Volkswagen Bora

In Britain, we love them; in the US, they hate them! If you drive round America, you will soon see that hatchbacks - the most popular style of car in the UK market - are a very rare sight. Instead, you will find saloons such as the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord topping the sales charts and clogging the roads.

Available here later this year, the new Bora builds on the previous model's high quality and premium style with an even bigger boot and greater luxury. VW is hoping the saloon will tempt buyers from small compact executive cars, rather than being seen as nothing more than a booted Golf - and that means it'll have its work cut out against some very impressive rivals.

In Britain, we love them; in the US, they hate them! If you drive round America, you will soon see that hatchbacks - the most popular style of car in the UK market - are a very rare sight. Instead, you will find saloons such as the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord topping the sales charts and clogging the roads.

This is why the saloon version of the latest VW Golf - called the Jetta in the States and Bora in Europe - is already on sale in North America, ahead of its debut in British showrooms later this year. The new car, built only at VW's plant in Mexico, is longer, wider, taller and heavier than the outgoing saloon.

This is no doubt in order to accommodate wider, taller and (dare we say it) heavier American drivers. But motorists on that side of the pond like their cars to be softer and less performance-oriented than buyers over here. That's why the US-spec Bora we drove is only available with an all-new 150bhp 2.5-litre five-cylinder petrol engine, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.

In a few months, a 2.0-litre four-cylinder powerplant, linked to a manual gearbox, will be introduced into the range, along with a diesel. These variants are expected to be the more popular choices in Europe when they arrive in the winter.

The Bora used to be regarded as little more than a Golf with a boot tacked on to the back. And while the new model borrows heavily from the fifth-generation hatchback, its design is completely different from the B-pillar back. Indeed, the car looks more like the new Passat we tested in last week's magazine. The Bora also features VW's new, heavily chromed corporate grille - although this softer look is unlikely to appeal to fans of the marque. In the US, the Bora has long been the top-selling European car, and is widely regarded as a poor man's BMW 3-Series. But the latest incarnation has a more American flavour which is sure to be toned down when it comes here.

Still, as it is based on the same platform as the Golf, the car handles well. The shared four-link rear suspension keeps the wheels firmly planted on the ground, while the electric-assist power-steering provides good feedback, even if there are too many turns lock-to-lock.

The interior is in keeping with VW's trend towards upgrading its cabins, as leather seats and wood trim are both available. There is more room in which to stretch out than in the old Bora, and the boot is cavernous - the 500-litre total volume represents an impressive 100-litre increase over the previous-generation car's load capacity.

Our model had plenty of torque on tap from as low as 1,900rpm, and provided a good turn of speed in town. On winding mountain roads, though, the box was too eager to switch ratios; even in semi-automatic Tiptronic mode, it changed up before the tacho was showing 5,500rpm. Keen US drivers will no doubt prefer to use the fully manual six-speed transmission instead.

The new Bora is well suited to US roads with its somewhat lazy 2.5-litre powerplant. Once the European version makes its way out of the factory, it is expected to be available with the same range of engines as the Golf. With that line-up, VW's latest saloon will become a much more convincing proposition for British drivers.

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