Fifteen years ago, the foundations for my car-reviewing philosophy were laid by my first editor-in-chief, Angus MacKenzie. "It's simple," he told me, "I want all cars to be good, and I'm disappointed when they're not." I apply it to every car I drive, new or old, stock or custom. Many of us in automotive journalism have even taken to saying there are no "bad" cars anymore, as even the least impressive cars on the market are all pretty decent nowadays. That's no longer true. The 2023 VinFast VF8 is nowhere near ready for public consumption, yet it's already being delivered to customers.
It's too bad, because VinFast seems to have the right idea here. Two-row SUVs are the heart of the market, and especially so for EVs. The VF8 is roomy and loaded with features, and it has a competitive driving range. Moreover, most of the problems with the VF8 could likely be fixed with over-the-air (OTA) software updates.
As it stands now, though, I'd be embarrassed to look a customer in the eye when handing over the keys to this vehicle. I've driven camouflaged prototypes that were far closer to production-ready than the in-production VF8.
Basic Functions Don't Work Reliably
A lot of car reviewing is subjective and based on experience, preference, and understanding of the target customer, but a significant part of it is objective fact. I may not like the way a turn signal sounds, but I expect it to work every time I use it. One of the VF8s at the launch event couldn't do that. Similarly, multiple VF8s (including our test vehicle, which had fewer than 1,300 miles on the odometer) had HVAC systems that would only blow cold air when set below 80 degrees and only blow hot air when set above 80, but never warm or cool air regardless of whether manual or automatic climate was selected. Another VF8 would reset the climate to 80 degrees every time the car was powered off and back on.
Climate control wasn't the only malfunctioning system on our test vehicle. The embedded navigation system would display a map that jerked around on screen but was otherwise nonfunctional; it was always "offline" regardless of location. Blind-spot monitoring was also functionally useless on our vehicle. Occasionally, it would work while stopped if another vehicle next to us was moving through our blind spot, illuminating both a light on the door mirror and a graphic on the Tesla-like single dashboard screen. Most of the time, though, it didn't do anything.
Features That Do Work Need Work
Myriad other systems on the car did work, but in suboptimal ways. It starts the moment you get in and continues until you get out. Sit down in the driver's seat, and the screens come on, but no functions work until you buckle your seat belt and put your foot on the brake. So no listening to the radio or turning on the fan without your seat belt on.
The steering wheel adjustments are enabled on the single tabletlike screen in the center of the dashboard and easy enough to find with the steering wheel icon. Good luck finding door mirror and sunroof controls, though. Turns out you have to tap the mirrors or sunroof on the top-down picture of the car to bring up those screens. You can also control the sunroof and other features like the climate control with the voice assistant, if it works. Some journalists reported it worked but took forever to process commands. Others would watch it correctly type out everything you just said on the screen then inform you it didn't understand.
Put the VF8 in reverse to back out of a spot, and the whole car shudders violently. The parking brake doesn't release until you step on the accelerator, and once you do, there's no hold function, so you'd better keep Creep mode engaged so it's always sending power to the motors. Disable Creep, and the car will roll away in gear. I nearly rolled backward into another car at an intersection like someone learning to drive stick.
Once you're off and going, you find the long list of advanced driver aids to be a mixed bag at best. The adaptive cruise control and lane-centering steering assist work shockingly well but also have no apparent safeguards. They can be activated on any road at any time, and there appears to be no functional driver monitoring. The car never once warned me to put my hands back on the wheel, and covering the driver-facing camera behind the steering wheel did nothing. This is exactly the kind of thing that's made Tesla's Autopilot and Full Self Driving Beta technologies so controversial and potentially dangerous.
At least, that was our experience. Another car in the group did actually warn the driver to put their hands back on the wheel but did so while the steering assistance system was turned off and while the driver was, in fact, holding the wheel.
That's if you have the patience to leave the driver aids on, though. The steering assistance in our test car threw so many screaming false alarms and messages about having to provide "emergency steering assistance" when A) there was no emergency, and B) it wasn't actually doing any steering that I finally just turned off the whole system.
The speed limit warning system is equally obnoxious. Fully engaged, it beeps wildly every time you exceed the speed limit or your set variance by 1 mph. You can turn that off, but you can't turn off the beeps that ring out every time the speed limit changes as you drive down the road. (And it took us a while to figure out what those noises were about.) Oh, and when you turn off the exceeded speed limit warning, it puts a yellow triangle and exclamation point on the screen for the rest of the drive that looks like a much more serious alert.
