds – enabled by pressing the Cupra button on the steering wheel, selecting the same mode in the infotainment screen… or simply planting your foot to the floor. Oh, and it’s rear-drive.
At $77,900 it ducks under the Government’s Clean Car Discount cap, which means a real-word price of $70,885 – because the first cars won’t be delivered until September, after the Discount for BEVs has dropped to $7015. The vehicle you see here is one of only two in NZ right now.
The price was $79,900, but Cupra NZ has dropped it for the first orders so customers can freely choose the only real option, a special Aurora Blue paint finish (above) for $850. At the original price, it was more like a $7865 option because it took the car over that $80k cap, costing customers the Government rebate.
Before we get too carried away with driving, the Born is a cool thing to behold. Very aggressive at the front and pert at the back, with a sawn-off tail and Cupra’s signature squiggly light bar.
Copper is a Cupra thing and the Born goes OTT on it.
But it really works on such a compact, cheeky car. It’s actually the first Kiwi-market Cupra to have copper-accented alloys (they’re 19in) as standard. But the same-colour detailing in the cabin is equally impressive.
The minimalist controls take a bit of getting used to, as they do in other VW Group products. As does the OS in the 12-inch screen, although it’s undeniably lovely to look at.
Born should have 'connected' services and wireless phone projection, but unfortunately it has neither.
Those live services are not yet enabled for NZ. So no clever phone app to check on charging or preconditioning the car (Skoda is in the same boat in NZ with Enyaq), and you have to use a cable for Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. And you will need to plug in, because the Kiwi Born lacks sat-nav.
Sports seats are standard and you can virtue-signal all you want because the upholstery is made from a material called Seaqual, which is upcycled plastic (including marine waste).
Yes, yes, but is it any fun? It is. The Born is not slap-you-in-the-back fast off the line (although it can do 0-100km/h in 6.6sec on e-Boost), but that’s not the point of a hot hatch. The point is brisk performance with balanced handling and a bit of dynamic brio, and the Born does have that.
The steering is precise and fairly substantial, the chassis grippy thanks partly to the low centre of gravity… but not too much. There are a lot of RWD BEVs around (really, it’s not hard to put an electric motor wherever you want) that don’t really feel it; but the Born does steer from the rear enough to make you feel like you’re having a really good time. There’s a nice balance of everything.
You can play around with the drive profiles, which also adjust the suspension, but it’s fair to say the Born is still reasonably firm on Kiwi backroads. Which is what arguably you’d expect from a sporty hatchback; but it’s much more fluid and settled on the smooth stuff.
It’s been a long wait for Cupra EVs in NZ, but you could argue it’s been worth it.
The Born isn’t for everybody, but there’s also nothing quite like it on the market right now.
It’s the start of a long-talked-about electric future for Cupra in NZ (also the end of the sister Seat brand, which will be phased out this year).
There’s a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) version of the Formentor on the way in September ($78,500), followed by a similarly powered PHEV Leon Sportstourer by the end of the year.
The second bespoke Cupra BEV is the Chinese-built Tavascan, a VW ID.5-sized SUV-coupe due here in early 2025: 550km range, 0-100km/h in 5.6sec and a truly stunning cabin.
Then comes the Terramar in mid-2025, Cupra’s last-ever combustion-engine model – essentially a replacement for the Ateca – which will include a PHEV option with 100km EV range.
Last in the line is the dinky Raval, a sub-Born hatch that shares its platform with VW’s ID.2: 440km range, 0-100km/h in 6.9sec and around four metres long.
CUPRA BORN V+
BATTERY: 77kWh with single electric motor
POWER: 170kW/310Nm (on e-Boost, 150kW standard)
GEARBOX: Single-speed automatic, RWD
0-100KM/H: 6.6sec (on e-Boost)
RANGE: 511km (WLTP)