The ingredients are there, but it needs work.
The VinFast VF 8 is a new five-seater electric crossover from Vietnam. It's been a long time since an automaker from outside the US tried to enter the mass market. As a bit of foreshadowing, the last was Kia and Hyundai, joined at the hip from South Korea, which entered the market with questionable build quality but captured market share using long industry-beating standard warranties. As a bit of backstory, Vinfast is part of Vingroup, which is so big in Vietnam it's almost a state within a state. Children can be born in a Vinmec hospital, live in a Vinhomes house while attending a Vinschool, and eat food bought at VinMart. Now that child can be taken to school in a VinFast crossover.
You get the idea, and it tells us that VinFast isn't a venture-backed company trying to get in on the EV craze on a shoestring budget. There's real money in this venture from a young but liquid company looking to build a legacy. That's why we were interested in getting ourselves out to San Diego and driving one of the new electric vehicles due to start landing in numbers in the coming weeks and months.
When it comes to styling, VinFast didn't mess around. The exterior comes from the Italian design house Pininfarina, which we think explains the European feel of the front end. According to Vinfast, it uses the "dynamic curves of sports cars, with the oblong features often found in luxury sedans, along with the height and powerful, sharp cut of SUVs."
It's distinctive enough to turn heads, and every other driver we spoke to throughout the day was asked about the car at least once. A light bar stretches across the front between the headlights, which come standard with auto-leveling. A nice touch is an indent in the door handles for a thumb when closing the doors that satisfied the design nerd in us. It's something that most owners won't notice, but it's there and a lovely touch.
Unfortunately, once you get a bit closer to the VF 8 we were driving, and others we looked at throughout the day, there were some red flags about build quality.
The first thing we noticed was a gap at the front of the back doors, wide enough to show the paint color behind. We were wondering if that was a design choice and started noticing that hardly any panel on the vehicle had the same panel gap as the one next to it; some panels sat further out than others, and a lot of trim pieces didn't line up with the one next to it. In short, the fit and finish of the cars were not good.
The gap in the taillights between the tailgate and the fenders is large enough to fit the tip of a finger in, and you can see the fittings through it. Topping it off, the center brake light at the top of the tailgate's lens was broken. This could have happened in shipping, and Vinfast didn't have a replacement to hand, but we didn't get an answer to that question. We'll get to that later.
Inside the VinFast VF 8, we didn't spot any red flags but did find some interesting choices being made. The first is to eschew the traditional display cluster to rely on a head-up display which is a bold move forward. There is still a display, but it's on the left side of the 15.6-inch touchscreen mounted on the dash. The materials aren't flashy inside, but the vegan leather and hand stitching appear to be good quality. The seats are hard, reminding us of turn-of-the-century BMW seats, which isn't bad as they are comfortable enough. There's a lot of plastic, but it's nicely textured, and there's a lot of soft-touch material where elbows bull rest or bump.
There's plenty of room for a family inside, and standard features to keep everyone happy include dual-zone climate control up front, second-row ventilation, five USB ports, and an integrated wireless charger.
Another choice is to remove as many buttons from the interior as possible, which is something other automakers are moving away from, as it's a mistake to put everything on the front screen. In the VF 8, this includes the mirror adjustment and opening and closing of the sunroof, if fitted, and the HVAC.
It's a case of style and reduction in build complexity over ease of use. However, to VinFast's credit, there is a proper volume knob in the center console.
A User Interface issue we picked up on is that on the screen, there's an icon that represents information, and the vast majority of people will expect that to take them to an information screen, not the settings screen for the head-up display. While not the end of the world, it's another sign that the VF 8 is an unpolished product. It's still not the biggest sign, though.
The 15.6-inch touchscreen is crisp and clear and responds reasonably quickly, and features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as well as some popular apps like iHeartRadio and TuneIn installed as standard, with a "video partner" to follow. There's not a lot special in the infotainment system, and it was fine to use for a couple of hours. The Eco trim gets an eight-speaker system while the rest, including the City trim we were driving, get a 10-speaker system that sounded much better than we expected.
