Nha Trang, Vietnam
– If you thought Tesla was bold, wait until you get a load of VinFast.
Born in Vietnam in 2017 as the new auto manufacturing arm of the massive Vingroup conglomerate, if all goes to plan, this relatively tiny automaker from a country with little auto manufacturing history will soon beat well-established automakers from China to the North American auto market with an all-EV lineup.
And if its plans pan out, it will sell more battery electric vehicle models and actual EV units in this country by the end of next year than most Japan-based legacy companies. All of which dwarf VinFast in overall vehicles produced.
With only five years of producing vehicles under its belt, most of them ICE vehicles produced only for the Vietnamese market until recently, the all-electric five-seat VF8 mid-size SUV will be the first global VinFast product to reach Canadian shores. It’s slated to arrive by the end of 2022 in North America and Europe, and later expand throughout Southeast Asia.
We roughly had half a day of exposure to a few pre-production versions of the VF8 (roughly 30 minutes behind the wheel in total), in both the base Eco model, as well as the more powerful 402 hp Plus version, with no opportunity to quick charge it.
Still, it was more than enough time to confirm the VF8 has the serious engineering bonafides to offer a refined and impressive vehicle. VinFast is taking an aggressively tech-focused approach, while also offering lots of room and a very long powertrain warranty (up to 10 years or 200,000 km) to overcome the “who’s that?” reaction to the VinFast name in its first few years in this market.
Perhaps surprisingly, VinFast is not offering the lowest price of entry in this class compared to battery-electric SUV rivals such as the Volkswagen ID.4, Hyundai Ioniq 5, or the Kia EV6. The VF8 Eco Enhanced Range will start at $51,250 with a slightly larger battery, at 87.7 kWh usable. The top VF8 Plus ER model maxes out at $59,750. Then there’s a unique mandatory charge to lease the large lithium-ion battery separately.
Wait, what? Yes, there’s a major asterisk attached to the starting MSRP of any VinFast vehicle right now, because the automaker has decided to only offer the VF8 with a separately leased battery, although company executives have said an all-in price for the VF8 is being discussed, and is likely to be released at some point in 2023.
For now, there are two battery lease choices in Canada: a $39/month plan, which allows 500 km of driving before an additional flat fee kicks in of $0.09/km. But most VinFast customers will likely opt for the Fixed plan, which on the VF8 costs $139/month, with unlimited mileage.
VinFast says the idea behind the battery leasing program is to help subsidize the upfront expense of the most costly component on the vehicle, to help lower the initial advertised price, and to cover any repairs, maintenance or battery replacement costs (such as when the battery charging capacity drops below 70 per cent).
Add that $139/month to a typical 48-month lease (which are slated to be offered, along with planned financing), and it would add an extra $6,672 before tax to your overall payments. The base 82 kWh battery available at launch is certainly worth more than that, as is the larger 87.7 kWh battery set to arrive in 2023, so there’s clearly some VinFast subsidization happening with this program to the consumer’s benefit.
Will this battery leasing program last past next year’s expected announcement of an all-in price? That’s another good question. No one at the company would say, but given the way VinFast accelerated its planned all-in price announcement from 2024 to 2023 after lots of questioning and confusion around the plan, it seems safe to deduce that the subsidized leasing plan is not meant to last long-term.
So what was it like to drive? Impressively similar to BEVs from more established automakers – even luxury ones. Sound deadening in the vehicles while sitting inside and on the road is impressive, even at full acceleration and well above any legal speeds in this country. The surface of the newly paved roads where we tested the VF8 were largely devoid of bumps, but the suspension seemed to calmly smooth out a section of cobblestones in the staging area of our drive loops near the event hotel.
On the more negative side, the VF8’s flat-bottomed steering wheel promised a hint of sportiness to its personality that in reality is more of a comfortable and roomy family hauler than elevated all-wheel drive sport wagon. The steering seems dialed in more for isolation from the road than sharp steering response, which is fine in this class.
The acceleration is lackluster in Eco mode. But even with noticeably more response from Normal and Sport modes, the VF8 seemed far from its factory-rated zero-100 km/h times of 5.9 seconds for the base Eco model, and 5.5 seconds for the more powerful Plus. Using an unscientific test on my phone the best I could clock the more powerful Plus was just under eight seconds.
