Just like Japan with its many so-called ‘JDM’ products, the Chinese market is like an automotive parallel universe where we often see completely unfamiliar cars with familiar badges.
Some of them are humdrum commuters and others are somewhat sportier cars that we wish were offered in our own market, but you must admit that there’s something interesting about looking at cars that are not for sale in your country.
In China’s case many of these unique models are sedans, because unlike many other global markets that are quickly losing interest in this body style, the four-door notchback is still king in China, where buyers value a separate boot.
As the country’s market leader, Volkswagen takes the Chinese sedan market very seriously, so seriously in fact, that it has developed six unique models through its three partnerships.
One of these is sold through a separate ‘Jetta’ brand that was introduced to the market in 2019. China has a long association with the Chinese market, and there’s even a South African connection through the second-generation Jetta sedans that were exported from Uitenhage in the early ‘90s, which was VWSA’s first major export contract.
Let’s take a look at the six sedans that Volkswagen builds for China:
As mentioned, Jetta is now a sub-brand in China, featuring its own dealer network, which sells a sedan called the VA31. It’s rather different to the Jettas that are sold in other parts of the world, being a smaller and cheaper product that’s based on the previous-generation Polo.
Developed in conjunction with FAW, the Jetta VA31 is powered by a 1.5-litre normally aspirated petrol engine that produces 82kW.
While the Jetta nameplate serves the lower end of the Chinese market, the actual MK7 Jetta that's sold in other world markets forms the basis of a more upmarket product called the Sagitar.
The latest-generation Sagitar is based on the MQB platform but it has a longer wheelbase than the closely-related US-market Jetta - 2.73 metres versus 2.69m to be precise.
Power comes from either a 1.2-litre TSI turbopetrol with 85kW or a 110kW 1.4 TSI unit.
The Sagitar is an extremely popular car in China, with 310 000 having found homes last year.
Slightly shorter than the Sagitar, and also built on the MQB platform, the Volkswagen Bora is a strong seller in China, with 323 400 units shifted last year.
Occupying a more affordable end of the market than its sibling, the Bora is powered by a 1.5-litre normally aspirated engine with 83kW or a 1.4 TSI unit that produces 110kW.
SAIC Volkswagen Lavida
The Volkswagen Lavida is China’s most popular passenger car overall, with 491 000 units sold in 2019.
It’s similar in size and closely related to the aforementioned Bora, even sharing its 2688mm wheelbase, but whereas the latter is produced in conjunction with FAW, the Lavida is the fruit of VW’s SAIC collaboration.
Powertrain options include an 85kW 1.5-litre normally aspirated petrol or a 110kW 1.4-litre TSI. There’s also an electric version called the e-Lavida, which shares its powertrain with the e-Golf.
SAIC Volkswagen Lamando
Remember the Volkswagen CC? The Lamando is similar in spirit, following the ‘four-door coupe’ recipe, except it’s a smaller product that shares its platform with the aforementioned Sagitar.
There’s also a GTS version that shares its 162kW 2-litre TSI heart with the Golf GTI, while humbler versions make do with 1.4 TSI that’s available in two output variants: 96kW and 110kW. All models feature DSG dual-clutch transmissions.
SAIC Volkswagen Santana
The original Volkswagen Santana was based on the second-generation Passat, a car that was a popular sight on South Africa’s roads in the 1980s, and it was even more successful in China, where production continued until 2012.
Because it was something of a budget model that proved popular with the taxi cab market, Volkswagen made sure that its successor was also an accessible option, which is why the latest version is based on the previous-generation Polo rather than the latest Passat, but the company did give it a bit of a stretch, with the Santana measuring 4.48 metres in length, versus the Polo sedan’s 4390mm.
It’s still a popular car in China, with 245 000 units sold last year.