The first thing I do when I sit in the new VinFast VF8 City Edition is attempt to lower my seat. I apply a bit of downward pressure on the lever and the plastic covering comes off in my hand. “Ah, crap,” I think as I snap it back on. “I broke the car.”
Then the car begins to chime. Loudly. It seems that all the automated driving assistance features are kaput and need servicing. Forward collision warning? Service Required. Blind-spot monitoring? Service Required. Rear cross traffic alert, traffic sign recognition, lane keeping assist? Service All, Y’all.
I haven’t even left the parking lot yet.
[Full Disclosure: VinFast flew me out to a nice hotel, fed me, provided me with the car to drive, and this is their first major American press event. They’re new here.]
VinFast is a Vietnamese car company intent on bringing its electric SUVs to North America as soon as humanly possible. The company started building ICE vehicles in 2017, pivoted to EVs in 2021, had a drivable prototype in 2022 and now here I am in a production, all-electric VF8 City Edition. No wonder this shit doesn’t work.
Okay, that might be a bit of hyperbole. The VF8 works in that it will move you from point A to point B. It’s what happens during that time that’s a problem. If ever there was a company that needs to slow down and stop breaking things, it’s this one.
VinFast is calling this VF8 the City Edition since it has less range but quicker charging times than the standard model. You know, just what city folk need.
The 82 kWh battery stores enough juice for 207 miles of range in Eco trim, or 191 miles in Plus trim. Both trims can charge at a peak rate of around 160 kW, enough to go from a state of charge of 10 to 70 percent in about 24 minutes. That’s not a bad charging time, but the Kia EV6 can charge at a peak of 235 kW or so, going from 10 to 80 percent in about 18 minutes.
Let’s talk a bit more about this battery since VinFast was nice enough to provide some pretty detailed specs on it. VinFast uses lithium nickel cobalt aluminum oxide (NCA) cells, 1,175 of them, and these are the same types of cylindrical cells that Tesla uses. VinFast’s cells are made by Samsung.
A brand new car, from a basically brand new car company, from a country that’s relatively new to making cars and is selling them for the first time ever in the United States. Any way you look at this, it’s a big deal, and it all raises justified questions about whether this effort is legitimate or not.
But look: those are problems that you would deal with if you actually spent money on the car, which I am telling you, in no uncertain terms, not to do. At least not now.
After I show a VinFast representative the error codes, I get a new car. I’m joking with the rep like, “Ha ha ha can you believe all those error codes that never happens so weird ha ha ha!” But all I can think is, “Oh, this has definitely happened before.”
Sliding behind the wheel I take note of the vegan leather—that’s automaker speak for “we don’t want to spend the money on leather so we’ll use plastic but spin the crap out of it.” It looks like the real thing but even on this low-mile vehicle, I notice creasing and wear. There are some soft-touch materials, but it’s outdone by some cheap-looking and feeling plastics.
I’m fine with skimping on interior materials in a budget car, but this has an MSRP of $50,200 including $1,200 for destination. This interior is giving me $16,000 Nissan Versa vibes. Maybe it will drive okay. (Spoiler alert: It doesn’t.)
The push-button transmission is a little too Honda CR-V for my taste, but I have no choice except to smack that plastic D button and make my way out of the parking lot. Engaging the available sport mode on my Plus trim makes for quick acceleration– 5.5 seconds to 62 miles per hour – and an almost twitchy throttle response. It’s good. I dig it.
The VF 8 Eco is AWD with dual motors and makes 348 hp/368 pound-feet of torque from a pair of 150 kW motors. Those same 150 kW motors make 402 hp/457 pound-feet of torque in the VF 8 Plus version, which is their full capacity, suggesting that the Eco’s power is being throttled electronically. The VF 8 Eco starts at $49,000 and the Plus starts at $56,000 so all you car hackers out there should start thinking about how to unlock the extra power for those Eco cars to make a nice bit of aftermarket money someday.
The highway driving assist tracks straight, using the forward-facing camera and radar to keep the car from killing me and the others around me. I can take my hands off the wheel and sometimes I’ll get a warning to not be dumb, but it mostly lets me do what I want.
The drive route takes me to a twisty road. My speed is stymied by a large truck in front of me, but I can get going enough to tell that this thing has plenty of body roll and the suspension tuned to be pretty gosh-darn soft. Over rough pavement, the NVH (noise, vibration, and harshness) reaches a timbre that makes my ears throb, but I’m a bit congested too. The brake pedal is a floppy mess for the first half inch of travel and when it actually engages I have no idea how much pressure the calipers are actually putting on the discs. Every time I need to stop feels like a crap shoot. “Maybe this amount will stop the vehicle? Nope, too much? I can’t tell.” I’ve driven plenty of EVs and this is by far the weirdest braking experience I’ve ever had.
