In 15 years or so, the body style preference of the Brazilian car buyer has changed noticeably.

Over 90% of cars sold here are now either European designed, influenced or inspired. And sales of small saloons have soared. This segment is also important in neighbouring Mercosur market Argentina but practically non-existent in some parts of Europe (though small sedans are more popular in Ireland, southern Europe and the emerging markets in the east).

Back in 1995, when saloons/sedans accounted for less than 4% of passenger car sales, Volkswagen Brazil dropped the Voyage, a Gol saloon variant, from its range. Thirteen years later, buyers' preferences have altered to the point that, in 2008, 15% of the 2.5m cars sold here will be compact saloons.

So VW has revived the Voyage nameplate and why not? The 'original' had a good name and was the first local product it exported to the US, where it was marketed as the Fox between 1987 and 1993.

Turning a hatchback into a small saloon is a hard mission for stylists - many earlier models have a grafted-on look to their rear ends (the original Renault Clio, Peugeot 206 and GM Corsa saloons, all made here in South America, come to mind), with the boot (trunk) section apparently out of proportion to overall length.

The new Voyage overcomes this with a smooth new roof line and proportionally correct tail that doesn't compromise on load space: 17 cu in. Aerodynamics are actually better than the new Gol hatch - Cd is just 0.31.

VW has also planned a wide model range with a long individual options list - even the base one-litre version can be equipped with ABS, front airbags, power-assisted steering and trip computer. The Brazilian unit has also patented the new automatically opening boot lid.

The most powerful flexible-fuel engine is the 102hp 1.6-litre unit, which accounts for less than a third of Gol hatchback sales, but is forecast to be in 75% of Voyages ordered.

The Gol family saloon weighs only 90lb more than the hatchback and has a 200lb advantage over its key Fiat Siena rival.

The largest fuel tank in the segment (12.1 imperial gallons) compensates for the slightly reduced range when running on ethanol.

Fernando Calmon