Unexpectedly sharp pricing combines with solidly fun dynamics to make the Cupra Born one of the most exciting Australian EV releases of 2023
When it priced the incoming 2023 Born electric vehicle at $59,990 before on-road costs, Cupra fulfilled its long-running promise that its first EV would cost about the same money as a petrol-powered hot hatch.
It’s a powerful signal from the Volkswagen Group’s latest brand, signalling the start of a peaceful transition from its combustion-powered greats like the Volkswagen Golf GTI ($60,400 driveaway) to an all-electric future.
And that is a transition that shouldn’t starve hot hatch enthusiasts of too much sleep, because the shift to dedicated EV platforms for the Group’s next wave of small performance cars allows the drive to go from the front axle to the rear.
So we’re certainly not complaining – far from it. As the Born approaches its expected Australian release date in March 2023, we’ve now had two drives of the top-shelf version that will be the sole variant offered locally, at least for a while.
With a 77kWh-usable battery and a 170kW/310Nm rear motor, the Aussie-spec Born will offer a claimed range of 511km – besting many rivals that live at the (relatively) more affordable end of the EV spectrum in this country.
Initial bullish expectations of bringing more than 1000 Born examples to Australia in 2023 have been pared back due to supply constraints that are even worse now than six months ago, Cupra bosses say – but the brand still hopes to import hundreds of Born units next year.
Its sharp pricing will also make the Born an easy contender for EV incentives that are now offered at the federal level and also in some states.
For buyers who typically salary-package their vehicle, a Born could be even cheaper to own than a Hyundai i30 N (from $50,500 driveaway) – so is it worth considering?
Cupra’s parent company Volkswagen has long claimed that the Born EV would arrive in Australia for around the same price as VW’s Golf GTI – and the Barcelona-based firm has delivered on that promise.
Against a list price of $59,990, the Born can be had for as little as $61,990 in the Australian Capital Territory, or as high as $66,490 driveaway in Western Australia. State-by-state driveaway deals are covered here, but on the whole, the Born’s entry price is sharp.
For now, there is just one battery and motor available for the Born in Australia – the global, top-spec 77kWh, 170kW version – and only two option packages are offered, keeping the Born lineup pleasantly simple.
When it is released in Australia, the Born might be called the VZx trim, but even if it isn’t, the sole grade is reasonably highly specified, with the following features fitted as standard:
It remains a head-scratcher why the Born is not fitted with wireless smartphone mirroring technology – as the rest of Cupra’s Australian lineup is.
The $2900 interior package adds the following features:
Meanwhile, the $2600 performance package includes:
Keep in mind that ticking either option box cuts the Born’s interior seating from five pews to four because of rear axle weight load limits in Australia.
In the past, we’ve tested the Born in Australian-esque specifications on twisty roads and motorways in Barcelona, Spain, where we were able to come to grips with its dynamics in urban and country environments.
Our recent drive in Australia of the Born in confirmed Australian specs was limited to a tight, sinewy hillclimb racetrack in regional Victoria, meaning our takeaways were necessarily narrower.
Still, what’s clear is that there is some merit to Cupra’s claim that the Born is an electric hot hatch – a recipe that certainly sounds tantalising, at least to us. We love a hot hatch – give it instant torque and rear-wheel drive, and it sounds like a winner.
In fact, it sounds a bit like the last-generation BMW 1 Series (petrol) and BMW i3 (electric)! Nothing wrong with that – great cars, both. But if we had to pick an analogue from the combustion world, it would be the old RWD BMW 125i, not the BMW M140i.
That’s because with ‘just’ 170kW of power, the Born is pleasantly warm as far as hot hatches go – rather than maximum-spice. With a hefty 1990kg to haul around, the 170kW Born’s power-to-weight ratio is a modest 85kW/tonne.
That said, the instant availability of the rear motor’s entire 310Nm of torque does a decent job of disguising the weight. We expect that Cupra’s 7.0sec 0-100km/h claim will be about right, though we will independently confirm this at the Chasing Cars test track in 2023.
Keen drivers will probably be alarmed by the Born’s on-paper weight, and we’d certainly like to see EVs get lighter in future.
However, Volkswagen carefully developed the car’s MEB platform to hide the mass and Cupra has gone much further, equipping the car with unique damper, steering and ESC tunes to achieve a solid result.
On track, we were able to test the Born in both base-grade form (on skinner tyres and smaller wheels) and with the $2600-optional performance pack, which fattens the tyres and enlarges the alloys for a grippier experience.
Pouring rain marred parts of the experience but it revealed an unexpected finding: the base grade on its lesser rubber can actually be the more fun of the pair if sliding around under throttle is the goal – the Born is rear-wheel drive, remember.
The performance pack really increases the overall surety of the Born, with its 235mm-wide Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres finding good purchase even in wet weather.
Switch the stability control to sport mode (or even completely off!) though and you’ll still find oversteer moments – but when they come, it’s a snappier motion.
Still, we left the track thinking that the Born could be quite an entertaining, zero-tailpipe emission motorkhana partner…
Taking corners with the tiller, as you’re meant to, revealed that the Born has pleasant, light steering that, while lacking much feel or feedback, precisely points the light front end where you want to go.
There’s a deftness, preciseness and quickness to the Born’s movements that would elude most two-tonne cars, and that is promising.
All Borns have a sports suspension in Australia – the only question is whether you take it with passive dampers (on the entry model) or with adaptive dampers (included in the performance pack).
In both our experiences with the Born – in Barcelona and in Victoria – there have been precious few bumps, in the former case because of huge investment in roads, and in the latter case due to the fact that…it was a racetrack.
