After past failures, it looks as if Volkswagen could have a qualified success on its hands with the Bora. By Roger Bell
If history repeats itself, VW's new Bora will not be a showroom hit. Neither of its Golf-based predecessors, the Jetta and Vento, had much impact on the UK market. They were seen for what they were - booted versions of the Golf, rump-heavy mutations that lost out aesthetically in the metamorphosis from hatchback to saloon.

If history is bunk, the Bora should shrug aside these past failures. The new car is much more attractive and cohesively one-piece than its frumpy forebears. To describe it as a three-box Golf would be to sell it short. Apart from a new nose-job and flared wheelarches, it is nine inches longer and that much sleeker than the hatchback that spawned it.

According to VW, the Bora is a cut above the Golf and a rung below the foot-longer Passat. In effect, it is a mini Passat, costing something in between the bracketing siblings that share much of its running gear.

Unlike Ford, which sells the rival Mondeo saloon and hatchback at one price (ditto Vauxhall with its Vectra twins), VW charges a premium for the Bora over the Golf. On balance, it is justified even though the saloon is innately less versatile than the tailgated hatch, and nothing like so roomy in the back as the spacious Passat saloon. If you need ample knee room in the rear, say for lanky teenagers, the Bora is not your car. If you don't, the big-booted newcomer will satisfy most peoples' carrying needs, especially as the luggage deck can be extended by folding the (lockable) rear seats.

As eye-catching as it is substantial in appearance, the Bora comes across as a quality product that, even by Wolfsburg's high standards, seems exceptionally well finished. With justification, VW makes much of the car's durability (the body is fully galvanised and guaranteed for 12 years) and safety (front and side airbags are standard on all models).

But VW is on dodgier ground when promoting "sportiness". Oh yes, the Bora handles neatly, steers precisely and takes corners securely. The manual model also has an exceptionally crisp and idiot-proof gear change, which encourages indulgent shifting. Switches click precisely, and the classy instruments glow blue and red in the dark. Pay a little extra, and you can have all sorts of toys, satellite navigation included.

Dynamically, the Bora is a tidy, smooth-riding mover and a confidence booster. Ergonomically, it is hardly flawed. For comfort, it is in the four-star bracket. But sporty? Not as I understand the word's meaning in a smile-inducing context. The VW Bora is certainly a very good car, but it is no more uplifting than most of its rivals in the medium-saloon sector.

The 1.9TDi 110 diesel on test has virtually the same all-out performance as the sweeter 2.0 petrol, if not the flagship 2.3 V5. For real-life overtaking, the more powerful of the two diesels (there's a cheaper 90bhp version) is actually swifter than its petrol counterpart, not to say dramatically more frugal; 56.5mpg is hard to ignore when the alternative is 35.3mpg, according to official figures.

The trouble is that you pay a premium of more than pounds 1,100 for the TDi110, which means doing 37,000 miles before you break even, if my figures are correct. Urban potterers would be well advised to specify petrol, leaving diesel to the marathon runners.


Model: VW Bora TDi 110 SE

Price: pounds 17,685 on the road. Engine: 1896cc four-cylinder turbo-diesel. Transmission: five-speed manual (or four-speed auto), front-wheel drive. Performance: max speed 120mph, 0-60mph in 10.9sec, fuel consumption 56.5mpg combined.


Alfa Romeo 156 1.8 (petrol), pounds 17,997 If you want a sporty saloon, here's your car. Great handling and engine, outguns Bora (except V5). Quality not up to VW's.

Audi A4 TDi 110 SE, pounds 22,957 Same engine as Bora, so why pay more? Answer lies in image of Audi, prestige wing of VW group. Bora better value.

Citroen Xantia 2.0 HDi LX, pounds 17,445. Looks great, disguises age well, especially with impressive new diesel that lugs hard and drinks frugally - almost as frugally as VW Bora.

Ford Mondeo 2.0 Ghia, pounds 17,680. Ford's turbo-diesel not in same class as VW's, so go for petrol. Ghia heavily loaded but cheaper models just as good to drive.

Rover 400 2.0 SLDi Turbo, pounds 17,900. Spatially-challenged Rover is less roomy than Bora, but just as pricey. Impressive diesel engine quick and frugal.