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Road tests

New Cupra Born VZ 2024 review: a great stride for the EV hot hatch genre

The Cupra Born VZ delivers a driving experience that was wholly unexpected given the shortcomings of other cars using the same tech.

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.5 out of 5

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Verdict

Cupra’s pulled a blinder with the Born VZ. Expectations were tempered due to the standard car’s rather mediocre driving experience, and to be frank, we were starting to doubt the assertion there was a hot hatchback buried somewhere in the MEB platform toolkit. But consider us proven wrong, because the Cupra Born VZ is the real deal on a twisty road. It offers a tantalising insight into where Cupra could take its high performance electric cars in the future. 

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It’s fair to say the Cupra Born hasn’t quite moved the needle when it comes to the notion of an electric hot hatchback. And despite some admirable efforts in the shape of the Abarth 500e and MG4 X Power, no one has really cracked the recipe short of Hyundai with the exceptional new Ioniq 5 N (and that’s more of an SUV, technically speaking).

So when it came to the Cupra Born VZ, it’s fair to say we had some doubts. To start with there’s almost nothing to tell the new derivative apart from the standard car visually, a new set of wheels and a missable badge on the bootlid are about the crux of it. But peer inside the upright fishbowl cabin and you’ll see a pair of very serious bucket seats from Sabelt. They might even prompt you to wonder: ‘Is Cupra aiming a little high here?’ 

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Under the skin there’s not a huge amount more to talk about. It has an only marginally bigger battery pack at 79kWh, 2kWh up on the standard car’s, and it still packs just the one motor on the rear axle like a standard Born. Range is improved over lesser models as a bonus, with an estimated distance on a full charge of up to 372 miles. DC fast charging has been upgraded from a peak speed of 135kW to 185kW, giving a 10-80 per cent charge in around 30 mins. 

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The suspension’s upgrades aren’t much to speak of either. Slightly lower by 10mm on the front and 15mm on the rear, the Born VZ does have the latest generation adaptive dampers with their clever slider system of almost infinite variability. There’s also some stiffer anti-roll bars and upgraded steering hardware, with new software right across the board. 

Open the tinny door and you’ll spot a couple more little details in the cabin, things like a new column-mounted gear selector, a fresh steering wheel and a new shroud for the touchscreen. The interface itself is Cupra’s latest and slightly easier to navigate than last time around. Turning off the lane assist and speed sign notification systems is now super easy via a cheeky shortcut menu accessed with a swipe down from the top of the screen. 

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Sit inside the VZ and you have the same view forward through the MPV-like windscreen and the split A-pillars. But something’s different. You sit lower, and those superb Sabelt seats grip you in the right places. And from the moment you pull away you start to realise that despite the seemingly minute changes, this Cupra Born VZ is a completely different animal. 

To begin with, that electric motor’s power figure has been upgraded massively, producing 321bhp and an impressive 545Nm of torque, the former being a 40 per cent increase. This totally changes the character of the car, and being impatient for a moment, mashing the steering wheel-mounted ‘Cupra’ button unleashes performance that no Born or indeed MEB VW product have yet offered.

There’s not just a huge amount of shove, but crystal clear, whip-crack throttle response. Paired with more powerful regenerative braking, the powertrain mapping is now so aggressive that you need to retune your inputs completely, which is a good thing. There’s now so much urgency, so much initial performance on offer that it almost feels like Cupra’s said to its customers: ‘You want power, have all of it!’. It’s so refreshing. 

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The on-paper 0-62mph time of 5.6 seconds feels very conservative, but is largely derived from the fact that the acceleration does tail off quite substantially above 45mph or so. From a standstill, the Born VZ definitely has the legs on any current petrol-powered Cupra model. Even better, it all comes from just the rear axle. 

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Of course, all of this is pointless if the chassis isn’t up for it. But it is. The difference in feel and the confidence this gives you at speed is profound. The steering now offers proper resistance in addition to its previous accuracy, giving you the reassurance to be more measured about turning into bends. 

There’s still a fair bit of mass to manage, but once in a corner there’s lots of grip to lean on, and enough power from the rear-mounted motor to get the chassis balanced with the lightest of throttle inputs. Get greedy with the accelerator and it’ll even oversteer with a reasonable amount of gusto. Even in ESC Sport mode, the VZ still has an iron fist when it comes to outright stability, but you can find little gaps in its control – especially at low speeds.

Come to a stop, put the car in Park and you can turn the traction control systems off completely, but the benefits are minimal as the stability control still chatters away in the background to keep things from being too lairy. In any case, the single rear motor doesn’t have any form of limited slip differential, meaning any sustained oversteer motions are largely off the table as the inner wheel is happy to bleed lots of the power away. 

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The new adaptive dampers, known as DCC Pro, are another revelation as they don’t only offer a comprehensive range of adjustment, but seem to make the most out of the relatively limited suspension travel on offer. The new system feels so much more sophisticated, capable of dealing with challenging bumps and undulations that would have had the previous Born all crossed up. 

Where the dampers in previous Borns would only just about hold onto the springs on rebound after a bump, the new VZ just ploughs on without worry. It handles uneven tarmac without issue, and even retains some of the old car’s suppleness over broken surfaces.

Being critical, we think there’s still some work to do with the brakes, although they are better than before. Cupra, like most manufacturers, is in a process of discovery when it comes to brake feel on EVs and hybrids, as engineers play with the friction braking and regenerative systems to find a balance that works on the road. Few manufacturers have cracked that code, and Cupra’s still not one of them. It would also be nice to have just a little more power to the brakes, too.

There are other elements that still work against the Cupra Born VZ’s ultimate engagement factor, such as a seating position that’s still a little too high, and the fact that a touch more suspension travel wouldn’t be unwelcome. But these are limitations born (no pun intended) out of its fundamental chassis design, and not something that can be re-engineered in this relatively small update. 

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The best bit is that when you’re back in commuter mode, sticking the car into its standard comfort setting turns it into an even better everyday electric hatchback. The benefits to the ride at the firmer end of the spectrum are matched at the softer end, too, and the Born’s good low-speed throttle calibration remains largely unaffected in this hot version. Pretend the Cupra button doesn’t exist and this could be just any other Cupra Born, albeit one that rides better. 

The aforementioned MG4 XPower will still largely destroy the Cupra Born VZ in a straight line. But once you’ve gotten bored of scaring your passengers and want to actually enjoy a twisting road, the Cupra is the better car by multiple orders of magnitude.  

The reality is Cupra, and by extension VW, under-delivered when its MEB-based models first hit the road. Yet the Born VZ is surefire proof that the rate of improvement has been rapid because it really is a night and day compared to the standard car, let alone most other products that share the MEB platform. It’s fair to say there was some scepticism when the Cupra Born VZ was revealed, but we’re delighted to say it was far from justified.

Model:Cupra Born VZ
Base price:£45,000 (est)
Powertrain:

79kWh battery, 1x e-motors

Transmission:

Single-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive

Power/torque:321bhp/545Nm
0-62mph:5.6 seconds
Top speed:124mph
Range/charging:

374miles/185kW 10-80% in 30 mins

Length/width/height:TBC
On sale:Q3 2024
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Senior staff writer

Senior staff writer at Auto Express, Jordan joined the team after six years at evo magazine where he specialised in news and reviews of cars at the high performance end of the car market. 

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