Eighteen months ago, nobody would have predicted that, in 2021, a Tesla would almost take the crown as the best-selling car in the UK (it came a close second, behind the Vauxhall Corsa).
These are expensive vehicles, remember. Yet the running costs and ownership benefits make them an extremely attractive proposition.
That’s all, Volks
Now everyone seems to be hanging onto Tesla’s coat tails, and new electric models are launched on an almost weekly basis. The initial excitement has abated, and that means it will be the best and most interesting cars that grab your attention. Simply being electric is no longer enough.
That helps to explain the Cupra Born. This new Golf-sized five-door hatchback looks sharp and sporty, and not a bit like the studious Volkswagen ID.3.
That’s relevant. Cupra is a sub-brand of Spanish marque Seat, which in turn is part of the Volkswagen Group. Not surprisingly, the Born is pretty much an ID.3 under the skin.
However, it has been imbued with ’emotional sportiness’. Yes, I too had forgotten that marketers still talk nonsense when given half a chance, but it’s true that the Born does look rather appealing – helped by its imposing-yet-efficient wheels and tires.
A touch too much
Inside, you get fabulous bucket seats, a decent amount of rear legroom and pretty good luggage space for an electric car. There’s a head-up display for the windscreen – a useful feature – but from then on the technology falters pretty quickly.
In attempting to go full-Tesla, the central screen is where you go to control pretty much everything: heating, navigation, Apple CarPlay, radio, suspension settings – it goes on and on. Actual buttons and knobs you can press or turn? No siree, apart from a few hidden out of sight for the lights.
It’s close to a catastrophe. It’s easy to imagine some drivers never getting on top of all this, bearing in mind the only real way to learn is on the job. But how long dare you take your eyes off the road while you do?
Fast and fun
There are other irritations. The car’s sporty personality is emphasized by dynamic settings for the steering and suspension, but you have to set these every time you leave via, you’ve guessed it, that wretched screen.
The controls on the steering wheel are equally bad, changing radio stations because you have unavoidably brushed poorly placed touch-sensitive pads, then refusing to alter the volume because another pad isn’t sensitive enough.
Yes, the Cupra Born is appealing in most other respects. It’s lovely to drive, pretty fast in the mid-range 204hp version I tested (150hp and 231hp models are also available) and combines sporty handling with a comfortable ride. Yet the visibility over your shoulder for parking is seriously restricted, while the regenerative braking mode has only a minimal effect.
A car of compromises
The official range stretches from 211 to 335 miles, with this Born V3 offering 260 miles. As Top Gear magazine succinctly puts it: ‘Take a third off the official range and then you’ll be pleasantly surprised to go a bit further in summer, and not too disappointed in winter by getting somewhat less.’
That sort of compromise sums up the Cupra Born. It’s a compromise I wouldn’t make, despite the attractive prices.
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Model: Cupra Born
Prices from: £34,715
Price as tested: £38,955
Engines: Electric motor
Fuel type: Electric
Gearboxes: Single-speed automatic
Trims: V1, V2, V3
Power: 150-230 hp
0-62mph: 6.6-7.3 seconds
Fuel economy: 15.5-18.0 kwh/100km
Battery size: 58-77 kWh
Electric range: 225-340 miles
CO2: 0 g/km
Dimensions (l/w/h): 4,322/1,809/1,540 mm
Boot capacity: 385
Warranty: 3 years / 60,000 miles