Why two such similar cars, though? VW actually sells models under two different joint venture companies in China: FAW-VW and SAIC-VW. Each is roughly the same size, selling in different parts of the country and thus not competing. Each often gets its own similarly sized car, with a different badge, look (well, just about) and chassis tuning.
So the Santana and Jetta are similar, as are the Lavida and Bora. But the latter pair are much better. The pound-for-pound pick of the VW saloon range is the Bora, which has the more modern MQB underpinnings. Sold by FAW-VW, the Bora is particularly sweet with the 1.4 TSI engine and seven-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic ’box.
The SAIC-VW Lavida is not quite as well resolved, but these two MQB-based models are the real sweet spots both of VW’s range and all the saloons here. They have the best combinations of driving dynamics, interior, price and value, costing from around £11,000.
The larger Sagitar costs roughly £7000 more than that but is neither worth the money nor the better car, it being based on the Jetta that’s just gone out of production in Europe. Rounding off the VWs today is the Magotan, better known to us as the current Passat. It’s objectively the best, but the Bora’s all-round appeal trumps it for me.
It’s a VW we turn to first on day two, when we assess the SUVs and MPVs. VW is demonstrably a giant of the Chinese car industry, and while we were in the country the manufacturer announced the sale of its 30 millionth car there. More than 200,000 of those are of this new long-wheelbase Tiguan here at our disposal, and its quality and all-round appeal should make for a fairly compelling proposition among the judges.
It’s impressive, no doubt, but a little detached in its drive, by enough for me not to score it as my highest entrant. I’ve almost surprised myself in giving that honour to the Trumpchi GS4 (stop sniggering at the back), which is produced by Guangzhou-based GAC.