Adjusting your speed is another matter entirely. Our car defaulted to Normal drive mode, High regenerative braking, and Creep mode on. Seems fine, but the accelerator pedal tuning had other ideas. Barely touch the pedal, and the car leaps forward, but lay into it, and there's a pause followed by a slow build of power. Let off the accelerator, and there's a jerk the other way as the regenerative braking kicks in ungracefully. Changing the regenerative braking to Low solved this problem, albeit only temporarily because the car forgets all your settings and restores the defaults every time you turn it off and back on.
Best to leave it in Normal drive mode regardless. Eco mode didn't appear to make any difference in our car, though colleagues reported a noticeable effect in theirs. They also had a usable Sport mode, but in our car, it was undrivable. Enabling Sport made the accelerator pedal so sensitive, breathing on it might cause you to hit triple-digit speeds.
Somewhere along the line, you might think the seat heaters and ventilation fitted to four out of the five seats might be the solution to the climate control issue mentioned earlier, but they're not as much help as they could be. The seat heaters get dangerously hot if left on too long, and the seat ventilation on our car was so weak it took several attempts to determine if it was working at all. On another car, they apparently worked great but were extremely loud, a poor trade-off.
Finally, reaching the end of your drive, you'll be beeped at a few more times for good measure. First, when you unbuckle your seat belt, even if you put the car in park first. Then a rear seat reminder that always comes back 30 seconds after you dismiss it. Sit in the car too long without touching the brake, and everything will shut down without the warnings or countdown most cars provide.
Software Updates Can't Fix Everything
Most of the problems could and hopefully will be solved with software patches delivered over the air or by VinFast's mobile service technicians. A lot of what I find unacceptable about this car could, in theory, be fixed very quickly by running an update. Some things, though, need to change back at the factory.
The shock absorber tuning, for example, needs a rethink. The ride is too firm for what's being pitched as a "premium" vehicle, and it has a bad tendency to pitch front to rear and back over bad pavement, leaving you constantly nodding your head. The shocks absorb the smallest bumps and cracks effectively, as everything bigger is felt through both the floor and seats. They handle lateral loads better, with little body roll that's well-controlled when you first turn the wheel, though it has a little trouble righting the car smoothly when you come out of a turn, especially after sharp steering inputs.
The seats don't help the handling situation, either. They're very firm and very flat, so you slide right out of them in anything more than gentle bend. The rear seat is almost a literal bench, the bottom and back completely devoid of contour and extremely thin. The rear headrests are fixed in place and impede your view out the already pinched rear window. I'd also be a remiss if I didn't mention the quality of the materials. The imitation leather and cheap interior plastics appear to be the exact same stuff GM was excoriated for using 15 years ago.
Outward visibility is otherwise quite good, which matters because the 360-degree camera system is terrible. The resolution is akin to security camera footage from the '90s, and the latency is as bad as online gaming in the same time period. Should you still find it useful anyway, it can be set to come on automatically below 9 mph. In practice, though, there's no rhyme or reason to when it does or doesn't come on, but once you exceed 9 mph, it goes off, and it's not coming back until you stop again.
Then there's the interior noise. The small amount of wind noise around the windshield header at freeway speeds is forgivable, as many cars struggle there. The tire and road noise, though, would make an old Honda blush. Not helping the noise issue was a sunroof that started creaking the moment I started driving and never stopped. The wipers are also oddly loud.
Build quality could also use work, though as Tesla has proved, it's not a deal breaker for many customers. Panel gaps inside and out were big and in places uneven. Our creaky sunroof was annoying but not a safety issue. Another car that had a broken third brake light whose lens had flown off at some point during the drive was more of a concern.
The Stuff We Did Like
It's not all bad, and there are even hints VinFast could really turn things around if it moves quickly. A number of the car's features are actually quite good, like the functionality of the adaptive cruise control and steering assistance. They're better than a number of major automakers in terms of how well they help drive the car.
The displays are also impressive. The head-up unit is bright, crisp, and full of useful information presented via pleasing graphics. Same for the one big tablet display, even if it has a few too many hidden menus. You do have to press any on-screen button right in the middle for your input to register, but the screen responds immediately when you hit them right. Wireless Apple CarPlay also worked well, though Google Maps did occasionally have trouble rendering the route on the dashboard screen. I also appreciated that any time the car had an issue, a surprisingly detailed message was displayed on the big screen, though sometimes not long enough to read fully.