Even accepting that these VF8s were pre-production models which will receive further tweaks, a two-three second improvement in acceleration for customer models slated to start arriving in the next five months seems ambitious but unlikely, though I’d be happy to be proven wrong in future testing.
Current EV drivers or intenders who enjoy one pedal driving may be disappointed to find that though there’s a selectable regen setting, there’s no paddle or quick way to summon up more powerful regen braking. This is clearly an EV meant for drivers coming out of ICE vehicles, with lots of familiar controls on the steering wheel, though all the gauges have migrated to a huge centre screen similar to Tesla’s latest Model Y and 3 interiors.
In this class, perhaps the key performance aspect is driving range, and though the VF8s on our drive all had lots of idle time with the AC blasting to battle 38 degree Celsius heat, the VF8 Plus showed 272 km from a battery that was at 82 percent state of charge.
This suggested a full charge in the Plus in similar conditions would offer 326 km, compared to VinFast’s targeted estimate of up to 400 km in the Standard Range model, and up to 447 km for the Plus Enhanced Range version. The base Eco version is predicted to offer 420 and 471 km of range for SR and ER models, respectively, which would make it competitive with the larger 5-seat EV SUV pack, though official range ratings have yet to be released.
Those large batteries clearly help, but when you’re on a longer drive (say 100 km and up), it’s range plus DC quick charging ability that becomes important. VinFast quotes a time of roughly 24 minutes for the 2022 battery to charge from 10-70 per cent, and about 31 minutes for the larger ’23 battery. This time seems in line with most of its rivals until one realizes that most of its EV rivals quote a 10-80 per cent figure.
And while VinFast has not released the max DC charge rate that the VF8 can accept, there is some indication that it is at least above 150 kW thanks to information buried in VinFast’s European website.
On the value front, it’s tough not to be impressed with what VinFast offers for its low-$50K starting price, even with the $139/month battery lease charge. Key items on every VF8 model – barring any last-minute equipment changes includes all-wheel drive, heated steering wheel and seats, a heat pump that preserves range in the winter, three USBs in the back (including one of the newer USB-Cs), a driver monitoring system that uses a camera on the steering wheel, over-the-air software updates just like Tesla, plus wireless Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Alexa.
It even has a rear wiper, a missing nicety (some would say necessity) on the Ioniq 5 and EV6. Plus instead of sticking the wiper at the base of the rear glass, like the Mustang Mach-E does, VinFast tucks it under the VF8’s standard rear spoiler, nicely hidden from view of onlookers or the driver.
Pony up the additional $8,500 for the Plus model, and on top of the 50-odd extra ponies, features like the tailgate become powered, the seats go from leatherette to leather and get cooling up front, and a panoramic sunroof is added.
Plug and Charge capability is also standard, which will help prevent many owner connection headaches and provide a seamless Tesla-like charging experience: show up, plug in, and your previously set up app charges your credit card of choice. Granted, the charging stations also need to activate Plug and Charge capabilities on their end. Currently, only Electrify Canada chargers have activated these capabilities, and only for some models, such as the Porsche Taycan and Lucid Air.
The list of standard safety equipment is also extensive, with 11 airbags, plus active cruise control, lane departure warning, automatic emergency braking, rear cross traffic alert, automatic high beams, 360-degree camera views at parking speeds, and forward collision warning, among many others.
And if you really want to impress your friends and family, there’s an optional remote parking system that will bring the car to you while you control it with your phone, a full auto parking system that can take over parking duties when you’re at the wheel, and a lane-change assist function. There will also be video games and an e-commerce service available, though we didn’t have a chance to sample any of these in our short time behind the wheel.
In all, the VinFast VF8 is a solid initial EV effort. Its battery leasing program and the 10 year/200,000 km battery warranty provide unique ownership aspects, while VinFast will currently also throw in an $849 home charger, a $1,000 home installation credit, and three years of unlimited free public charging sessions on an unnamed nation-wide network.
In Vietnam, VinFast even offers its own branded network of DC and 240-volt public charging stations. Though company officials haven’t indicated any plans to bring that network to Canada any time soon, it’s just the type of bold move that VinFast seems ready to help launch it successfully here in North America.
All-wheel-drive, two-motor lithium-ion battery
None Eco: 349 hp, 369 lb-ft; Plus model: 402 hp, 457 lb-ft
$51,250, plus monthly battery leasing charge of $39-$139/month