Is the Cupra Born the EV We’ve Been Waiting For?
While it’s been a long time coming, it’s starting to feel like we’re finally turning the corner when it comes to EV options in Australia. Since the Tesla Model S first graced our shores in 2014, there’s been a slow drip feed of options from a handful of car manufacturers that, while impressively engineered, have rarely offered a legitimate alternative to their internal-combustion brethren.
In most cases, it was either an issue of EVs being too expensive, too numb to drive, too little range, or just not being the right size (or some combination of the four). These challenges usually led to the general discourse sounding something like: “I like the idea of an EV, but I think I’m still a few years away.” And who could argue?
But 2023 has brought a change in the air; it feels like we’ve reached the point where EVs will start to be compared to combustion vehicles in a like-for-like framework, and nothing makes a stronger case than the all-new, all-electric Cupra Born.
Based on Volkswagen’s MEB platform, the Spanish outfit’s first fully electric model also happens to be one of the most exciting EV offerings on the market today: over 500kms of range, progressive design, rear-wheel drive, all in a package similar to a VW Golf. On paper, it looks compelling, but it wasn’t until I went down to Canberra for the official launch that I realised just how impressive this little package was.
2023 Cupra Born Design
With the Born parked in a leafy courtyard at Canberra’s ‘Saint Melo’, it was an excellent opportunity to appreciate its stationary offerings. On first impression, there’s something very striking about the package. Not quite a lairy hot hatch, but a long way from a soulless EV, the Born blends pragmatic proportions with menacing features that work from every angle.
Its Golf-like stance (4,324mm L x 1,809mm W x 1,540mm H) is chiselled aggressively through the side skirts, grill and bonnet mouldings, while the LED lighting anchors the silhouette with an ominous glance.
As per Cupra’s design language, copper accents are featured throughout, including badges and grill, while the standard 19-inch wheels are some of the most interesting I’ve seen on a 5-door hatch. If you happen to be one of those lunatics that think 19s are too small, then Cupra is offering an optional ‘Performance Package’ that bundles 20-inch wheels, adaptive damping and active chassis control.
Possibly the most impressive design feature on the Born, however, also happens to be the least sexy to talk about; overhang. With a wheelbase of 2,766mm and an overall length of just 4,324mm, the Cupra Born is a proportional masterclass that maximises cabin space while minimising unnecessary bodywork on either side of the axles. Not only does this make parking and manoeuvrability much easier, its also just a more efficient use of space and materials.
Inside the cabin, the considered design thinking continues. A mixture of soft and hard surfaces scatter the Born in a way that’s relatable while still being exhilarating. A 12-inch infotainment touchscreen system sits front and centre but, unfortunately, is a little clunky to operate. In contrast, a smaller 5.3-inch digital cockpit sits modestly above the steering wheel, providing all of the relevant driving information you care about in a concise format.
In terms of space, the Born punches well above its weight, with exceptional head and leg room throughout the cabin. You do sit a little higher due to the battery-lined chassis, but even with that, I still had plenty of space above my 190cm frame. The 385 litres of boot space is pretty impressive when you consider the minimal overhangs and cabin space. Still, if you plan on transporting some bulky items, the Born opens up into 1267 litres of functional bliss.
But perhaps my favourite feature of the interior is the bucket seats made from recycled ocean plastic. Cupra partnered with Seaqual, a not-for-profit that provided a recycled polymer fibre fabric, upcycling plastics retrieved from beaches, oceans, and rivers. Not only is the material ethically sourced and made, but it’s also extremely comfortable, hard-wearing, and unique, which is quite refreshing in a sea of leather-clad thrones.
Before I got my hands on the keys, Cupra invited me to sit down with Francesca Sangalli, head designer of colour and trim, to discuss all things design-related at the Spanish outfit.
Justin Jackie: Tell us about your background as a designer and what led you to this point in your career
Francesca Sangalli: Well, I studied architecture in Milan and went to London to do industrial design. So basically, I graduated both in architecture and industrial design in London. I spent many years at another car company working as a concept designer, material specific. And finally, I arrived at Cupra, so I joined Cupra at the beginning of its life. So this, for me, was amazing because I had the opportunity to really build a brand. So it’s so exciting to do that.
JJ: Were you always a fan of automotive design or more of a design generalist?
FS: Yeah, that’s a good question because, actually, I’ve always been a design lover in general, and also architecture. I love taking inspiration from things, and I love how the objects are created, so I’m very much a product designer inside. I never had this passion for the design of the car. But then I love concept design, and I think the car is the most complex product that you find. Basically, it’s the only product that takes four to six years to produce from the first day of ideation to when you have the car on the street. This means that you have to think from the beginning and try to forecast the future.
JJ: Obviously, Cupra is quite new. What can you say about Cupra’s design identity?
FS: In order to design a car that is automatically recognised as a Cupra, this was the job that we did until now. Building this brand identity is something very, very important. So the concept of authenticity, say let’s do it differently from all the other car brands, try to reinterpret the concept of authenticity, and not follow the same path for us is key. These cars are for really focusing on a new generation of car lovers.
