Six months with a Cupra Born - the final verdict. Should you buy one?
That’s it. Six months of the little red electric Cupra. It’s been an interesting few months, and if we’re going to spoil the ending a bit, largely positive. So here’s a rundown of why Top Gear thinks the Born should be one of the cars you should try if you’re in the market for something of this size and price.
It looks really very nice.
Compare it to most electric cars and the Born stands up. From the slightly scowling front end to the subtly sculpted skirts to the copper accents, it’s a good-looking thing. It’s also not very colour-dependent, looking fresh and clean in any of the available shades - always a good measure of design harmony. It’s ever so slightly lower than its VW ID3 sibling, with tyres that are a smidge wider, and those tiny changes in stance make it look more athletic.
There are also excellent wheel designs that range from 18-20-inches - the V3 we have is on the 20s - and they all look pretty good. Solid stuff from the Cupra design team. Something that’s echoed by the new Cupra Tavascan Coupe-SUV thing; based on a VW ID.5, much better looking, in my opinion.
The quality is better than that of the competition.
The top-spec Born we have here might be a little toppy on price - £43,280 when it arrived - as tested with the Tech Pack ‘L’ and metallic Raleigh Red paint - but generally the quality is spot-on and much better than some of the other options in this sector. We’re looking at you, VW. Especially nice have been the granite grey Dinamica bucket seats, which have been comfortable and supportive, and yet kept clean even during the worst of winter and a hard daily life.
Carpets, dash, door cards; they’ve all cleaned up a treat after every bit of abuse. It also sounds more solid than some of the other cars we’ve driven at this price point. Possibly an odd thing to say, but the acoustics seem different in the Born, there’s less reflection of intrusive drones and hums, which makes for a more pleasant cruising attitude.
And finally a purely personal point of view; I live down a mile of what is essentially a glorified, sealed farm track. It’s an unmaintained road, and suffers from miniature, uniquely bobbly subsidence for the entire length. It’s bumpier than a braille novel. Most cars end up showing off at least a little trim rattle or vibration and yet the Born has been steady on all fronts. It’s more impressive than it sounds… until you realise what I drive down 3-4 times a day. It’s like a brutal test facility. Except with more cow poo.
It’s actually sporty to drive.
Electric cars tend to feel fast compared to internal combustion engines - all that torque and power instantly available makes then ultra-responsive - but ‘sporty’? Not so much. Batteries can be carried low for an excellent centre of gravity yes, but you’re also managing a noticeable padding of extra weight and in all likelihood low-rolling resistance tyres. Which tend to not err on the side of stickiness. That means you tend to get lumpy interference from more advanced traction and stability systems. But the Born is pitched as a hot hatch-equivalent EV, and while it can’t match the satisfaction of a Golf GTI, it comes closer than anything we’ve had thus far.
Turn-in is only limited by the tyres, but once settled, it’ll jink around with the best of them. The rear-wheel drive and precise steering help make the car feel nimble enough, and though you never quite lose the feeling of mass (a flick left-right around a roundabout reminds you that the Born is 400+kg heavier than an ICE equivalent at 1,946kg all-in), there’s enough damping and suspension finesse to actually enjoy going around corners.
A slight frustration comes from a traction control system with a ‘Sport’ mode that warns the ESC and TC are switched off, only to find that they’re only very, very marginally loosened; more a little wiggle than animated steer from the rear. Probably a good thing for most, but annoying when you could do with a little less interaction from the digital overlords. The 58kWh Born is more fun, and in reality the fastest variant, but the 77kWh holds its own. The ride isn’t perfect and certainly edges towards the more firm end of the spectrum, but the Born feels more expensively damped than we were expecting - or maybe it’s just been set up more sympathetically.
Interestingly, the 77kWh car seems to ride very slightly higher than the smaller-batteried version, possibly needing a little more space to add some compliance for the weight. But overall, it’s a gently fun little thing - and definitely headed in the right direction. EVs can be fun to drive without being two million pounds of electric hypercar.
It’s got all the space you expect from a car of this size.
With a boot that’s comparable to a normal mid-sized hatchback with an engine (385-litres in this case, with something like a Golf being 380), there’s enough carrying capacity for a car of this kind, and plenty for daily life - though no frunk or cable storage. There is a small extra slot underneath the boot floor behind the rear numberplate, but that only really works if you can be bothered to coil and tie your cables. I am not that man.
After that, there’s excellent space in the front seats and plenty of knee-room in the back for four. Note that the 77kWh Born only gets two rear seats and a shallow divot between rather than the extra occasional middle seat because of weight restrictions, so the 58kWh is better if you ever need space for five. But if you get the smaller battery, you don’t get as much convenience. Upon which subject…
The big battery is worth it for the convenience.
Ok, so the smaller battery makes sense if you do the same things all the time and rarely step outside the range indicator’s comfort zone. But the 77kWh Born gets 240-313 miles of range, and that’s just about enough. The depths of winter really drag at the chemistry and if you’re looking at 150-miles on a full charge for the smaller 58kWh battery, that’s not really enough for anyone but committed urbanauts.
Less time plugged in is just more convenient, and the bigger battery has a plumper 10-80 per cent sweet spot for DC charging, so puts more miles in the ‘tank’ for the same amount of time. In warmer weather we’ve seen roughly 300 miles on the road, which is more than enough for most stuff.
It’s better than its sibling…
VW’s team must hate Cupra. Or at least say nasty things about them behind their backs at company functions. Because the Born is better than the ID.3 in most ways. It looks better, drives more accurately, feels more solidly put together in an interior that has a bit more pizazz. It also still seems like a Born is easier to get hold of. Telling that VW has already announced a suite of ‘improvements’ for the ID.3 so soon after it hit the streets.
So it’s pretty good then? What should we watch out for?
If you’re getting the impression that this is a solid little performer, then you’d be right. But there are a couple of standout things that need to be addressed.
One, as mentioned, it’s not hugely cheap. Current prices start at £36,475 for the basic 201bhp car with the 58kWh battery. A car like this one now starts at £43,735, so it’s £1,760 more than it was. That starts to place it squarely in mid-sized EV SUV territory, as well as head-to-head with next-generation kit. EVs move quickly.
The other thing to mention - and probably the biggest bugbear for the Born overall - is the infotainment system and associated cabin user-experience. Because it’s rubbish. You can cope, you can work around it and get used to it, but still rubbish. Such a shame for Cupra, because there’s just no easy way around it, but I would totally understand if the woeful touchscreen arrangement actually put you off the car.
Should it be on The List?
Bluntly, yes. If you’re in the market for an ID.3 or something of a similar size, then you must drive a Born. You’ll find that it’s reliable, comfortable, good-looking and a bit cheeky. And surprisingly amusing to drive. Second-hand, these look like they might be a very satisfying bet.