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Car reviews - Volkswagen - Bora - V5 sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Classy interior, upmarket sound system
Room for improvement
Lacks status of rivals like Alfa and Lexus

28 Jun 2001

TO appreciate the Volkswagen Bora, it is necessary to rid yourself of a few preconceptions.

Preconception one concerns the fact many people see the Bora as nothing more than a Golf with a boot.

In fact, that is what it actually is - but the Bora could never, from any angle, be mistaken for its hatchback stablemate. It looks more like a scaled-down Passat than anything else but more chunky, in a pleasant sort of way.

Preconception two is that a vehicle derived from such origins could never realistically mix it in the prestige market.

Here, the view is a little more muddied, but the Bora actually does have the qualities that make it a legitimate alternative. It is a sort of pointer to where the company eventually wishes to position itself - and that is far removed from past images relating to the VW brand.

The Bora ends up being an interesting entry level prestige class contender, particularly the top level 2.3L version fitted with the intriguing 2.3-litre, five-cylinder, V-configuration engine.

Although at this point the car is creeping dangerously close to Lexus/BMW territory, there is still at least some price advantage (around $9000 at the time of writing compared to the IS200) and there is certainly no lack of equipment or street credibility.

Perhaps the Bora's biggest fears reside slightly downmarket where it is possible to buy, if you want a European car, something like a Holden Vectra V6 and save well over $10,000. Or you can pay similar money and buy an Alfa 156 four-cylinder. Or maybe go Japanese and buy a top of the range Nissan Maxima Ti.

Interesting propositions, and an important part of the thought processes that will occupy the minds of those wandering through VW showrooms.

So what is the VW Bora like?

The overall impression is certainly favourable with a nice, chunky look that is neither dull nor outstandingly attractive (like the Alfa 156 for example) and cleverly hides any connection with the Golf.

The very prominent badge on the grille provides a clear VW identity. Perhaps the only blurring of the image is that the Bora, with different badges, could just as well be an Audi.

In fact, the Audi A3 series - which shares the same platform - closely equates the Bora on price, except the base Audi gets a 1.6-litre engine whereas its virtually identically priced VW counterpart, as do all Boras, gets a solid two litres to work with.

Inside, the VW is classy and European in style with plenty of dark vinyl surfaces and a neat, hooded instrument display facing the driver. Everything's pretty much where it should be, from the rotary master light switch on the dash to the rotary controls for the heating/air-conditioning in the small centre console. Drivers will appreciate the headlight trimming control and the extra sun visor located above the rear view mirror.

The steering wheel adjusts for length and height, and the sculpted front seats offer height adjustment as well as a knob- adjusted backrest reclining mechanism. The seats however do raise a question mark in terms of long distance comfort and it would be nice if a cushion tilt adjustment was available.

Standard Bora equipment includes dual front and side airbags, cruise control, trip computer, electric windows and rear view mirrors, leather-rim steering wheel, alloy road wheels and an external window-closing facility if the driver inadvertently leaves the vehicle with the windows down.

The V5 model gets larger, 16-inch alloy wheels, leather trim on the seats plus a touch of woodgrain on the centre console and door-pulls.

It also benefits from an upmarket sound system with a six-disc CD stacker in the boot, climate control air-conditioning, rain- sensing windscreen wipers, automatic anti-glare rear view mirror, heated front seats and a dinky little centre armrest/oddments bin for the front passengers.

Space provision is no issue in the front but in the back seat legroom is not generous and the seats are more upright and less enveloping.

Impressions of high quality abound, from the stainless steel scuff plate on the lip of the generously proportioned boot (accessed through a split-fold rear seat) to the thickly carpeted and sound proofed panel covering the spare tyre.

Impeccable attention to small details includes the cushioned return springs on the grab handles above the doors. There are no rough hidden areas like you will find in a supposedly quality Japanese car.

And the driving experience supports the positive first impressions.

The V5 has a smooth, distinctive beat, is never harsh or suggestive of (maybe anticipated) imbalances and is endowed with useful mid-range torque.

It is related of course to the narrow angle V6 seen in the GTi Golf. The V5 configuration is made possible by the narrow angle, 15 degree V that is spanned by a single casting for the cylinder heads. It is more a "staggered five" than a V5 with the relatively close alignment of the cylinders allowing it to operate smoothly where a regular 60 degree V shape would undoubtedly shake itself to pieces if a similar ploy was attempted.

The configuration also makes for a tight, compact design that tends to take up less under-bonnet space than a similar capacity four-cylinder or V6.

From its 2.3-litres, it produces a handy 110kW at 6000rpm with 205Nm of torque coming in at 3200rpm.

Decidedly pleasant to use, the V5 is a handy performer across the entire rpm range, nicely responsive at middling speeds yet sweet and smooth during red-line excursions. It is certainly better endowed than the 2.0-litre four-cylinder, and a more appropriate powerplant given the car's upmarket aspirations.

The manual five-speed transmission is slightly under-exploited by a shift action that tends towards vagueness and does not always feel in sync with the drivetrain.

The Bora's chassis, naturally, proves to be very competent. Not a finely balanced sporting chassis found in the likes of IS200 or even 318i, but very capable and comfortable nonetheless. And the sedan body configuration tends to make the whole vehicle feel tighter and more solid than the hatchback Golf or Audi A3.

The steering is nicely weighted, tending towards the lighter end of the scale, and provides smooth and accurate response. The suspension is nicely controlled and absorbing, coping with small bumps and potholes very capably while not succumbing to excessive body roll during hard cornering.

The bigger wheels and tyres seem to give the five-cylinder version an edge over the 2.0-litre, with slightly quicker reaction to steering wheel inputs and a slightly firmer quality to the ride.

Boras, five and four-cylinder, come with a standard electronic differential lock that bravely attempts to find grip in difficult circumstances. But it is no traction control system and will not prevent the car from tramping alarmingly if brisk acceleration is attempted on wet surfaces.

The four-wheel disc, anti-lock brakes work through an electronic brake pressure distribution system and offer a sure-footed, if a little sensitive, pedal action - very similar to the Audi.

So the Bora ends up being a nicely accomplished, high-quality entrant in the prestige car market that comes closer to justifying its high price tag than those seeing the car for the first time at the 1999 Melbourne motor show would have imagined.

It is a car to be proud of, with fine attention to quality detail and the well-recognised VW attention to passenger safety.

And at night, basking in the blue glow of the instruments, the driver has the feeling of being in something special, something a little outside the mainstream.

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