As noted, the VF8 is pretty spacious. I'm not sure why it has a hump in the center of the rear floor when there's no driveshaft to clear, but it's not a deal-breaker. The cargo area is larger than you'd think, and it does have slightly more space under the hood than a Hyundai or Kia EV, even if the area is awkwardly shaped.
More than anything, the core brake tuning was shockingly good. Even Mercedes-Benz still struggles to blend regenerative and mechanical braking smoothly, but VinFast did an excellent job right out of the gate.
Even the battery and charging technology, which still trips up major automakers, seems solid. The range on this City Edition model is unimpressive at 207 miles for the Eco Version trim and 191 miles for the Plus Version (an improvement from previous estimates). The City Edition, though, is already out of production and replaced with the Standard Edition, which gets a new and improved battery chemistry. Standard Editions are making landfall in America as we speak, and the Eco Version trim will go a competitive 264 miles, followed by a Plus Version that goes 243. The 999 early adopters who all leased City Editions will be able to swap out their cars for Standard Editions after one year. Two hours of mixed driving saw the range drop surprisingly slowly, which is encouraging.
VinFast is claiming a somewhat slow but still competitive peak charging speed of 160 kW. Filling the 87-kWh battery from 10 percent to 70 percent takes 24 minutes or less, the company says, which is quite competitive and indicative of a good charge curve that doesn't fall off quickly as the battery fills. VinFast also gives you the option of a free home charger plus a $1,000 credit for installation or three years of unlimited free charging at affiliated public networks. You can also set up the car to charge automatically on participating public stations and bill through your VinFast account so you don't have to download all the charger apps.
Speaking of speed, every VF8 is dual-motor and all-wheel drive, with Eco Versions getting 348 hp and 369 lb-ft and Plus Versions getting 402 hp and 457 lb-ft. VinFast says that's good enough to hit 60 mph in 5.5 to 6.5 seconds, and the car felt plenty zippy on both city streets and the freeway.
For How Much?
The VF8's good qualities, though, don't come anywhere close to outweighing the bad, which isn't going to make its price easier to swallow. Currently, the vehicles are only available via lease, and VinFast's press materials disagree with themselves about the monthly payment, which is either $399 or $414 per month for the City Edition Eco Version and either $499 or $528 per month for the Plus Version.
Whenever VinFast decides to open up sales, the VF8 Standard Edition Eco Version will start at $49,000 and the VF8 Standard Edition Plus Version at $56,000, plus a currently unknown destination charge. Should all the problems be fully sorted by then, the VF8 could be competitive with the Tesla Model Y and Ford Mustang Mach-E—but that's an enormous "if."
Also, if you've heard of VinFast's innovative battery leasing plan and wondering what's up with that, best to forget about it. After several confusing attempts to get it off the ground, the company has put it on the back burner while it figures out how to make it a viable program.
Time's Running Out
The VF8, as it sits, is not ready for public consumption. Once word of these problems gets around, either from reviews like this one or owners or both, it's going to savage the company's reputation in America before anyone here has even heard of it. The company needs to move at lightning speed to fix the issues and appease the early adopters if it's to have any hope of succeeding in this market. More than anything, it has to fix them before the VF6, VF7, and VF9 EV SUVs arrive later this year.
As it happens, VinFast is really good at moving fast. The Vietnamese company has the money, resources, and culture to make things happen on timetables few others can match. It's going to take cubic dollars to fix the VF8 as quickly as it needs, but it's not impossible. In fact, it's imperative. The question is, will VinFast continue to throw money at this project? Or will it cut and run?Looks good! More details?
|2023 VinFast VF8 City Edition Specifications|
|BASE PRICE||$49,000-$56,000 (est)|
|LAYOUT||Front- and Rear-motor, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV|
|MOTORS||2x 174-hp/184-lb-ft electric, 348 hp/369 lb-ft comb.; 2x 201-hp/227-lb-ft electric, 402 hp/457 lb-ft comb.|
|CURB WEIGHT||5,600-5,750 lb (mfr)|
|L x W x H||187.0 x 76.1 x 65.6 in|
|0-60 MPH||5.5-6.5 sec (mfr est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||82-89/78-85/80-87 mpg-e|
|EPA RANGE, COMB||191-207 miles|