Behind Cupra: Why it’s not a Volkswagen


Key Points

  • Cupra talks electric vehicles, design, brand direction with zecar
  • Focussed on driving, bolder design, younger target audience
  • Says it has achieved balanced offering with Born EV

The Cupra Born sporty electric hatch has launched in Australia – with pricing squarely targeting the top-selling Tesla Model 3 sedan.

It marks the Spanish car brand’s first all-electric vehicle and the Volkswagen Group’s (Cupra’s corporate owner) first dedicated Modular Electric Toolkit (MEB) platform model sold locally.

But, while it has led the German auto group’s electric foray Down Under – with the Volkswagen ID.4, ID.5, and Skoda Enyaq electric SUVs not due here until 2024 – what makes Cupra different from a Volkswagen R or Skoda RS badged car?

Zecar correspondent and founder of EV Brief Jonathan McFeat discussed with Cupra executives to find out.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Zecar was invited by Cupra Australia to attend the Cupra Born media launch event in Canberra for one day. Travel, accommodation and food was provided, but the company had no editorial input into this story.

👉2023 Cupra Born Australian price and specs

How is Cupra car design different?

Aurora Blue Cupra Born parked in front of blue ute

Spun off from the Seat brand in 2018 – and dating back to 1985 when it was known as Seat Sport for rally racing – Cupra has differentiated itself with signature copper accents and blue hues, triangular arrow-shaped motifs, and soon an even bolder design theme as on the upcoming Tavascan electric SUV.

Cupra’s head of design, Francesca Sangalli, told zecar that it can push vehicle designs further than its corporate counterparts.

“The main difference is we are focusing on the highly emotional car brand and future generation of car lovers,” Sangalli said.

“Cupra has the youngest target, so this is why the attention to the new generation is very important for Cupra – the push for making the shape even more [like a] design statement, more emotional sense rather than a product.

“And we can do it more because, in respect to the other brands, we are new. We can be free from the ‘presence of the past’, so we can create everything more freely.”

What makes Cupra EVs unique?

Cupra Born interior steering wheel with copper accents

The Cupra Born electric hatch represents its first EV in Australia – nearly two years after its launch overseas – with the camaker aiming to only sell EVs globally by 2030.

The related Cupra Tavascan is expected to arrive locally in 2025, as a pure-electric SUV alternative to the popular Formentor, and the more affordable circa-$40,000 UrbanRebel electric city hatch will be revealed in production form around the same time.

But, it’s facing fierce competition from Tesla – which remains the dominant EV player here by a fair margin – along with Polestar, Hyundai, and more budget-friendly Chinese-badged options from Build Your Dreams (BYD), SAIC Motors’ MG, and Great Wall Motors (GWM).

And, there’s Volkswagen Australia’s upcoming related electric line-up including the ID.3 hatch, ID.4 and ID.5 SUVs, and ID.Buzz and ID.Buzz Cargo vans.

Cupra Australia’s director, Ben Wilks, told zecar that it’s focused on offering products with fun driving characteristics as a key differentiator.

“It’s really the element of being fun to drive. Cupra exists for people who want to do something different and people who really enjoy driving,” Wilks said.

“The fact that we’re electrifying at such a rate – we’ve got Cupra Born, the Tavascan in the future, and concepts like the UrbanRebel [which] is a personal favourite of mine that I really want to see here in Australia.

“That sort of product line-up is enormously exciting and it means that we are still going to have fun as we electrify the future of driving.”

What does the Cupra Born rival?

Aurora Blue Cupra Born rear view in front of cafe

The Cupra Born’s $59,990 before on-road costs and incentives price tag is in line with the popular Tesla Model 3 sedan’s $61,300 starting price (as at the time of writing).

Yet, true electric hatch rivals are limited to the smaller three-door outgoing Mini Cooper SE, less powerful Nissan Leaf e+, forthcoming Abarth 500e and Volkswagen ID.3 twin. The MG 4 and GWM Ora small cars undercut the Cupra on price, performance and driving range.

👉2023 Cupra Born Australian price and specs

Wilks didn’t name the Born’s competitors, but argued that it has achieved a good balance by bringing the top-spec, large 77kWh battery e-Boost configuration to Australia at launch.

“I think this is really interesting in the electric marketplace. It’s quite varied – there’s lots of cars that have arrived at a similar price point, but they might have size on their side, or they might have equipment, or they might have range,” Wilks said.

“What we’ve managed to package up with the Born is what I see as the best combination between those things – 500 kilometres range, a fairly attainable price point and of course subsidies in states… but also a good technology package and a great driving package.

“I think combining those elements represents good value.

“For hatchbacks, we’ve got this sporty Born BEV [battery-electric vehicle], a plug-in hybrid Leon VZe, and a petrol 221 kilowatt Leon VZx – so all at $59,990 we’ve got every hot hatch you can imagine.

“People are kind of pulling out of that hot hatch market. There’s a lot of opportunity and we’ve got these three quite distinct cars.”

Cupra is a startup?

Rayleigh Red Cupra Born rear tailgate with copper Cupra logo and lettering

Despite being owned by the Volkswagen Group, Germany’s biggest auto giant that includes brands such as Volkswagen, Skoda, Audi and Porsche, Wilks said Cupra still operates like a startup brand – seemingly similar to Geely-Volvo’s electric-only company Polestar.

“To be part of [the] group that’s the biggest European importer in Australia, to have the strength of that group behind us… and the technical backup is great – but we do operate like our own little startup within that,” Wilks said.

“We like to do things differently, we like to present ourselves differently as a brand, we push… try to do things in a new way as much as we can.

“The model that we’ve come to the market with is the so-called [fixed-price] ‘agency model’… we have a stock availability [website page]… and that means we can hopefully get our customers to [access] the right car quicker. So, I think all of those things we are able to do functionally as a startup, but with the backing of a very strong group overall.”

About the author

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Henry Man

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Henry Man is a motoring journalist passionate about the intersection of technology and transportation, with a focus on electric vehicles.

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