2023 Cupra Born review: Quick drive
As a new brand on the Australian market, Cupra hit the ground running with three models in one launch, but this fourth inclusion will surely command the most attention.
- Well-specified equipment list
- Handsome, if a little unusual styling
- Range claim to cater to Aussie distance resistance
- Weight and motor outputs don't live up to hot hatch claims
- The seating position feels a bit like an SUV
- Low-level 'e-sound' strips back driver engagement
Spanish automaker Cupra has an interesting story to tell.
A newly launched brand in the Australian market in 2022, Cupra itself has only been a brand globally since 2018. Before that, Cupra was a performance sub-brand of Seat, the Spanish arm of the Volkswagen Group empire.
Why is that important? Well, while the name itself may not be familiar, it means the products sold here are part of a larger company to ease some of that ‘new brand’ hesitance consumers may have.
In the case of the 2023 Cupra Born, the new all-electric hatchback will be the Volkswagen Group’s first all-electric vehicle. But overseas it follows in the footsteps of cars like the Volkswagen ID.3, and shares its underpinnings and drivetrain with that car.
For Australia, Cupra has picked a single highly specified variant of the Born – combining the most powerful electric motor and highest-capacity battery to deliver a vehicle designed to appeal to Australia’s love of performance while also keeping range anxiety in check.
We hear it from car brands all the time, even commuters who travel less than 50km a day want EVs with long-distance range. Something I'm tagging 'distance resistance' or a refusal to look at real use cases – except for the annual holiday pilgrimage to somewhere far-flung.
|Key details||2023 Cupra Born|
|Price (MSRP)||$59,990 plus on-road costs|
|Colour of test car||Desire Red|
|Options||Interior Package – $2900
- Aurora Blue Dinamica front seats
- Front seat heating
- 12-way power adjustable front seats with massage
- Heated washer jets
- Nine-speaker Beats audio w/subwoofer
Performance Package – $2600
- Dynamic chassis control
- 20-inch alloy wheels
- Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres
- Reduced 475km range claim
Note: adding either package reduces seating capacity to four seats
|Price as tested||$65,490 plus on-road costs|
|Rivals||Tesla Model 3 | Polestar 2 | Nissan Leaf|
Nationally the Born starts from $59,990 plus on-road costs, and the brand is keen to tout that both the price and driving range start with a five, given the 511km claimed driving range. It’s a claim that takes aim at the $63,900 Polestar 2 and its 487km range, the $61,490 Nissan Leaf e+ and its 385km range, and the $65,500 Tesla Model 3 RWD with 491km of claimed range.
Not far off the pace, however, is the Hyundai Kona Elite Extended Range, with a $60,500 price before on-road costs, and a Born-beating 557km of range measured to the same ADR standard (but 484km WLTP).
Each Australian state will have a drive-away pricing offer as part of Cupra’s no-haggle pricing system, starting at $61,990 drive-away in the ACT up to $66,490 drive-away in WA owing to each state’s different stamp duty calculations. Drive-away pricing is set before any applicable incentives or rebates.
Positioned by Cupra as a hot hatch, the Born offers two unique selling points. It’s the only fully electric hot hatch, for now at least, and the only hot hatch (or small hatch of any kind) currently available with rear-wheel drive.
Both of those claims will be for a limited time only, with more dedicated electric cars on the way, many of which will package rear-wheel drive instead of the front-drive favoured by small petrol-powered cars (not to mention the plethora of RWD hatches over the years, culminating in the previous-generation BMW 1 Series).
Packaged beneath the floor of the Cupra Born is an 82kWh (gross) battery with a useable 77kWh (net) capacity. The motor at the back axle produces 170kW and 310Nm – putting the Cupra closer to warm hatch territory compared to some of the 200kW+ petrol cars that now dominate the segment.
Cupra’s Australian management is adamant that a hot hatch is more than its straight-line speed, which is a hard point to argue, and claims that driver engagement will be the decider on whether the Born is worthy of the hot hatch title.
To that end, the brand flew out the first example of an Australian-specification Born for a quick media sample at the Haunted Hills hillclimb circuit in Gippsland, Victoria, alongside two engineering evaluation cars that have been doing the rounds in NSW for some time now.
On a day where the weather refused to play ball and offered plenty of rain, and on a track that highlights nimbleness and handling smarts rather than straight-line speed, Drive took the opportunity to find out if the Cupra Born does fit its hot hatch title.
|2023 Cupra Born|
|Seats||Five (four with options packages)|
|Boot volume||385L seats up|
|*Dimensions based on international specifications|
Feeding out onto the course at Haunted Hills, I’m reminded that this isn’t a ‘traditional’ track. It’s not wide. It is designed for one car at a time against the clock. There’s no bumper-to-bumper racing here and as a result no excess track width or room for error.