What does it mean to focus on the new generation? In one sense, gender neutrality, this is definitely one of the points. I mean simply sharing the same value and go for it. The other topic is sustainability because it’s an environmentally critical generation, that is the new generation, this is something we need to take with seriousness. The other aspect is technology because this generation is very much linked to technology and to the virtual world. This is a story that Cupra keeps very much in its DNA. The digital era and this digital design is something that will inspire our car, more and more in the future.
I will say these are the main pillars in order to create a product that is unique. And we do not compromise. So emotional, but at the same time, not designed to please everybody. So we’re prepared to have a product that is loved by few, rather than liked by everyone.
JJ: For the past 100 years, one of the main points of differentiation between vehicles was the variety of internal combustion engines. With more uniformity amongst electric powertrains, is there now more emphasis on design as a point of distinction?
FS: Well, my particular role is focusing on material. I think design is very important. It will be more important in the future. Because now we also have new processes, new technologies, you see already in other products like in fashion or sport equipment, architecture. They all take design from the technology and influence a lot, the outcome, the aesthetic outcomes.
JJ: What methods and materials are in place for sustainable production?
FS: Yeah, I can talk about what I know because, obviously, I’m not an engineer, so I can talk only from my perspective as a material designer. Definitely, there is a lot of thinking in terms of recyclability. So the percentage of recycled material that you can put inside the car all over. Some visible parts, also invisible parts. What does this imply in terms of then entering the circular lifecycle? And what opportunities are there for bio-based material?
Why is plastic always considered to be the enemy of design inside a car, with companies trying to hide or cover it and say. Why not make a statement, and say, you know what? I’m not covering in another material. That’s actually not sustainable because it means that you still have your ugly material behind the good one. Let’s make the ugly one beautiful and sustainable. For me this is a statement that has a lot of power.
JJ: Like what Kartell did with furniture?
FS: Exactly! I was talking about that the other day! Obviously, Kartell is a brand of plastic chair for a lot of money. In the design world, you could have a lamp by Floss that uses metal and glass; at the same time, you could get a Tom Dixon Polycarbonate lamp for €3,000. It’s not necessary anymore to deliver value or meaning to something, to follow the same path using only normal materials. So you can dignify the plastic and give a new value and it becomes one of the highlights for a brand.
With the Born key in my hot little hand (great-looking key, by the way), it was time to test the diminutive Spaniard. Driving around Canberras CBD was as pleasant as you’d hope for, with the Born ticking all the boxes: an ergonomic driving position, comfortable seats, excellent visibility, minimal road noise, and a nicely weighted steering rack combined for stress-free urban driving. The switchgear for the infotainment could be clearer and more intuitive; likewise, the menu structure to access functions like the heated steering, but it’s not enough to ruin the experience.
Once I got out of the city and had some twisty roads between myself and the horizon, it was time to put the Born in “Performance” and see what it was capable of. With the full 170kW available, the gruff unit pulls quite nicely from corner to corner, and while it’s not quite modern-day “hot hatch” standards (0-100km/h in 7 seconds), it’s still punchy enough for you to have some fun.
Slaloming from corner to corner, the chassis hides its weight remarkably well, with minimal body roll on direction changes. You do get a true sense of the rear wheel bias, but with such a low centre of gravity and linear torque curve, it doesn’t feel ‘tail-y’ in the traditional sense.
Even with the standard 19-inch wheels and passive suspension, the Born strikes a nice balance between comfort and firmness. The mechanical grip was plentiful even when pushing, and although the “Performance Pack” offers a broader section tyre and adaptive dampers (at the cost of some range), I can’t imagine a scenario where the standard set-up wasn’t advantageous.
2023 Cupra Born Pricing Australia & Specs
While EVs are usually tricky to price due to different incentives from state to state, this should give you a guide of what it will cost:
- ACT: $61,990 Driveaway (+ interest-free loan)
- NSW: $62,490 Driveaway ($59,490 after incentive)
- QLD: $63,490 Driveaway ($57,490 after incentive)
- SA: $64,490 Driveaway ($61,490 after incentive)
- VIC: $64,990 Driveaway ($61,990 after incentive)
- WA: $66,490 Driveaway ($62,990 after incentive)
Full Cupra Born pricing breakdown
Is the Cupra Born a Good EV?
While this is Cupra’s first fully electric car, the Born feels far from a debutante. With a very well-engineered, VW group-developed platform at its core, the team in Barcelona have built a progressive, fun, and utilitarian package that many of its more expensive competitors should envy.
The exterior design is attractive while being tasteful, the interior embraces sustainability and comfort, and while the chassis isn’t quite the “hot hatch” that some might assume, its ability to be a fun all-rounder is a far more significant achievement, in my eyes.
You’ll be able to find more range in other models. You’ll also find more compact EVs for less money. But you won’t find a car on the market that does everything this well. The Cupra Born is a brilliant package, and with more models on the horizon, the Spanish outfit’s electric future will only get better from here.