But honestly, it’s not the worst overall experience I’ve ever had. The steering is pretty quick and accurate and the wheel feels great in my hands. Visibility is good and I like the high brake regen setting, although I wish it would bring me to a complete stop instead of just creeping at 5 miles per hour or so.
It’s just that the car isn’t really done yet. A bit of stiffness in the springs would do wonders, as would some chassis tuning to mitigate the annoying NVH. Scrap the brakes and start over and add the option of one-pedal driving. Just a few tweaks could greatly improve the ride quality and overall driving experience.
Electronics, however, might be a whole other Oprah. Eventually, my second car bricks all its ADAS features just like the first car I got into. The only way I can get the native navigation system to work in my tester is to hotspot the system off of my drive partner’s phone. I repeat, I have to give the car internet to use the built-in navigation system.
A VinFast rep says that won’t happen to folks who buy or lease the car, but I can get into any other vehicle as a journalist and the navigation system works, so what up?
[Editor’s Note: It may be worth mentioning that if these electronics actually worked, they’d be pretty competitive because VinFast seems to offer a pretty full spectrum of stuff. The ADAS system is supposed to include Level 2 semi-automated driving, which they classify as Traffic Jam Assist (lower speed) and Highway Assist (higher speed). This comes with all the expected stuff like adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assistance and traffic sign recognition, and they say it has fully-automated parking assist and “remote parking,” though I’m not entirely sure what they mean by that.
They also mention a very Tesla-sounding Smart Summon mode – do they mean the driverless, in-parking-lot, giant RC car-style concept where it can be raining and the car drives up to you from a parking lot, so you stay dry and toasty? Maybe! Also Tesla-like are features like Pet Mode and Camp Mode, which must maintain the internal temperature for long periods when the car is otherwise off. They’re ambitious with how fully featured this is, I’ll give them that.
There’s also optional features listed like a web browser and online games (offline games are standard, it seems), and phone mirroring systems (think Car Play, Android Auto) are also options, which is one up on Tesla.
VinFast has also integrated what3words navigation system into the car, which is a system that lets you navigate to – as they say, “any 10 foot by 10 foot spot on the planet,” which is, notably, a metric that includes my nice warm lap, by “just inputting three simple words that represent the destination.”
They also list an option that has both a question mark and an asterisk (“Ecommerce (food order, etc)?*”) so I don’t know what to make of that. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a question mark on a car spec sheet before. – JT]
My colleagues don’t fare much better. One person I talk to says his tester constantly pulls to the right. Another journalist tells me his car rolled backward on a hill. One guy said the car never prompted him to put his hands on the wheel while testing the Highway Assist.
Other folks complain about fussy turn signals and HVAC systems that blow either freezing or sweltering, nothing in between. The driving experience is one thing, but cars that are allegedly ready for consumers should not have these quality control issues.
[Editor’s Note: Maybe it’s my perpetual and tragic love for the underdog, but I do feel compelled to point out at least two positives about the VF 8 that I noticed. First, they actually bothered to give it a front trunk, which a number of its competitors, mostly from Germany for some reason, couldn’t be bothered to do:
At 2.7 cubic feet of space, it’s about the same size as a Tesla Model 3 frunk, roughly. I’m just happy they bothered to carve out the space that is rightfully yours.
Also, their color selection looks pretty good, and includes a bunch of actual colors and not the usual grim monochrome grayscale palette we’ve been force-fed by so many carmakers:
Red, orange, green, blue! Actual colors! That’s worth applauding. The design overall, a Pininfarina design, even, isn’t bad, really, but it is kind of anonymous. The VF 8 looks like most modern SUVs or crossovers, which is probably just fine for most buyers, but I’d have liked to see a few more risks taken. – JT]
I’ll give VinFast props for its warranty, though. If you plunk down money for this thing, which you absolutely shouldn’t do for at least another year, you’ll get a 10-year/125,000-mile warranty on the car and a 10-year/unlimited-mile warranty on the battery.
Oh right, the battery. Early on VinFast was planning on leasing the battery to consumers but found the financials to be too difficult to manage. However, a representative said the company is still open to battery leasing should the market demand it.
The only way to get your hands on a VinFast VF8 City Edition is to lease one. Monthly pricing starts at $414 per month, a competitive number to be sure. However, if you’re even remotely considering leasing a VF8, I urge you to reread this article and go lease a Chevy Bolt EUV for a few bucks more.
Wait for a year or so and then revisit the VinFast. I certainly plan to. This company just needs time to get it right.