It can lift you to the heavens
Regular parish disciples here know well my disdain for most things mathematical — this to my eyes being rather like knitting fog. Wayne Griffith, CEO of SEAT sub-brand, Cupra clearly sees otherwise. 150,000 Cupras were sold in 2022, generating profit margins of £158M for the group with a £9B turnover, the second largest in the (SEAT) brand’s 73 year history.
Mr Griffiths expounded Cupra’s virtues, “wanting half the group’s overall sales and 500,000 per year in the mid-term as we aim to become a top global brand by 2030.” His gaze is moving Stateside by “testing Cupra” there, Griffiths’ hope being that “the Americans will love Cupra’s design and (electric only) performance.” These potentially American bound machines will require further additions to the coffers, along with the VW Group’s larger SSP Platform. The vehicle we’re examining today however is not for that continent.
The Born sits on the MEB Platform, shared with VW’s own ID3. The world was first introduced of the Spanish version at the 2020 Palexpo, known then as the SEAT El-Born. That particular vehicle being “95% production ready.” Then design chief, Alejandro Mesonero-Romanos described the car as “the ultimate translation of our emotional design language into the new world of electric vehicles. We have to make customers fall in love with that idea.”
Pretty much all of the above makes for curious reading as the SEAT/Cupra bifurcation borders a conundrum worthy of Italian car makes of the mid-twentieth century. Access to the VW parts bins is obvious, not so much the Cupra brand’s identity. Let’s allow the group’s Exterior Design Lead, Jorge Diez, to clear the fog.
Born in Galicia, Diez’s first port of call was Audi where he knocked ideas around for the second generation TT along with original A7. A return to his homeland allowed him a “fresh sheet of paper” with Cupra which he says, offers “a spirit of the country, more emotional.” He understands the brand won’t be for everyone, “but some will love it.”
Key design elements include the triangular light graphic to front and rear, bodywork ‘slashes’, matte colour schemes along with details in naked copper, to imbue the sophisticated and sporty image Diez desired. “Each Cupra has its own personality, like brothers and sisters.” He continued, “the cars must be fun to drive. Emotions and desire are the targets.”
Diez then takes us down a different avenue: age. “We’re looking at what the teenagers of today are interested in. We have to look outside the automotive world.” Focus on recycled materials, neoprene seating, potential for personalisation with 3D printing along with a distinct lack of classic materials such as wood or chrome. “Objects can talk without words. The key is technology, to unlock those feelings that engines once generated. It’s a little egoistic but Cupra is well placed to explore these aspects.”
Has Señor Diez cleared the mists and preconceptions of Cupra for you? Regardless, let’s take a closer look into Born and it’s sibling, the ID3.
The ID measures 4,262mm (167.8”) long, 1,809mm wide (71.2”) and stands 1,552mm (61.1”) tall, sitting on a 2,765mm (108.9”) wheelbase. The Spaniard shares only width, with tweaks, some minuscule: Length being 4,322mm and Height of 1,537mm on a 2,767mm wheelbase.
Born, as ID3, is rear wheel drive and on release arrived with power outputs of 110kW or 150kW with identical 310Nm of turning effort. The permanent magnet synchronous motor revolves some sixteen thousand times per minute. Battery cooling is by water and, as one might expect is housed low and centrally in the aluminium chassis for “an almost perfect 50:50” weight distribution. Suspension consists of MacPherson struts front with multi-links, rear. The speed of Born caps out at 99mph with around seven seconds elapsing to achieve sixty.
Your author gives an affirmation regarding looks. A solidity and almost spicy demeanour, especially in Aurora Blue with those cupric accents lend the car a somewhat raffish stance to its rather anonymous Wolfsburg sister. Born doesn’t scream its electrical motivation. Its modernity and, to many, unknown badge offer mystery with some Spanish élan.
Diez again, “Born delivers impact and emotion along with personality, refinement and determination. The concave upper (bonnet), like a shark fin, a sign of strength.” The lower front actually channels air toward the radiator — how quaintly old fashioned.
According to the Cupra website, the A-Pillar’s rake is “sleeker and performance driven.” From the outside, I find myself in accord. Inside, however, may be nit-picking but the very A shape now offers two significant view restricting posts. The Zwickau sibling is exactly the same, yet Born does appear more polished. Colour specifics? When faced with badge engineering, one’s palette is limited, yet Cupra, and Diez have massaged the Born into, if not perhaps a new identity, then a more genetically modified clone. In the modern day, this might not be a bad thing, it would appear on trend, at least.
