Twenty-one months after deciding it would build cars VinFast, the car side of the vast Vingroup Vietnamese conglomerate, had a production plant and three models ready to roll. That’s less than the blink of an eye in automotive terms — many new models have a gestation period twice that long never mind building the assemble line needed to make them!
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Initially, there will be two VinFast models coming to Canada. The five-seat VF 8 straddles the compact and intermediate segments with a 2,950-millimetre wheelbase. It will be joined by the larger three-row VF 9. Both crossovers are sharp lookers with the design coming from Pininfarina, no less. In the case of the VF 8 tested the proportions are right, the size is likewise and it has undeniable curb appeal, although offering a blacked-out version in lieu of the chrome might be a good idea.
The first drive of the VF 8 was a short and sweet affair, but it did provide the feedback needed to get that all-important first impression.
There has been considerable speculation about the battery size and supplier, well, speculate no more. For now, Samsung supplies the individual cells (they look like D cells). VinFast then assembles the cells into modules to complete the liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery. Further out, the company wants to make its own cells, which would mean less reliance on an outside supply chain.
The VF 8 tested had a 90-kilowatt/hour battery with a usable capacity of 82-kW/h; the VF 9 will get a larger 100 kW/h battery with 87.7-kWh being usable. What’s not known at this point is if the larger battery will be offered in the VF 8 as an option — it would seem like a safe bet given the likes of Ford Mach-E and others in the segment have a “long” range option.
Both batteries take around eight hours to charge using a Level 2 charger; the right fast charger pumps a 70-per-cent charge into the battery in under 30 minutes. As for range, well, VinFast has not released any official Canadian numbers yet, however, it should be good for around 420-450 kilometres.
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One of the interesting aspects is while the customer buys the VF 8, they lease the battery. This means when the battery performance drops below 70 per cent of what it was when new it will be replaced by VinFast. The plus is any battery upgrades that have been made between the time of purchase and the day the battery needs replacing sees the customer get the upgraded battery. It’s covered by a 10-years/200,000-km warranty.
When the VF 8 arrives in Canada it will be offered two ways — Eco and Plus. Both use the same drivetrain components with the Eco making 348 horsepower and 368 pound-feet of torque. The Plus model tested upped those numbers to 402 hp and 457 lb-ft of torque, which is enough to whisk the riders from rest to 100 kilometres an hour of 5.5 seconds, which is 0.4 seconds faster than the Eco.
While the drive was limited, it did provide a valuable insight into the driving performance. Off the line the VF 8 delivers plenty of pop with the instant-on torque building nicely through the mid-range. It also delivers solid steering feel and feedback, and it has a comfortable, compliant ride in spite of the large P245/45R20 tires. The limited drive did time not allow for a full evaluation of the handling. I will say that, as with all electric cars, it does feel heavy from behind the wheel. However, with the power being split between the axles on an as-needed basis it should hold its own through a corner.
There are Eco, Comfort, and Sport driving modes — the latter puts more giddy-up in the manner in which the accelerator responds. The nit is the pre-production model tested had a fixed amount of regenerative braking. When asked if the driver would be given a choice of regen modes in the production unit, including a one-pedal drive, the answer was “we are studying it.”
The regen braking, as it stands, is nowhere near aggressive enough, so it needs to be bolstered at the very least. This more aggressive mode should also be supplemented with the one-pedal drive extension. It is rapidly becoming an EV must-have, as it makes city driving so much less hassle by allowing the driver to control things through the accelerator pedal alone.
Inside, the VF 8 is very different and more Tesla-like than anything else. It boils down to the fact there’s no instrumentation cluster behind the steering wheel. Everything is controlled through the 15.6-inch centrally-mounted screen. It was a throwback to driving the original Toyota Prius — it felt odd not looking through the steering wheel to check speed, but this quickly became second nature, as it did in the VF 8. For the record, the speed readout sits in the top left-hand corner of the main screen so it’s easy to see.
The design approach keeps the number of buttons to a minimum, so this means just about everything is controlled through the central screen. The exceptions are the push-button shifter and a real volume knob for the radio, thank you! To adjust the mirrors, you pick the left or right mirror icon from the central screen and then use the four-way toggle switch on the left side of the steering wheels to make the adjustments. It sounds convoluted, but the reality is it’s a simple and surprisingly intuitive setup. For example, switching drive modes calls for touching that screen icon and then the desired mode. This keeps the number of menus needed to complete a simple task to the bare minimum.
Space-wise, the VF 8 has plenty of rear seat head- and legroom and decent cargo capacity along with a front trunk for the charger cables and the like. Finally, the VF 8 has the right safety kit — eleven airbags and driver-assist technologies including blind spot monitoring and lane-change assist.
While the first drive of the VF 8 was brief, it was very telling. This crossover is roomy, it has solid pop off the line, it promises to have the desired driving range, and it proved to be comfortable. The two-tone cabin is also artfully crafted and intuitive in spite of the tech at play. The combination means it’s destined to be a player when it arrives in Canada. Deliveries start this fall for the VF 8, which has a starting price of $51,250.