There is, however, a series of elevation changes over the course, and really only one section you could call a straight. Even then it’s not long enough to set any new high-speed records.
Perfect for a car that needs to be nimble, communicative, and just plain fun. Which the Born kind of is.
I say ‘kind of’ light-heartedly because the wet weather didn’t give a picture-perfect view of how the Born will stand up as a grippy corner carver, but did prove that the rear-wheel-drive chassis can get a little slip-slidey in the wet. Nothing aggressive, but predictable and rewarding enough to set the electric hot hatch apart from the others in the class.
It’s also easy to get your head around how the Born steers. The steering is light, perhaps exaggerated by the lack of engine up front, but at the same time the front wheels are swift to follow inputs, and there’s a good sense of feedback through the wheel, making it easy to read the road surface and the limits of adhesion.
Perhaps the most unnerving thing in the Cupra is the lack of noise. There’s an e-sound generator for a light hum under acceleration, but it doesn’t emulate a petrol power plant (nor should it) and is there as more of an accent than a feature.
This means that even though speed piles on, the sensation of sound (or lack thereof) tempers your sense of pace.
|At a glance||2023 Cupra Born|
|Warranty||Five years / unlimited km|
|Battery pack||77kWh (511km ADR range, 475km with Performance Package)|
While some electric cars allow you to adjust regeneration when you lift off the accelerator, the Born goes paddle-free, but does offer a higher-regen ‘B’ mode (for braking) available through the gear selector.
That selector too is a small twist dial to the right of the steering column. It takes some time to get used to, but the design frees up centre console space. It sits beside a small 5.3-inch digital instrument panel display.
Braking feel under track conditions felt wholly natural, but in the world of EVs, the switch from regen to friction braking at lower speeds can be where blended brake systems trip up, so this may warrant further exploration on real roads. It is also worth pointing out that the Born runs disc brakes up front, but only drum brakes on the rear – not usually the hardware of high-performance hatchbacks.
To call the Born hot might be a bit of a stretch. Yes, the available performance is readily accessible, but on numbers alone the Cupra trails the hot hatch pack. The handling feels like it should be up to the task, but there’s no real push-back-in-the-seat urgency when you squeeze the accelerator.
Flicking between Comfort and Performance modes didn’t seem to massively change the Born’s attitude, although in fairness, the track sets the pace at Haunted Hills more than the drive mode. Adjustable dampers and 20-inch wheels are available as part of a Performance Package, but 19s and fixed dampers with sport suspension come standard.
Away from the heat (or in this case, dampness) of the track, the Born presents nicely. The styling isn’t overly aggressive, but there’s a bit of flair to it. The glasshouse is huge, and from some angles the Born can look a little more like an SUV or crossover than a traditional hatch.
The same goes inside where the batteries beneath the floor raise the seating position slightly, pulling back some of the sports car feel you might expect.
Materials are a mixed bag inside. There’s hard plastics on the door trims, but nice grippy front seats with plush Dinamica suede-look inserts are an option. The console is configured to maximise storage, and the huge 12.0-inch infotainment display looks appropriately techy.
On this occasion, we didn't get to delve too far into the infotainment's finer details, but for the most part the Born runs the same software interface as other Cupra models, which hasn't always delighted the Drive team due to some confusing menu layouts and counterintuitive icons.
|Key details||2023 Cupra Born|
|Engine||Single permanent-magnet brushless motor|
|Drive type||Rear-wheel drive|
|Power to weight ratio||87kW/t|
|*Weight based on international specifications|
Space and comfort seem decent, but we’ll unpack that further when we get the chance for more time behind the wheel. If you're interested, the boot measures 385L capacity, and there's no under-bonnet storage up front.
Some spec highlights include dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and start, a heated leather steering wheel, wireless charge pad, 360-degree camera, ambient interior lighting, adaptive cruise control and much more. Click here for a more comprehensive list.
There's no doubt the Born's solid range claim and pricing that sits it among the brand's petrol-powered range will hold plenty of appeal.
While the brand may only be new in Australia, experience gleaned from the wider Volkswagen Group means Cupra should have a firm grip on the market and its expectations.
We look forward to putting the Born through its paces in more real-world scenarios, but from this first taste it's hard not to like the effort Cupra has put into the Born to inject a little warm (if not entirely hot) hatch DNA.
Note: Scoring based on limited in-car time, in a track-only setting. We'll expand on this further when the Cupra Born launches officially in 2023.