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On its first UK appearance, Cupra’s electric hot hatch shows promise and annoyance in equal measure

What is it?

Within three minutes of getting into a Cupra Born in the UK, I’m annoyed.

It has told me I’m not driving in the middle of the lane when there’s a perfectly good reason why I’m not, and turning off the lane keeping assistance system is as complicated as putting on a heated seat, which is at least three touchscreen icon pushes away. This stuff is unforgivably irritating.

Which is a shame, because I’m otherwise quite enjoying the Born. It’s a lowish electric hot hatchback from Cupra, which is Seat’s sporty bit (although, yes, Seat was also the Volkswagen Group’s sporty bit once, if you remember).

It’s based on the same platform as the Volkswagen ID 3 and at 4322mm long is 61mm longer, so it’s still comfortably the ‘small family’ size outside but is quite a lot bigger inside than a conventional internally combusted hatch, because of the packaging advantages of having a battery pack beneath the floor and a motor at the rear. It's roomy up front and spacious in the rear seats. Ergonomic foibles aside, materials choices and design feel very good. 

2 Cupra born 2021 lhd uk first drive review tracking rear

What's it like?

Battery-electric vehicles tend to be heavier than an ICE alternative, but there are upsides too. That the Born's battery pack gives an inherent low centre of gravity and that the suspension is 15mm lower at the rear and 10mm lower at the front than on the ID 3, gives this mid-spec 201bhp Born, with a 58kWh usable battery, a pleasing edge to its drive.  

It’s heavier than the petrol Cupra Leon, but the weight is in the right place and engineers seem to finally be getting the hang of handling big masses, which don’t need stiff anti-roll bars, because they’re set so low.

So the Born flows along a British back road really nicely, with never a hint of harshness, while its steering, whose weight can be adjusted, is easy, smooth and precise. There’s no torque steer, because there’s no power to the front wheels, while there is a hint of rear-drive dynamism.

On a slippery road, you can feel the 229lb ft of torque just help to turn the car on the way out of a corner. Nothing wild or dramatic, but a nice sense of agility that you don’t get in something ordinary with a big lump of reciprocating masses in the nose and driving the front wheels.

4 Cupra born 2021 lhd uk first drive review dashboard

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Should I buy one?

At the time of writing there are still a few unknowns about the Born's prices, but indications are that it'll be just a touch more expensive than an equivalent VW ID 3. So you can expect cheapest versions to be at MG 5 sort of levels, all the way through to Tesla Model 3 competitive at the upper end.

The official range of this version is 250 miles, with fast charging speeds of either 100kW or 125kW on the top version. 

To drive, I think the Born doesn't have too much to fear from anything else in its nearby classes. I would like this car a lot. If only it were less annoying to use.

3 Cupra born 2021 lhd uk first drive review cornering front


Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

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Commenter 23 December 2021
EVs have given manufacturer the excuse to offer rwd versions of front wheel drive cars without space compromise of the old bmw 1 series and avoid torque steer. The goal is to make these EVs genuinely more sporty which would've been the case if they are ice powered.
AddyT 17 December 2021

I will just get a "last of the line" new ICE car in 2029 which will last for decades (and probably until I am old enough to maybe not be driving) and continue to drive my Golf 7R at the weekends until it dies. Which will be quite a way off yet. Also, ignoring Covid, I drive a lot of miles a year for work so an electric will never be right for that. Absolutely no interest in them. 

matchico 16 December 2021

An ID.3 with some copper trim bits for 1000s more? Clearly not worth it! I think I'll wait the Megane elecric. Looks more promising. Just hope the price will be right...