Something strange has happened since electric vehicles (EVs) went mainstream over the last decade or so.
While traditional automakers like Toyota and Ford deliberated over their development, newer companies like Tesla, Lucid, and Rivian stepped up to fill the gaps in the market. Now another new automotive brand is throwing its hat in the ring to take on legacy automakers in the EV arena: VinFast.
This emerging Vietnamese automaker may be new, but don’t call it a startup. With a determined team of executives, impressive manufacturing capabilities, and the backing of Vietnam’s largest conglomerate, VinFast is pushing to become a serious player in Canada’s auto industry.
With the 2023 VinFast VF8 set to launch in Canada later this year, the company invited a handful of automotive media types to check out its compact battery-electric crossover firsthand. With a standard dual-motor all-wheel drive powertrain producing nearly 350 hp, an estimated range of over 400 km, and a 10-year, 200,000-km warranty, the VinFast VF8 ticks an awful lot of boxes.
Starting Off Right
VinFast is smart to break into the North American market with a little crossover like the VF8. As far as size is concerned, this segment is Canada’s largest, and the VF8 has the cabin and cargo space – as well as the extra ground clearance – that shoppers have come to expect.
For reference, the VF8 has a wheelbase of 2,950 mm (116.1 in) and an overall length of 4,750 mm (187 in), while it’s 1,677 mm (66 in) tall, making it roughly the same size as the well-received Hyundai Ioniq 5.
Approachable styling is one of the positive traits of the VF8. The crossover’s design blends distinct front and rear ends with an inoffensive side profile, which should set it apart from rivals without scaring off more reserved buyers. The fascia is unique with its two-segment LED headlights and V-shaped LED daytime running lights, the latter of which mimic the shape of the company’s centrally-mounted logo. Out back, an LED light bar mirrors the front running lights, again, taking on a V shape that frames the VinFast logo.
The chassis is another highlight of this compact crossover. The VF8’s platform evoked a solid, fist-tight feel in both the entry-level Eco and upmarket Plus models sampled during this test. Body roll was a bit pronounced on a fairly short driving loop, which toured a small portion of the VinGroup-owned VinWonders amusement park in Nha Trang, Vietnam, however comfort should take priority over sportiness here. The pre-production tester driven here also had a wide turning radius for this segment – an odd trait that we were told would be fixed before the vehicle goes on sale in Canada later this year.
In Canada, the VF8 will launch in two grades: entry-level Eco and well-equipped Plus. The Eco model comes standard with a dual-motor all-wheel drive powertrain producing 349 hp and will accelerate from zero to 100 km/h in a claimed 5.9 seconds. We were unable to recreate that claimed acceleration time during our test, even with the sport mode activated and by brake-torquing the vehicle; however we were told this discrepancy could be due to a software error on a pre-production vehicle. Expect this to be remedied by the time the vehicle goes on sale.
The VF8 Plus, which is rated at 402 hp, felt noticeably quicker than the eco but still felt slower than VinFast’s claimed zero-to-100 km/h time of 5.5 seconds.
Acceleration figures aside, the VF8’s powertrain provided the kind of smooth, torque-rich acceleration EVs are known for, and there’s no denying that standard all-wheel drive is appealing. The standard brake regeneration felt light, and there are currently only two options for the system’s strength embedded in the infotainment screen, so having more adjustability in this regard would be ideal. The VF8 will also feature a one-pedal driving mode that will allow it to be brought to a stop without using the mechanical brakes.
The VF8 with the standard-range battery provides a VinFast-estimated driving range of 420 km in the eco trim and 400 km in the Plus trim. The extended-range battery, which will become available next year, is said to offer up to 471 km in the Eco and 447 km in the Plus. These estimates are based on generous global vehicle testing procedures, but Canadians can expect the VF8’s real-world driving range to sit firmly in the 300-km+ realm, similar to key rivals like the Ioniq 5.
As for charging, VinFast says the VF8 can charge from 10 per cent to 70 per cent capacity in roughly 24 minutes with the standard battery, while the extended-range unit takes a bit longer at 31 minutes. This is a competitive charging speed compared to rival offerings, although it’s worth noting that certain mass-market EVs on sale today can charge from 10 per cent to 80 per cent capacity in less than 20 minutes.
