Everyone likes choices.
It’s the reason restaurants have menus and most of us have at least a couple streaming service subscriptions. It’s also why upstart carmakers are able to attract attention – and deposits – as they square off against legacy brands in the expanding electric vehicle (EV) space. Included among them is VinFast, which is hoping to hit the Canadian market by the end of this year.
First up in its ambitious product offensive is the 2023 VinFast VF 8, which presents as a perfectly fine little electric crossover. In fact, it’s better than fine, albeit barely – and that’s OK. It might not be a show-stopper, but it has most of what it takes to carve out its own corner of the expanding electric crossover segment.
Expectations Met – No More, No Less
Before any of the folks who put down deposits – apparently there’s a healthy number of reservation holders, although VinFast won’t divulge how many – bombard my inbox with angry emails, it’s probably worth pointing out that this test drive of the VF 8 was rather brief. That means there’s plenty of potential for this EV to elicit a more positive response down the road.
As far as first impressions, however, it doesn’t quite deliver the wow-factor of the retro-inspired Hyundai Ioniq 5, feeling far more anonymous instead. It’s not as if the VF 8 lacks gimmicks, with features like voice recognition that works for everything from climate control to opening the windows and sunroof; and there’s a massive touchscreen stuck to the dashboard that houses all kinds of games and connected content. But while all of it meets expectations, none of it elevates them.
Likewise, there were no fit and finish issues of note in the few units I poked around and drove – although it’s important to point out that each of them were of the pre-production variety. The leather isn’t quite in luxury brand territory, but it’s close. Likewise, most of the plastics and other surfaces inside are just fine, but the door pulls in particular seem a little sub-standard.
Incidentally, the VF 8 is similar in size to Hyundai’s bulked up electric hatchback; and space inside is just as generous in spite of the lack of a flat floor throughout the cabin that’s common amongst modern EVs. Second-row room is particularly impressive, as is the inclusion of heated and ventilated seats both front and back in the top trim. If there’s another sub six-figure EV on the market to offer both, I can’t name it. But then the Volkswagen ID.4 that shares the same basic shape and proportions is available with massaging front seats – a feature not offered here.
Unlike most of its rivals, the VF 8 features a standard dual-motor all-wheel drive system that should help it earn more than a few fans in Canada and beyond. The entry-level Eco trim generates a combined 349 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque, while the range-topping Plus version bumps those figures to 402 hp and 457 lb-ft.
After a few laps of a small test course in both, there was little discernible difference between them in terms of performance. VinFast claims the VF 8 Plus can sprint from a standing start to 100 km/h in 5.5 seconds – nearly half a second quicker than the Eco; but those times are close enough that the average person would be hard-pressed to pick which is quicker.
When it comes to bragging rights, those sprint times aren’t quite as quick as the Tesla Model Y that also features a standard dual-motor setup, while Volkswagen’s entry in the segment is slightly slower. Over at Hyundai, the range-topping Ioniq 5 is a little quicker, with a claimed zero-to-100 time of 5.1 seconds; but then the rest of the lineup is rear-wheel drive-only and significantly slower.
(Mostly) Pleasant Driving Dynamics
Of course, this isn’t a performance EV, and in that context the drive experience is up to snuff with the competition. Artificial though it may be, the handling is a highlight, while the ride lands somewhere between the Ioniq 5 and the slightly sportier Kia EV6 that uses the same underpinnings. There’s just a bit of body roll to contend with when sawing aggressively at the wheel, but the suspension’s short rebound strokes work with the low centre of gravity to provide a pleasant chassis feel in the majority of circumstances.
Brake feel in both units driven verged on unnerving, requiring deeper presses of the pedal than anticipated to bring the VF 8 to a halt. Of course, being pre-production models, it’s possible that these were isolated incidents, but they were noteworthy nonetheless. Likewise, the regenerative braking took longer than expected to bring the vehicle to a stop even with its strongest setting selected.
Range to be Determined
This initial test was so short that there’s simply no way to comment on the overall efficiency and range offered by the VF 8 beyond the numbers provided by VinFast – and even those should be taken with a grain of salt. That’s because the estimates provided are based on notoriously generous European testing standards rather than the ones used in North America that are often far closer to reality.
Either way, initial estimates aren’t great, with the standard 82-kWh battery pack providing a claimed 420 km in entry-level Eco and 400 km in upgraded Plus guise, while the larger 87.7-kWh pack is good for an estimated 471 km in the former and 447 km in the latter. Over at Tesla, the Model Y continues to be the standard bearer for range in the segment, with the ability to travel as much as 512 km between charging.
But then the rest of the segment sets a fairly low bar for the VF 8 to meet, with the dual-motor versions of the Ioniq 5 and EV6 good for 414 km and 441 km, respectively, while the Ford Mustang Mach-E with all-wheel drive has range estimates of anywhere from 360 km to 502 km, depending on trim. There’s also the Subaru Solterra and its Toyota twin, the bZ4X, both of which should be arriving soon. All-wheel-drive variants should be able to drive about 370 km on a full charge. The all-wheel-drive Volkswagen ID.4, meanwhile, is good for a claimed 394 km.
If you’ve been trying to keep tabs on Canadian pricing in the lead-up to launch, your proverbial whiteboard probably looks like something out of Good Will Hunting. Back in March, a starting price of $51,250 was announced. Not only did that put it out of reach of the federal tax rebate program for EVs, but it also didn’t include the battery; instead, VinFast was planning a subscription program that would add a separate monthly payment.
Fast-forward to the fall, and the starting price has jumped to $54,990 before freight and taxes. But the brand has also backed down from the subscription-only approach to its battery packs, and it’ll sell you one for $10,000 more. But that’s where the details end, with no news on how much the larger of the two batteries will cost, not to mention the VF 8 Plus trim.
Likewise, battery subscription pricing has gone from $139/month for unlimited mileage to the only published figure being $259/month. According to the automaker, that price will be locked in for the life of the vehicle on orders placed prior to Dec. 31, 2022.
Either way, the $54,990 starting price puts it within a few bucks of the Kia EV6 AWD Long Range, as well as an entry-level Ford Mustang Mach-E with all-wheel drive. The dual-motor Hyundai Ioniq 5 is about $2,500 more to start, while the Volkswagen ID.4 rings in at $49,995 before options and extras. Then there’s the Tesla Model Y that starts at $85,000.
It’s hard to pin down exactly what the 2023 VinFast VF 8 does best, and maybe that’s by design. After all, there’s nothing wrong with being a jack of all trades but a master of none – although it does make it difficult for an entirely new entry from an entirely new brand to make a splash in a market with outsized expectations of new EVs.
The VF 8 isn’t the most affordable of its kind, but it’s not the most expensive, either. It doesn’t deliver the same head-turning first impression as others out there, but it has enough gimmicks to get by. Range remains a question mark, while its curious battery subscription approach could be a gift or a curse that only time will determine – but then the brand has taken some corrective action by offering to sell the battery pack for a hefty price premium.
It all leaves this first VinFast product to hit the Canadian market shrouded in some mystery in the lead-up to launch. Maybe it’s the happy middle ground where the VF 8 will live harmoniously, filling out a growing segment that’s sure to be among the most hotly contested in the coming years. Whatever the case may be, there’s nothing wrong with having one more option to pick from.