New-born El Born elbows Seat and Cupra into electrified territory
Shown and presaged at last summer’s Liverpool exposition for Seat Cars, the Cupra El Born is now confirmed as the Spanish firm’s next fully electric model (a first for Cupra), reports Iain Robertson, as he wrestles with the power transition from petrol to EV.
Observers may have to posit the inference that Seat could have been hived off by VW Group only a few years ago, with the news that its Cupra sub-brand will present imminently its version of the VW I.D.3 all-electric hatchback. Perhaps it was a management ruse by VeeDub, to ensure that its sunny Iberian sub-plot could be drawn back into line and made to turn a profit? Regardless, it worked clearly, as Seat has been making headway, albeit with a product line-up that is only mildly altered these days over its VW progenitors.
To those of a nervous disposition, Cupra has become the EV and performance arm of Seat, which is slightly confusing but into which slots the new El Born. Its styling has been revised slightly over the concept car shown last year but only enough to make it production viable. The dashboard, for instance, is a complete carryover from the equivalent I.D.3 model, with a small digital panel ahead of the driver and the revised touchscreen in the usual top-of-centre-stack position. Most, or all, of the controls follow the latest ‘finger slide’ operation introduced most recently on the VW ‘Golfate’.
The Cupra El Born will also offer a raft of convenience features, such as an Augmented Reality Head-Up Display and a comprehensive suite of connectivity, which will enable either Apple, or Android mobile technology to link-up with the car’s architecture and also be recharged wirelessly. Despite its electric drive, the upmarket and sporty upholstery and bolstered seating is very much from the Cupra camp, which will go some way towards this former ‘budget brand’ justifying its jacked-up pricing. Incidentally, the new El Born is being manufactured at VW’s Zwickau plant, in Germany, which will ensure high attention to build quality, even though the accent will not be Spanish.
Developed on Volkswagen Group’s MEB platform (as is the I.D.3), the El Born boasts a cutting-edge drivetrain: a 77kWh (gross: 82kWh) lithium-ion battery, driving the rear wheels and offering an excellent range of up to 310 miles. Thanks to its fast charging capability, the sporty hatch can take on-board the energy needed for at least 161miles in just 30 minutes at a fast charger. Seat is being a little coy about the actual performance figures but you can reckon that the maximum speed is restricted to somewhere around 87mph, as a means to ensure that the projected range is also a protected one. In fact, the only acceleration figure released is for the 0-30mph time of just 2.8s, which is not exactly thrilling, especially as some of the zestier EVs can manage the 0-60mph benchmark in the same time. Unlike the I.D.3, there is not an array of available power options at this stage (yet, you have to reckon that they might come).
Positioning the battery pack low down and within the wheelbase of the MEB platform does gift the El Born an engaging dynamic balance, which means that it handles keenly and sportily. However, as with the I.D.3, the hefty mass amidships will make its presence felt…it cannot be concealed…on longer amplitude bumps and faster bends.
Personally, I find the styling of El Born slightly derivative but pleasing to the eye, with its fairly thin pillars to the generous greenhouse, although the final D-posts are a little dense, which might create over-the-shoulder ‘blindspots’. Still, with sensors providing a typical visual warning in the door mirrors, the problem is lessened slightly. It is an aerodynamic profile, with enough familiar Seat cues, such as LED signatures fore and aft, to retain brand relevance.
Internally, apart from the aforementioned digi-screens, the dashboard is cleanly laid out, with some interesting textures and the light use of copper coloured highlight trim. The centre console is notably clear of clutter, as the drive controls are clustered around the cross-spokes of the steering wheel, with minor switchgear in a row at the base of the touchscreen. Although an unfamiliar layout, drivers will soon get used to it. Seat is keen to emphasise that the upholstery is man-made from renewable resources and the suede-like seat and door card upholstery is extensive (probably expensive) but classy in appearance and tactility.
A glazed roof section provides a flood of light to the cabin, which access to and egress from is consummately easy. Crack open the hatchback and a good-sized boot space is available of around 400-litres, which more than doubles, when the rear seats are rolled forwards. Much like the I.D.3, there is an aura of conventionality to El Born, almost as if VW Group is trying hard not to alienate its potential buyers to an electrified future. Yet, you can also rest assured that the technology is still not going to be available at ‘affordable’ rates.
Until the EV market sector grows more aggressively, which it is scheduled to, as we approach the government’s switch-off period for petrol and diesel sales by 2035, residual values will be friable. Therefore, some judicious underwriting by the VW Group needs to be reflected in monthly lease rates. As El Born is not scheduled to go ‘on sale’ until early next year, if you desire an example, it will carry a premium price tag, possibly in high-£30k territory.
In the meantime, Seat’s recently revised Leon range will provide the expected levels of regular petrol (and diesel) performance in a smart hatchback, which I shall be testing comprehensively in the near future. While appreciating that EVs are growing in volume and slightly in demand, my money is still firmly in the fossil fuel camp.
Conclusion: If you think that Seat is being ‘brave’ introducing its first dedicated EV model, just remember that it has the wealth of VW Group on which to fall back. VW is only too happy to spread the load and has a smattering of brands with which to achieve it.