Hey, VinFast – Nice Interior
The VF8 has the kind of tech-forward interior that many EV buyers have come to expect, with a large landscape-oriented 15.6-inch touchscreen sitting front and centre. There’s also no traditional instrument cluster, as speed and other related vehicle information are displayed in the corner of the center screen. The screen itself is nice, featuring crisp graphics, rich colours, and good response time. The VF8 will also support touch-based games and will eventually have embedded features for in-vehicle shopping and smart home controls, VinFast says.
An onboard virtual assistant also comes standard in the VF8, which can be activated by saying “Hey, VinFast,” while inside the vehicle. We tested the system by saying “Hey VinFast, open the sunroof,” and also had it open and close the windows and adjust the climate control, confirming that it works as intended, albeit with a slight delay. There’s also a facial recognition camera mounted on the steering wheel stalk, which can automatically change the driver profile and apply saved settings for the seat and steering wheel adjustment, climate control, and more.
Overall, the fit and finish of the VF8’s cabin is quite impressive, as is its low road noise at highway speed (and well above). Complaint are limited to the thin and somewhat cheap-feeling steering wheel, which also has a pair of oddly-placed and uncomfortably exposed screw holes on the rear where the driver’s hands sit. The VF8 also lacks a flat floor in the front and rear cabin areas like many other EVs, robbing passengers of some additional legroom.
The usual range of modern advanced safety features will be standard on the VF8, including automatic emergency braking and highway drive assist, and VinFast expects it to receive a five-star safety rating from agencies around the globe.
Batteries Sold Separately
Pricing for the VinFast VF8 Eco will start at $51,250, while the more well-equipped VF8 Plus model will be slightly more expensive at $59,750. Those prices don’t include the battery pack, believe it or not, which will be offered to customers through a subscription model, adding an additional payment on top of any monthly vehicle payments they may have.
VinFast has outlined two battery subscription plans for Canadians. The cheaper of the two will cost $39/month with a monthly mileage allowance of 500 km, plus an additional nine cents for every kilometre over that threshold. The pricier option will cost $139/month, but will not come with a mileage limit.
While the battery subscription strategy may seem a bit convoluted, it does have its benefits. If the battery capacity dips below 70 per cent, as some EV batteries have been known to do after years of use, VinFast will replace the pack for free. It also lowers the initial purchase price of the VF8.
As batteries make up a large chunk of the cost in many EVs, this unique subscription model has the potential to save customers money on repairs and service further down the road. However, the jury is out on whether or not customers will be enticed by not having to worry about the condition of their vehicle’s battery pack, or turned off by the separate monthly vehicle payment.
With a solid-feeling platform, quiet ride, and competitive standard equipment, the 2023 VinFast VF8 gives the impression of being a solid starting point for the brand and is a mighty impressive product for a company that’s only five years old. A wide turning radius, slower-than-expected acceleration, and a somewhat cheap-feeling steering wheel are weak points, but VinFast has the time to remedy these admittedly minor issues before the crossover goes on sale here in late 2022.
As for the battery subscription program, it remains to be seen whether Canadians will enjoy the peace of mind that comes with leasing their vehicle’s battery pack, or be turned off by the additional payment. No other automaker has employed this novel strategy, so we can see why VinFast is going ahead with the experiment. Either way, the automaker says it will likely offer customers the option to buy their vehicle with the battery pack included starting in 2023.
All told, this is a fairly solid first product for a company that has the finances, manufacturing capability, and engineering prowess to become a major player in the North American auto industry in the years to come.
Engine Displacement: 295 kW
Engine Cylinders: Dual electric motors
Peak Horsepower: 349 hp
Peak Torque: 369 lb-ft
Battery sizes: 82 kWh (standard), 87.7 kWh (extended range)
Fuel Economy: Not yet rated
Cargo Space: Not yet available
Model Tested: 2023 VinFast VF8 Eco, VF8 Plus
VF8 Eco, $51,250
VF8 Plus, $59,750