Recently, we reviewed Audi’s RS e-tron GT, a handsome four-door electric vehicle that, while closely related to the Porsche Taycan, still manages to feel quite distinctive to drive. As I detailed in that article, the practice of sharing common platforms or architectures has been a fact of life in the automotive industry for decades.
That’s particularly true at Volkswagen Group, which uses a handful of platforms as the starting point for its collection of 10 brands. One of the newest of these platforms is known as MEB (Modularer E-Antriebs-Baukasten or Modular Electrification Toolkit), and so far Ars has sampled MEB-based EVs in the form of the Volkswagen ID.4 crossover and then, more recently, the ID. Buzz minivan and the Audi Q4 e-tron crossover.
Not every MEB-based EV is destined for America, however. Volkswagen isn’t bringing the Golf-sized ID.3 hatchback over to this side of the Atlantic, although based on European colleagues’ takes on that car I’m not so sure we’re missing out heavily. It is more unfortunate that US roads may also never see the Cupra Born, an electric hot hatch from a brand that got spun out of Seat in 2018 as a more performance-focused OEM. Friend of Ars Jonny Smith recently drove the Born and came away impressed, particularly since he was one of those reviewers underwhelmed by the ID.3.
To find out more about how that works, I spoke to Dr. Werner Tietz, VP of R&D at Cupra. “We can work a lot on all the components, like steering application, chassis, we can work on the throttle response, on the recuperation behavior,” Tietz told me. “And if you combine all that and always have the intention to make the car go precise or agile, so if you know your target and you force your team to come up with some proposals then you end up with the result being what we have seen on the Born.”
Cupra also upped the power by about 13 percent to 228 hp (170 kW) over the ID.3, “which is not much, but at least it gives you a little bit more kick and makes a little bit more fun,” Tietz said. The result? “[It] is not as comfortable as an ID.3. It’s not that kind of car, but it’s not the intention,” he continued.
You’ll have noticed that many of the Cupra-specific changes are not different hardware but different code. In fact, EV platforms like MEB lend themselves readily to this kind of thing. “On electric cars, it’s much easier. It’s much easier to do things with software. If you look at the behavior of the powertrain you can do a lot more with software, whereas on combustion cars the tuning is easier,” Tietz pointed out.
Tietz even thinks there’s hope for steering feel returning to cars following the switch from hydraulic to electric power steering. “With 100 percent steer-by-wire, then, this is a challenge, but we have some companies in the group who are quite sophisticated in developing the feedback from the steering,” he said, referring obliquely to Porsche, another of the VW group brands.
“There are software tools, and you need additional sensors to detect what forces you have on the wheel, but then you can emulate it and you can bring back the proper feeling to the steering,” Tietz told me. In effect, this is what a driver in the loop simulator does, but as Tietz explained, “It’s a real-time reaction, and depending on the real situation of the car… it’s important, especially if you have sporty cars.”
Tietz is optimistic about the future of electric performance cars. “What I still think has to be improved with this next generation of batteries is weight,” he told me. “We won the season with ETCR [an electric touring car series], and the advantage of ETCR is that you have a small battery, just does seven, eight laps. So the weight of the car is low. And my dream is in the future you have an electric car that you accept that you only have 300 km range, but the weight is down to, I don’t know, 1,300 kg or something, and then you have it, then you have a real car, then you have a lot of fun and a sporty car.”