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Cupra Born vs. Volkswagen Polo GTI: which is better?

Petrol vs. electric: we compare one old-school hot hatch with the future of electric motoring to see which is best

Fancy yourself a hot hatch? With more of us paying closer attention to how we spend our money, the allure of electric motoring is becoming stronger.

Still, you can find much cheaper used Volkswagen Polo GTI models, meaning that your total cost of ownership could very well be lower.

We compare the iconic VW Polo GTI with the new Cupra Born in this showdown of past vs. future.

Does the Cupra Born or Volkswagen Polo GTI offer more style?

Side-by-side view of Cupra Born and Volkswagen Polo GTI alloys

The Cupra Born belongs to a class of car that’s bigger than the Volkswagen Polo – in fact, it’s more similar to a VW Golf.

It’s a sleek and stylish electric hatchback that shares many parts with the Volkswagen ID.3, which means they both look fairly similar, however, the Cupra is designed to be slightly more sporty and that’s clear in its design.

It has an attractive lower grille section and a narrow slit running the width of the car between the headlights, where the Cupra logo sits.

It also has a sloping roofline, which culminates in a two-tone rear. The use of black along with the rest of the car’s colour on the C-pillar (the area behind the rear doors) gives the illusion that the roof is floating, detached from the car.

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It doesn’t have the same two-tone boot design as the ID.3, but we think the use of the car’s colour on the back shows off the rear’s more sporty design better.

Cupra is building itself an identity through the use of copper colours, and the Born gets copper accents inside and out to remind the driver that this is indeed a sporty model.

The Volkswagen Polo GTI, which has been around in different guises for many years, uses a much more familiar hatchback design.

It gets sporty details like a revised bumper design, a honeycomb grille and striking alloy wheels, but it doesn’t go over the top like a MINI GP3.

Volkswagen Polo GTI vs. Cupra Born electric hatchback: performance and drive

Side-by-side view of Cupra Born and Volkswagen Polo GTI rear

The Volkswagen Polo is powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine that produces 207hp, and is one of the remaining small hot hatches that continues to use a more conventional four-cylinder engine (rivals like the Ford Fiesta ST have smaller three-cylinder engines).

It hits 62mph from a standing start in 6.5 seconds, which puts it a pace ahead of regular family hatchbacks.

Paired with the smooth-shifting, dual-clutch automatic gearbox, it’s incredibly comfortable and relaxing to drive.

The same is true of the steering – it’s not as responsive as it is in cars like the Ford Fiesta ST. It’s very easy to drive as a daily car, but others might be more suited to enthusiastic driving.

On the other side of the coin is the Cupra Born, which is pitched as the future of hot hatches.

It comes with the same 204hp electric motor as the ID.3, but it’s also available with a Cupra-exclusive 230hp e-Boost motor, which cuts the 0-62mph time to 7.0 seconds (compared with 7.3 seconds for 204hp models).

Although it’s slower on paper, the Born feels spritely thanks to the instant torque that comes from its electric motor.

Low-speed acceleration around town is where all electric cars – including the Born – excel.

However, because it’s an electric car, the added weight of the batteries means it’s around half a tonne heavier than the Polo GTI, hindering efficiency and performance.

Because the batteries are mounted low (between the wheels), it does have a low centre of gravity, which helps give it a very planted and predictable feel.

Its rear-wheel-drive setup also helps to add a sense of engagement and is much more typical of a performance model, compared with the Polo, which is front-wheel-drive.

Both the Volkswagen Polo GTI and the Cupra Born offer very enjoyable driving experiences, however, because they’re polar opposites, you’ll want to consider which suits your requirements better.

Cupra Born range

Two Cupra Born models parked using rapid chargers

Given that many drivers are out of touch with the world of electric motoring, it’s worth mentioning the Cupra Born’s range.

It’s available with 58kWh and 77kWh batteries, which means it should be able to do 263 or 340 miles between charges.

The reality is that how you drive an electric car – as well as other factors like low temperatures – can impact any electric car’s range.

We think 200 and 300 miles are reasonably realistic range figures to bear in mind, but you could see them drop further in the coldest months of winter.

Similarly, you could exceed the official figures given the right circumstances, and we’ve done just that in a 58kWh version of the very similar Volkswagen ID.3.

Cupra Born vs. Volkswagen Polo GTI: interior

Side-by-side view of Cupra Born and Volkswagen Polo GTI interior

The inside of the Cupra Born is almost a copy-and-paste job of the Volkswagen ID.3, which is no bad thing. It’s a minimalist approach, which primarily revolves around a touchscreen infotainment system.

This system, in the Born and the ID.3, can sometimes be slow to respond and buggy, but software updates have gone some of the way to remedying this.

All car settings are managed exclusively through the touchscreen – there are some touch-sensitive controls beneath the screen, but overall, it’s a button-free experience.

The materials used, including plenty of copper touches, slightly elevate the interior of the Cupra Born compared to the Volkswagen ID.3 on which it’s based.

A secondary – and much smaller – display is mounted behind the steering wheel. It shows the car’s speed and some sat-nav and trip computer information.

The Volkswagen Polo GTI has a much more familiar interior design – beneath the smart and intuitive touchscreen are plenty of touch-sensitive and physical controls, which are easy to use on the go.

The digital instrument cluster lifts the feel of the cabin, but it can still be configured to show conventional-looking dials if you prefer to keep an eye on your revs.

Volkswagen Polo GTI vs. Cupra Born: which has more boot space?

Side-by-side view of Cupra Born and Volkswagen Polo GTI boots

GTI versions of the Polo have a 305-litre boot, which is slightly less than you get in regular Polo models (351 litres). Still, this is more than you get in the Ford Fiesta (292 litres).

The Cupra Born’s 385-litre is smack-bang where you’d expect for this size car and matches its petrol-powered counterparts like the Volkswagen Golf.

Compare Cupra Born and Volkswagen Polo GTI: which is more reliable?

Cupra was once the name given to sporty SEAT models, but now, it’s its own brand. Regardless, Cupra and SEAT both belong to the Volkswagen Group, which means they benefit from the same high-quality manufacturing as Volkswagen models.

The Polo is built on the brand’s MQB platform – all you need to know is that this forms the mechanical basis for more than 10 models across the group.

The Born sits on the much newer MEB platform, however it already underpins just as many models.

The reality is that the Polo GTI and the Born both benefit from incredibly tried-and-tested parts and technologies, and are built to a very high standard.

Both models were also awarded high scores and full five-star safety ratings when they were tested by Euro NCAP in 2022.

Volkswagen Polo GTI vs. Cupra Born dimensions

Barely any longer than four metres, the Polo GTI is an incredibly easy car to manoeuvre around town. It measures 4,067mm long, 1,964mm wide (including mirrors) and 1,438mm tall.

The Cupra Born has slightly more peculiar dimensions. It’s average in length (4,322mm), but it’s much narrower (1,809mm including mirrors) and taller (1,540mm) than many other hatchbacks.

Volkswagen Polo GTI vs. Cupra Born: which should you buy?

Picking between these two models requires careful thought and consideration – besides the obvious, like price and practicality, you’ll also need to consider fuel type.

Do you prefer the futuristic and punchy feel of an electric motor, or something more old-school? Remember that to benefit from potentially rock-bottom running costs, you’ll also need access to a home charger in the case of the electric Cupra Born.

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