Car reviews - Volkswagen - Bora - V6 4Motion sedan
Smooth, spirited engine performance, dash presentation, cabin amenities, lots of equipment
Room for improvement
Rear seat accommodation, soft suspension, no rear or curtain airbags, instrument design
13 Sep 2001
By TERRY MARTIN
BORA was meant to represent a wind of change for Volkswagen Down Under when it blew into these parts about two years ago.
It had smart looks, a torrent of equipment and proven Golf underpinnings in its favour.
But the small sedan named after a fresh breeze that blows along the Adriatic coast failed to stir up much interest.
Less than 700 sales were realised in its first 12 months of trading, and while the new factory-backed Volkswagen Group Australia pushed things along from January 2001, the forecast for Bora remained cool and cloudy - with a light sou-westerly wind.
Then the answer, my friends, arrived. Bora V6 4Motion.
Billed as the fastest production car Volkswagen has ever sold here, this all-wheel drive gale-force four-door is powered by a unique narrow-angle (15-degree) 2.8-litre V6 engine that develops 150kW at 6200rpm, 270Nm at 3200rpm and is claimed to reach 100km/h from standstill in 7.4 seconds.
They're figures that put it well ahead of its obvious European rivals in BMW's 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz's C-class and Audi's A4, and in among Japanese wasabi warriors such as the Subaru Liberty B4 and Nissan 200SX.
Though the car doesn't feel as quick as the numbers suggest, it does feel mighty good from a standing start.
The engine is smooth, strong throughout the rev range and well supported by a light, positive-shifting six-speed manual gearbox.
The clutch action takes getting used to but the gear spacing suits the engine down to a tee, keeping the driver active when acceleration is called for but not requiring a flick back from top gear when a gradient presents itself at cruising speeds. At 100km/h in sixth, for example, the engine is spinning at 2500rpm and does not need a drop into fifth gear unless a quick overtaking opportunity presents itself.
Fuel consumption is neither economical nor excessive, official figures pointing to an average of 9.1L/100km and our real-world test conditions returning just over a litre per 100km more. The engine does, however, make a point of using premium unleaded petrol.
With the Haldex clutch-operated all-wheel drive system apportioning drive to the front wheels unless there's a loss of traction at the rear, the 4Motion feels and behaves like front-driver most of the time.
The predominate handling trait is understeer when pushed into corners with the ESP turned off - the electronic device does its level best to stamp out such tendencies (from car and driver) - but exiting turns can also induce a bit of interesting tail wag as torque is sent to the rear wheels.
Fundamentally, the 4Motion's handling characteristics are predictable and kind. Grip from the Michelin Pilots is good, the brakes are clearly up to the task and the steering is light, accurate and shows no trace of kickback when bumps and a bend are negotiated at the same time.
But there's no rawness to be found here, either. The soft, compliant suspension tuning does not suit the character of the car, producing some body lean during directional changes and proving unable to deal effectively with chopped-up surfaces.
Though its interior is smaller than most offerings in this segment - a factor that counts heavily against it - the 4Motion reeks of quality. The overall fit and finish is outstanding and leather upholstery, walnut trim and subtle metallic highlights on the centre console and doors make a lasting impression.
The (heated) front pews could do with more support under the ribcage but finding a comfortable driving position is never in doubt with good seat travel, a beaut three-spoke steering wheel that adjusts for both reach and height and a useful pump-action lever for altering seat height. A rotary dial is provided for lumbar adjustment as well.
Attention to detail such as this is found wherever the driver turns: there are rain-sensing wipers, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, heated wing mirrors, illuminated vanity mirrors, effective door grabhandles, ample storage solutions and simple adjustment for the stereo and climate system, although the latter, stuck behind the gearshift, deserves a higher place on the totem pole.
It comes as a disappointment, then, that design has taken precedence over functionality in the all-important instrument cluster.
We can accept that speed increments, for example, are matched to European and not Australian road laws. But a speedo that has microscopic numbers, runs well past the vehicle's top speed and uses a thick silver border that makes it not only difficult to read at the best of times but which in direct sunlight sends up a reflection that can pose real problems for the driver? At least the instruments turn blue and not red at night.
Besides the lack of rear side airbags and a head-protection curtain airbag along the front and rear windows, the 4Motion has the upper hand in the equipment stakes compared to its major rivals.
Two-stage remote unlocking, dual-zone climate control and electric seat adjustment - 4Motion omissions such as these can be easily overlooked when a sunroof, alarm and a host of other features are factored in.
Yet there is a fundamental problem with Bora that could not be fixed with a spec realignment. Space.
Where other five-seat sedans in this segment have ensured appropriate room is made for at least four average-sized adults, the Bora has not.
We are impressed with provision in the rear seat of three lap-sash seatbelts, three adjustable head restraints (even if they do impede rear vision), three anchorage points for a child seat tether strap, two seatback pockets, maplights and cup holders.
But in terms of sufficient room for the head, legs and shoulders, the Bora disappoints. Kids, except those consigned to a dedicated restraint, can bask in the available space. Most adults, we suspect, would prefer to get the bus.
The boot, on the other hand, is right up there with its rivals in terms of volume and well ahead in cleverness. A low loading height, electric bootlid release handle, protective stainless steel cover on the loading lip, non-intrusive gas struts, 12-volt power outlet, luggage tie-down hooks, useful storage holes and a warning triangle stowed under the bootlid are evidence of this.
Moreover, the rear seat is split 60/40 and, with both the seatback and base folded, creates a relatively flat floor (it leaves a step) and a barrier between cargo and cockpit. When upright, the seat can also be locked to prevent unauthorised access to either the boot or cabin.
Alas, there are two drawbacks with the Bora boot: provision of a temporary spare tyre and a CD stacker mounted in a position where damage from luggage is a constant threat.
Two words have made a world of difference for Bora: V6 and 4Motion. Strong engine performance and better handling.
The grim reality for Volkswagen, though, is that Bora - even in this much improved state and at this value-for-money price - still carries little influence as a nameplate, has no more interior space than when it first arrived and continues to lacks a hard edge.
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