The voice command system is surprisingly good for a first run, and that's how we ended up closing the sunroof. That's on top of VinFast's Smart Services, which uses data analysis, artificial intelligence, and facial recognition as part of its safety systems and services like Smart Home and In-car Shopping.
The VF 8 features a dual-motor system providing all-wheel drive. This produces 348 horsepower and 369 ft-lb of torque for the Eco version and 402 hp and 457 ft-lb for the Plus version. Eco will hit 0-60 mph in 6.5 seconds, while the Plus will crack 60 mph in a respectable 5.5 seconds. VinFast is touting a charge time from 10% to 70% in around 24 minutes; this was something we wanted to ask about as most automakers advertise 10-80 percent as drop-off in charge time usually happens after the 80 percent SOC mark.
However, we do get that in the City model, people will likely get closer to the 10 percent mark before charging. The Eco version will reach 207 miles and the Pro 191 miles, which makes the VF 8's range disappointing in a sea of EVs nearing 300 miles.
VinFast is also touting its Plug & Charge feature to take the pain out of finding and paying for charging away from home, as well as a 10-year battery warranty and a 10-year/125,000-mile warranty on the rest of the car. The aim is to prioritize after-sales service and have 28 dealerships in the US open in quick succession. VinFast wants to follow other EV makers like Tesla, Rivian, and Lucid and have a mobile servicing department to come to the customer, too.
On the road, the first thing we noticed was the VF 8's hard seats, which turned out to be perfectly comfortable over a couple of hours. The ride quality isn't bad by a long shot, but it is too firm and leads to bobblehead syndrome when you venture off super-smooth pavement. The steering is sharp and a touch too pointed for a daily-driving crossover. The same goes for throttle response, where in Normal mode, it's as sharp as you would expect in Sport mode. The two combined means you have to concentrate on driving smoothly, although, over time, it would become second nature.
It's generally a nice vehicle to drive with no overpowering issues until you go near a centerline or reach the speed limit, where the driver assistant technology chimes and shows alerts. It's way too sensitive, and chiming when you reach the speed limit is as annoying as chiming and throwing up alerts when you drive up to a traffic light centered in your lane between a curb and a bus. While we appreciate VinFast's dedication to safety systems, and adding a blind-spot assist feature as standard, the software needs a good polish.
We mentioned that VinFast is new as an automaker, but this isn't the brand's first car, as it already has models on sale in Vietnam. To push into the US market, the end product needs to be more polished, and the exterior fit and finish are huge red flags for build quality issues.
The price looks good on paper with the specs, standard features, and warranties. But, with the Eco models starting at $49,000 and the Plus models starting at $56,000, that's a lot of money to pay for a car with body panels that don't line up and driver aids that are too oversensitive.
We can't recommend the VF 8 yet. And the important word here is yet. The driver aids can be fixed with the software, and build quality is something we know automakers can improve at pace. Suspension can be revised, and we hope this all comes together quickly as the VF 8 could be a genuine contender on the US market and help shift people over to electric power.
It's a shaky start, though. Typically, on these first drive events, and we were told it would be the case, there would be PR people and product specialists to talk to at lunch and in general.
Instead, there were only journalists discussing all the issues they came across. Not a PR person, executive, or product specialist in sight to talk to. We hung around for around 45 minutes before shrugging our shoulders and leaving. Typically, this would be where the automaker would get a chance to address issues or clarify details, and we could pass those comments on in our first-drive review; new cars are rarely perfect, and we often drive pre-production models which do have flaws.
As it stands, though, we have to assume this is the quality of the car that will be reaching customers soon. It shows a lot of promise but needs work. If you're interested, we would suggest waiting and seeing what issues the early adopters have and how VinFast deals with them.
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