That means we simply haven’t been able to judge ride quality properly yet, but we have solid expectations.
The Born’s interior is a mixed bag. It’s true to Cupra’s emerging style in that it is upholstered with attractively rich colours, and the driving position is good – but it is let down by some dodgy materials endowed by the Born’s donor platform from Volkswagen.
Starting with the positives: every Born has comfortable, supportive and cool-looking sports bucket front seats that hug you tight.
The entry grade sees these pews upholstered in ‘Seaqual’ fabric which feels quite premium, but the $2900 interior package upgrades the fabric to blue-dyed dinamica, which looks and feels really lovely.
The other benefit of ticking the interior package is that the front seats are upgraded from manual adjustment to full 12-way power movement, with seat heating and massaging also being thrown in.
That’s enough to make the package look fairly priced, before you even consider the necessity of the nine-speaker Beats premium stereo – that we’d want.
Also on the strong side is the Born’s standard-fit 12.3-inch central touchscreen. Cupra’s lighter touch on the infotainment skin seems to make the system more responsive than it feels in similar Volkswagens that share the basic infotainment architecture here. That’s a good thing.
But while the system is snappy to use, some tweaks in the hardware for the MEB platform the Born shares means that the wireless version of Apple CarPlay is removed and wired is swapped in – that’s not very 2023, Cupra!
True to the fact that the Born sits on a dedicated electric-car platform, rather than a repurposed petrol-vehicle chassis, there is plenty of room in the Born’s cabin liberated from areas where hard points would normally be.
No transmission tunnel means more storage room for your stuff, while the shorter bonnet means the dash is pushed forward.
The relatively premium air of many of the bits-and-pieces in the Born’s cabin sits incongruously against unusually harsh door-trim materials that seem to be donated from a base model, Euro-spec Volkswagen ID3 – the Cupra’s less-chic German cousin.
Forget resting your elbow on the door top – it’s hard and scratchy – so you’ll need to go for the more plushly-upholstered armrest instead. It gets worse in the back, where the entire doors of this circa-$60K premium hatch are hard, $25K-Volkswagen Polo style – not impressive.
However, rear seat room and seat comfort is among the best we’ve ever experienced in an EV.
Cupra has cleverly observed that skateboard EV platforms, which push up a car’s floorplan, have a bad habit of leaving back-seat passengers with zero leg support.
To answer this, the Born’s back seat angle is pushed up, providing blissful cushioning that would make sitting back here easier on a long drive.
We just wish that there were air vents fitted to make such road trips more bearable on Australian summer days.
Moving further back, the Born packs a roomy and deep Leon (or Golf)-sized boot, measuring in at 385 litres on European specifications – though this measurement could change slightly down under. There is no spare wheel fitted and the tailgate is manual – nor is there a frunk.
European crash and safety body Euro NCAP has performed a crash-test on the Cupra Born. Against the 2022 protocol, it was awarded a full five-star result with the following details:
The car has not been rated by Australia’s corresponding body ANCAP, but Cupra expects the five-star Euro NCAP result to convert to a five-star ANCAP score in due course.
We haven’t been able to properly test the operation and tuning of the Born’s safety features on real roads yet – but when we have performed that test, we will provide a rating.
What we can say is that the following safety features are fitted as standard to all Born models in Australia:
There’s not a huge amount we can say about the cost to run a Born at this stage, as Cupra representatives wouldn’t confirm to Chasing Cars how much it will cost to service, or how often servicing will be required.
In Europe, the Born is only required to be brought in for maintenance every two years or 30,000km, and we expect to see this level of convenience applying in Australia – as it does for other EVs like the Porsche Taycan.
How the servicing timings will interface with Cupra’s existing complimentary servicing offer is not known. Buy a petrol or hybrid Cupra, and you get three years of free servicing. The company would not be drawn on whether it will extend free servicing to the Born EV.
What we could confirm was that, like its affordable EV compatriots, the Polestar 2 and Tesla Model 3, the Born will not be sold with any free public charging subscription in Australia.
At least efficiency looks decently good. Comparing its 77kWh usable battery to Cupra Australia’s local range claim of 511km between charges, the Born should average 15kWh/100km locally. We look forward to testing that claim independently in early 2023.
If the Born can stick close to 15kWh/100km, it will be noticeably more economical on volts than the Polestar 2, which we found remarkably thirsty in our long-term loan of that EV.
However, competing options like the Hyundai Kona Electric and Tesla Model 3 are likely to be more efficient than the Born.
Australians will reap the benefits of the Born’s 2023 upgrade to 170kW DC charging speeds, which should allow drivers to recharge to 80 percent using a 170kW+ charger in under 30 minutes.
We’ll be conducting our independent Chasing Cars highway range and charging test on the Born after its local release.
There are still some question marks that need to be settled regarding the Australian-spec Born before we can come to a final conclusion.
How much will servicing cost, and how often will it need maintenance? And what is the real-world consumption actually like – in other words, how far does it really go between charges?
Those questions will be answered in good time. As it is, with two tests of the 170kW Born now under our belt, we know enough to say this – if you’re considering this car, you should order one.
Continuing supply-chain woes means that demand is likely to be high, and we wouldn’t be surprised if Cupra’s 2023 Born allocation was exhausted quickly after orders open.
The dynamics are fun and the interior is good enough – for an EV – at this circa-$60K price to make the Born a highly compelling proposition, and one of the most exciting Australian electric car releases of 2023.
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Cupra Born service prices in Australia: three- and five-year packages announced for Tesla Model 3 rival
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