The narrative continues inside. Contemporary reviews suggest Born improves upon its more Germanic counterpart. The Spaniard’s rear legroom is equal to that of another German rival, the 5 series. All seats are sporty in guise with lower spec materials derived from recycled beach detritus. Upper trim levels claim the dinamica microfibre lounge.
Boot space is on par with that old fossil, der Golf yet for a vehicle costing at least £36,000, a false floor to create a soupçon more room and cable tidy costs an extra £325. Another mystery being the use and perception of the infotainment system, a phrase your author believes should be relegated to Hades. For an on-trend brand, one reads of the controlling tablet’s inability to operate at the speeds conducive with expected users.
Autocar, they of measurement and occasional over excitement tendencies, deem Born to be not only quieter but also marginally faster alongside exhibiting some brio. High praise indeed. The magazine also takes their test cars onto the racetrack, Born eliciting a “beautifully rear wheel drive balance, that backs up sharp turn-in — even with low rolling resistance tyres and (rear) drum brakes.” Whilst doubtful many Born users will be rattling up personal bests around Portimão Circuit, it’s nice to know the car is up to the job.
In ways, the Cupra badge resembles that of the equally unsure, to potential customers and enthusiasts alike, DS brand. Sub-brands of known quantities, there to fill niches only marketing types know of, or (hopefully) understand.
Compared with the anodyne ID3 on looks alone, the Spanish brand gets my vote. But although my demographic does not quite reach Martorell, this writer remains mystifyingly pleased with Born.
Data Sources: various Autocar articles, seat-mediacenter.com, wallpaper.com for J. Diez interview
Author’s note: although title and strap line derive from the song by Toyah Wilcox, the premise of the piece came about through television. “Born sponsors mystery drama on ITV.” These brief, (10-15 second) mini-ads proved more interesting than the actual show.
37 thoughts on “It’s A Mystery”
By this point I’ve seen a few ID.3s (you forgot the fussy dot, Andrew) around. To be honest there’s something about its slab-sidedness that makes it about as appealing as a cardboard box to me. Obviously this Cupra suffers from the same malady, emotional design language or not.
Good morning Andrew. I’ll assume the title of your piece is intended to be ironic, since there’s no mystery here. Ignore all the marketing hype: the Born is an ID.3 with a nose and tail lift and some graphics on the C-pillar to make the DLO look different:
The Born is certainly an improvement on the bland VW, but what are the implications for the SEAT brand of not having its own version of the ID.3 to sell? That’s probably the most interesting thing about the Born.
Oh dear, I seem to be a bit grumpy this morning…😁
A couple of weeks ago one of my neighbours got his pale grey ID.3. Those stick-on dots on the C pillar look absolutely awful and cheap – until you look at the interior which makes a Seventies’ basic Polo Mk1 appear like a luxury product in terms of material quality.
The Cupra still has those silly disjunct lateral creases that Andreas Zapatinas foisted upon Seat.
The rest looks like a mixture of Toyota Yaris and Opel Konrad.
With their fat battery packs at the bottom these cars somehow look like a standard car on a furniture transport trolley.
I’ve seen quite a few of both, living the Netherlands. The ID3 is getting inoffensive to my eyes. Bland and awkward but inoffensive, mostly because it is less aggressive than most current designs. The Seat is slightly nicer, but it is just a face and rear lift. The curve of the bottom of the DLO manages to sap any tension that the Dirty Harry style squinty lights and creases try to provide.
Completely arcane trivia alert: “Born” is also the town where the Netherlands’ only car factory of consequence is located, run by VDL these days and producing Minis and other BMW products until the contract runs out next year. Since there is no new partner in place, just today a strike has broken out over the expected job cuts when the BMW contract terminates. The factory, started as a DAF plant, has had many owners and partners over the years. The Smart FourFor, er: ForFour and the contemporary Colt, the Mitsubishi Carisma and a host of small Volvos (heirs to the takeover of DAF by Volvo) are amongst other cars produced there.
It is very good that the two vehicles are clearly labelled.
I would not have known which is which.
