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Volkswagen Bora TDi - review
VolksWagen Bora TDi
Diesel Beats Hybrid In Battle For Economy
VW Bora v Toyota Prius
Volkswagen Bora TDi - review
Volkswagen Bora TDi - review
Volkswagen Bora TDi - review

Bora’s Fuel Economy Performance Is Close To VW’s Claim, For Once
Hybrids Convince Hollywood, But Fail To Deliver On The Road
Rating -
*** out of 5

Despite huge investments by Honda and Toyota into petrol-electric hybrids, diesel is still the power to buy if you crave the best available fuel economy.

That’s the clear evidence from my recent experience driving the Volkswagen Bora TDI – a five-seater, old-style Golf with a boot.

The Bora TDI, with the latest VW 130 bhp turbocharged diesel engine, returned a fantastic 46.8 miles per gallon (5.0 l/100 km). The petrol/electric hybrid Toyota Prius which I tested a few months ago managed only 40.6 mpg (5.8 l/100). The Honda Civic hybrid also failed to deliver. These cars aren’t strictly comparable. The Prius is a slightly bigger and much sexier looking car which costs a couple of thousand pounds more. The Bora is a nondescript, serious, no-nonsense car. The Civic is smaller and cheaper.

But the message was clear – diesels provide the best fuel economy, not petrol-electric hybrids.

Fuel efficiency is becoming more important to us daily, as the oil price zooms and pump prices quickly reflect this. Volkswagen and other major European car manufacturers are betting the ranch that diesel power is the answer to the general clamour for more miles per gallon. The Japanese have been slow to embrace European’s demand for diesels, although over the past couple of years, they too have starting offering top-performing oil-burners.

Adriatic Wind
The Bora, which is the name of an Adriatic wind believe it or not, sports the latest diesel technology from VW. Other European car makers use variations on the “common-rail” theme. But VW has pursued its own so-called “Pumpe Duse” technology.

“Pumpe Duse loosely translates as “unit injector” and describes a fuel injection system which can operate at pressures of up to 2050 bars or 30,000 psi, considerably more than common rail systems of under 2.0 litres which reach approximately 1350 bars or 20,000 psi,” says VW.

If you read the claims by the manufacturers, hybrid systems win hands down. The latest Toyota Prius, with a 1.5 litre petrol engine and electric motor, is said to return a combined or average figure of 65.7 mpg (3.6 l/100 kms), and the slightly smaller and cheaper Honda Civic IMA – (Integrated Motor Assist) powered by a 1.3 litre petrol engine and a lightweight electric motor, will do close to 58 miles per gallon.

Unstuck In The Real World
But in the real world these claims come unstuck.

The Civic IMA, according to my data, fails to meet its economy claims by almost 30 per cent, managing an average of only 41.5 miles per gallon in the most favourable circumstance. The Prius fails by an even bigger margin. It under-achieved its official combined economy figure by 38 per cent. If you doubt my figures, try these. The U.S. Car and Driver Magazine road testers failed to achieve government average figures by 29% and said –

“The (Prius) fuel saving is measurable but not worth the trade-offs. If you want to be green, buy a bicycle. If merely appearing green is enough, go for the Prius. If you want the best car for the money, look elsewhere.”
In Hollywood, the Prius has become a cult car amongst dim-witted celebrities who want to be seen to be green. Apparently Cameron Diaz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Billy Joel, David Duchovny and Bill Maher have all bought the Prius because they think it will slow global warming.

They should get their chauffeurs to drive them over to a VW dealership.

“Only” 9% Out
VW claims that the Bora will achieve 51.4 mpg (4.6 l/100 kms), so it fails by almost 9% to meets its fuel economy claim. By car industry standards that’ is a massive triumph, particularly when you look at data from most road tests. I published research in November 2002 which showed that car manufacturers were routinely ripping off buyers by claiming fuel economy for their cars which bore little relation to reality, and which often exaggerated actual consumption by 25% or more. Some failed by over 30%. Since then, my road tests of a wide range of cars, including the latest common rail diesels, showed a similar range of exaggeration. All credit to VW for producing the Bora, which comes pretty close to meeting its claims for economy.

It is also worth repeating the methodology which the car companies use to demonstrate economy, because the system simply makes sure that the results are for the most part utterly useless for potential buyers.

Thanks To The E.U.
Under regulations agreed with the European Union (wouldn’t you know that if something was corrupt or misleading, the E.U. would be there somewhere, claiming that it was in the best interests of its citizens) manufacturers test for fuel economy using laboratory techniques which actually exclude on-the-road performance. This enables the manufacturers to produce numbers which are perfectly comparable so that buyers can see which cars are theoretically the most efficient. But in fact the figures are utterly useless garbage providing no insight into real world performance. The most accurate figures that I’ve found by far are the Bora’s, a mere 9% out.

If you are wondering why other road test reports don’t discover this, here’s the reason. Manufacturers deliver cars to journalists for road tests with a full tank of juice. The journalists drive around until the fuel is almost used up, and then give the car back. So fuel economy is rarely tested, and the manufacturers get away with murder.

Back to the Bora.

Let’s face it, elegant it aint. Nobody will buy this car for its looks. It is also expensive. My road test vehicle – Bora Highline TDI cost £17,335 (25,600 euros), although this included goodies like the full alphabet soup of electronic handling equipment, remote central locking, side airbags, air conditioning, front fog lights, leather seats and cruise control. The interior was practical but bland. The engine performed well, although you need to use the 6-speed gear box actively. If, for instance you come out of a roundabout and the engine speed is less than 1,800 revs, pickup will be painfully slow. If you engaged too much power though, the front-wheel drive system fails to handle it. The gear box worked very well, although I find that with all those gears, quite often you wonder just which gear you are in. The manufacturers ought to provide a digital read-out on the dash board showing exactly which gear you were in.

Fool Those Guardian Readers
If fuel economy is the most important factor for you, the Bora is a strong candidate.

If style and “wow” factor are more important, the Prius will oblige. You’ll probably also be revered by Guardian readers who have been conned into thinking that this Toyota is going to save the planet.

Neil Winton – May 15, 2004

VW Bora Highline TDi 130
1.9 litre diesel
130 bhp
6 speed manual
front wheels
0-62/100 km/h – 10.1 seconds
Top Speed:
127 mph (203 km/h)
Fuel Consumption:
claimed – 51.4 mpg (4.6 l/100 kms)
actual - 46.8 mpg (5.0 l/100 km)
149 g/km
4,376 mm
1,440 kg
£17,335 (25,600 euros)
*** out of 5

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