Advertisement
BBC TopGear
BBC TopGear
Advertisement feature
WELCOME TO HYUNDAI’S HAPPINESS MACHINE
View the latest news
First Drive

Cupra Born VZ review: another step towards a proper driver's EV

910
Published: 24 May 2024
Advertisement

Is this a facelifted born – Born again – or an extra, more powerful Born?

The second of those. The Born VZ is a Cupra Born with a very handy 326bhp. This has been achieved not by the usual EV route of adding a second motor for AWD, but simply a stronger single motor.

Cupra has always done hot hatches well. Is this a well-done electric hot hatch? If so, I'm interested.

Well, maybe we ought to define terms. Petrol ones have traditionally been front-drive and this is rear. But that's a plus. That apart it easily fulfils the hot-hatch job description. A laugh to drive, surprisingly sophisticated, compact and thoroughly practical.

Advertisement - Page continues below

Let's start with the 'laugh to drive' bit. Is it?

Performance is strong, but shy of the butt-kick silliness you might have expected. After all, the easiest way for an EV to stand apart from petrol 'rivals' is a viral drag-strip run. OK, if you select the Cupra drive mode, the accelerator map is a bit jumpy at the first caress of your toe, but the other maps are more progressive.

Anyway, it'll go from 0-62mph in 5.6 seconds, which these days is actually a bit meh for a hot hatch. It happens with a lot less drama too of course: RWD means lots of traction from rest, and there are no gaps for gearshifts. Which means peak acceleration is lower than a petrol that has the same 0-62mph time. If you will, it's too perfectly smooth to be as interesting.

But of course there's an upside: transients. Hit the pedal and it reacts instantly. No need to wait for a turbo to wake up. Which really does make cornering more interesting and controllable.

Advertisement - Page continues below

In a bend, a prod of the accelerator immediately tells you the rear is doing the pushing. Understeer goes away. The default traction control cuts in early, but there's a sport position that lets you enjoy using all the tyres can give. I'm not talking about tailsliding (though there is an ESP off setting if you must), but just about feeling the car do its stuff and being involved in the process.

Unfortunately it's two tonnes: all VW Group MEB-platform cars are overweight compared with most rivals. But remember the weight is well-distributed (48:52 front-to-rear), so this doesn't feel too much like a front-heavy anvil going into a bend. Use regenerative braking to tuck it in at the start of the arc, and you're good to go.

What else have they done apart from power?

Springs and anti-roll bars are stiffer than in a standard Born and tyres bigger and grippier: 215/45 at the front and 235/40 at the back, on 20-inch wheels. Adaptive damping can keep the bodyweight under control in brisk driving without harming the ride the rest of the time.

They've also worked on the brakes, aiming to rid them of the squishiness that plagues most EVs and hybrids because the pedal has to move between regeneration in its top travel to friction as you stamp harder. And yes the Born VZ is better than most, but it still lacks the firm short travel of a good sporty car. Still, they added regeneration paddles so that gives you another option.

Top Gear
Newsletter

Get all the latest news, reviews and exclusives, direct to your inbox.

The motor and inverter are the VW Group's latest, more efficient AP550 pairing, and the battery uses slightly different cells so capacity rises from the best 'normal' Born's 77kWh to 79kWh. Those two measures keep WLTP range up at 370-plus miles if you have the small tyre option, or 317 on the 21s with the gummy tyres.

You didn't mention false noise.

Nope, unlike an Abarth 500e or Hyundai Ioniq 5N or Porsche Taycan, the powertrain is near-silent. Well, it also is in those other cars, it's just that they can be configured to produce false noise to convince you otherwise.

The Cupra doesn't have a sound generator. In a car where there are lots of configuration options, that's a shame. It would have added zero hardware cost if the stereo were used, and it might have made things even more involving. A good synthesiser can give your ears an extra sense of speed into a corner and torque on the way through.

Looks a bit… tame.

There are a few aero edits… at the nose, ahead of the rear wheels, and under the rear bumper. The wheels are on the lairy side, as ever for a Cupra. But mostly this is a subtle operator.

Inside, truly excellent high-backed bucket seats are a highlight. Also it gets a big screen, and a better driver interface. See our Tavascan review for more on those.

Price?

As I write it's TBA in the UK, but expected to be £45k when it arrives. There's a lot of range and equipment, so this feels fair enough against all but the cheaper and fast MG4 XPower. But then we didn't like the MG much.

So you like it?

Yes. We tore up a familiar mountain road near Cupra's HQ. Doing the same in an equally powerful petrol Leon would have been more fun, though the noise would have disturbed the walkers' peace. But the Born VZ really is engaging in bends, and presents new challenges, like using regeneration (via paddles or pedal) in the best way to avoid wasting energy with the discs.

It's another step towards an EV for people who like driving. Specifically those who know driving means more than just accelerating.

Subscribe to the Top Gear Newsletter

Get all the latest news, reviews and exclusives, direct to your inbox.

By clicking subscribe, you agree to receive news, promotions and offers by email from Top Gear and BBC Studios. Your information will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

BBC TopGear

Try BBC Top Gear Magazine

subscribe