Badges: Polestar, Cupra, DS, Aiways, and maybe the one for Nio. There has been a renaissance of a small type thanks to car makerts trying to wriggle out of markets and into new ones. Kia have used a revision of their badgs to indicate a move into a newer area and to signify their new status (or hoped-for new status). The Cupra badge is way too aggressive and pointy. I hope they checked this with their target users. It suggests a hazard rather than something fun or exciting. I would use that symbol for a race of evil warrior robotoid insects from Galandalaxy 3, near the Dark Megavoid of C´Thune. Did Volvo need to call their e-cars Polestar?
Hi Richard, I agree with your observations on the Cupra badge; the satin-bronze finish giving it perhaps even more aggressivity. I think this is because Cupra, in its latest iteration, was going to represent the most powerful, loud, berserk versions of the various Seat cars. With the Formentor, the first Cupra-only car, that began to change. Now with the addition of the electric Born and Tavascan, it became even more confusing.
Tavascan, to English speakers, sounds like a pharmaceutical product to treat acid reflux (even if it is a village in Spain).
Yep, still grumpy…😁
The Cupra emblem looks to my eyes somewhat more akin to tattoo designs; perhaps intentionally, given the design team’s enthusiasm to reflect youth culture. I’m currently in Southern Spain and amongst the things that have struck me is the sheer quantity of tattoos adorning the younger generation (some older folk too). And not just the odd one or two, but masses of them, on every available limb. Each to their own, so no judgement on my part. After all, I’m covered in freckles, ergo all I need to do is join the dots… Where did I put that marker?
My feeling is that VW bosses have despaired at getting the transaction prices for SEAT up to required levels, so Cupra is a means of doing that. The Formentor is a regular sight down here. The Born? I think I’ve seen one. Mostly it’s Leons and Ibizas of varying ages and levels of decrepitude. My ambition is to find and photograph a Ronda, ideally in Ronda. (A man’s gotta have ambition…)
Expect a few roadside observations from here over the coming weeks.
Eóin, we were in Barcelona last year and also struck by the number of tattoos, and especially on the older generation. Our Catalan friends said that it was a response to being freed from the hideous Franco regime (if you want to learn just how reactionary, misogynist and corrupt it was I recommend the Real Dictators podcast series on Franco).
Cupras I find more appealing than any VW or Seat, though that’s not setting the bar too high.
Andy: That’s an interesting hypotheses, one I hadn’t considered. I can understand the logic.
I have done some reading around the Spanish Civil War. What occurred was mindboggling. What a ghastly regime.
I am painfully aware of my exclusion from the market at which these devices (and their ilk) are aimed – but the very blandness of the ID.3 is a beacon of hope in a sea of pointless excrescence. Tarting it up with the 21st century equivalent of go-faster stripes does it no favours at all.
Not that I’m feeling in the least bit grumpy this morning…..
I seem to see quite a few of both the ID.3 and the Born on a regular basis. The Se – sorry – Cupra is the more eye catching, but there is still an awkwardness, as there is with most EV designs so far. The only EVs I think look ‘right’ are the Zoë and the Taycan, although the Ioniq 5 gets an honourable mention. I actually wish that Cupra and DS were just scrapped because neither adds anything to the automotive landscape.
Well, the rumors here in Spain are that Seat will disappear as a car brand and become a “mobility provider” or such marketing gibberish. They’re half way there anyway, with Seat’s sub-brand Mó, a provider of electric motorcycles and (gasp) scooters for urban hire:
VAG spent thirty years on Seat. Are they really going to ditch it? I think people buy Cupras because of the car not the badge. It´d still sell with a Seat badge – or the marketing people have other data? Maybe new times call for new brands.
VAG spent 30 years on the Škoda and it became a success story. 30 years on the SEAT brand led nowhere – while it’s not a money looser it’s difficult to attach an identity to it. It tried to be everything from budget brand through family carrier to the Spanish Alfa Romeo and none of those really fitted the picture.
They likely can’t dismember the brand completely as they’ve accepted millions of subsidies from the Spanish governments over the years that it would cause a public outrage, but above mentioned scooters and the Cupra spin-off likely mark a slow transformation from a mass-market brand to something different.
Well, at least I don’t see any egregious creases and folds on the scooters pictured, so that’s something.
Going off at a slight tangent, I can’t help noticing that the ID3 is slightly longer, and wider, and a good bit taller, than an 1800 Landcrab. So it’s a big car.
As for the Born, those graphics on the ‘C’ pillar suggesting a semi-floating roof are getting a bit hackneyed.
I’m not grumpy this morning, but electric sub-brands and double ‘A’ pillars are potential triggers…
Lancia kicked off semi-floating roofs with the last Delta, didn´t they?
Re floating roofs, the original Ford Focus, perhaps, albeit not using darkened C-pillars.
Fiat had the first floating roof with the 600 Jolly
Ah, floating roofs. I wonder what the opinion is on the Renault Fuego, even the C-pillar float here. And how about the Pegaso Z103. Does this roof float?
Although I’m a Volkswagen Group fan, I’m ambivalent about all the EVs they’ve launched so far. I gather they all drive well, though and I think the ID.2 concept is better.
They sell around 2k to 3k Cupra Born models each month in Europe and about 4k ID.3s. That compares with around 15k sales per month for the Golf, so unless they’re making an enormous profit on each EV sold, I can’t imagine that the Board of Directors will be very thrilled. That said, there’s a lot of platform sharing (including with Ford), so perhaps it’s okay, or will be okay. And at least they’ve grasped they electrification nettle, unlike Toyota, seemingly.
They don’t seem to have done Audi and Škoda versions of the ID.3 / Born, yet. Perhaps they’re just testing the waters, but wouldn’t it have made sense to have started with a smaller brand like Škoda, first?
The revised ID.3 is an improvement, but it’s still too large and expensive, for me. I guess that they need a large platform to accommodate the batteries in their current technological state. I think it looks nice in their green metallic colour and the interior’s better.
On a more positive note, the used value of EVs is really starting to come down, so they’re more accessible for anyone who wants one.
The ID.3 still looks like a small kid’s chewing toy.
What it really urgently needed was far, far better quality of the materials used in its interior.
I like the blandness of the ID3, In fact I wish it could be more bland by removing the C pillar graphics. It’s a device, that’s all, and as JTC suggests, for me it’s blandness is a plus. It’s refreshing to come across a design that isn’t incoherently noisy. I don’t want to be shouted at by every car I pass in the street. Certainly, the ID3 is preferable to the Born’s half hearted attempts to be a bit more more exciting.
No sooner wished for … Looking closer at the facelift, it seems the C pillar graphics have gone.
But the wheels are still nasty.
Hi bristowfuller. Nasty wheels are a standard feature of nearly all EVs, as far as I can see. Are they so for aerodynamic reasons, to eke out a little more range?
The stick-on C pillar graphics are an opt-out delete option. You can get an ID.3 without it by simply choosing an appropriate configuration.
Regarding “nasty wheels”, I do actually like designs as we see on this ID.3 or on the Tesla 3. I have always liked closed wheels with flat(ter) surfaces over spoked designs (maybe my Citroën background is causing that). Therefore I’m glad to see something different than the ubiquitous black-and-silver spokes (or all-black, even worse).
This evening I shall raise a glass to blandness (the contents will be far from bland). But Mervyn’s comparison say it all. Iechyd da!
Good afternoon all!
Interesting. I gather that Cupra (is that how a Spaniard says Cooper?) 😉 is sort of VAG’s answer to PSA’s DS sub-marque. If DS needed an answer. Looked at in profile, I find the side treatment with the exaggerated and accented kinked-in effect on the lower door panels) puts me in mind of a woman’s shoe. This is not necessarily bad, and it certainly is more attractive than some door treatments than we have seen lately, which often seem to be decoration for decoration’s sake, to add a point of interest while stuck in a traffic jam, perhaps. To my eyes at least, it seems to add some visual lightness to the sides. Neat trick!
As my regular ride is a Jazz 2 the double A pillars (AA pillar?) don’t bother me. They may look off-putting at first, but you can get used to them – at least, as Honda does them..
Daniel’s direct comparison photo of this with the ID3 is hard to ignore though. Of the two, I find the Born more attractive, and not just because it’s blue. It’s amazing what a difference the door treatment, different handles, and a reshaped stick-on C-pillar applique can make. My only stylistic quibble is whether there is need for a logo as well as the CUPRA letters on the rear -a throwback to fifties America-style overdecoration, surely. Either/or, lads, not both. This is the twenty-first century, remember.
It’s much more attractive than a mere Volkswagen.
But will it be enough for us to see the Born supremacy?
The Born is more aggressive than the ID3, but given the starting point of weird proportions I don’t think it’s an improvement. The ID.2 Concept is a step in the right direction.
Another pointless brand I would terminate in a moment. I’m feeling grumpy today as well.
Ah, but do you mean Seat or Cupra? Or both?
Why not both? We live in a non- binary world!