Driving the VinFast VF8, Vietnam’s first Tesla-inspired electric SUV

A new electric car, from a new brand of electric cars. The Vietnamese manufacturer VinFast organized the first tests of the future VF8 SUV. This first 100% electric car will be one of the two vehicles available for the deployment of VinFast in Europe.

If you go to Vietnam, you will come across a lot of scooters and thermal cars. The Southeast Asian country located more than 10,000 km from us is not ready for the energetic transition started in Europe. However, the Vietnamese manufacturer VinFast has decided to make its revolution. It stops producing thermal vehicles, and from the end of 2022, two 100% electric SUVs will be available in three European countries, including France: the VF8 and the VF9.

A Gigafactory that lives up to its name

Founded in 2017 by parent company Vingroup, Vinfast initially launched a sedan and SUV very similar to the BMW 5 Series and X5. This is quite logical, since VinFast has benefited from a BMW brand agreement and the know-how of many European companies. We were able to cross them on the Vietnamese roads, with other SUVs and pick-ups mainly Japanese and German. In less than five years, VinFast has achieved the feat of creating an automobile brand with the support of significant capital.

To build these cars, VinFast built a Gigafactory in Haiphong. Its production capacity averages 38 vehicles per hour, or 250,000 electric vehicles per year. As the Vietnamese company sees far, it has the possibility of expanding its factory to reach 950,000 vehicles produced per year.

VinFast factory in Vietnam // Source: Ulrich Rozier for Numerama

The factory is ultramodern, since a large part of the 3,000 components are assembled by robots supplied by Dalmec (Italy). A VinFast car will go through a complete four kilometer long assembly line. It is difficult to describe with precision what this ballet of articulated arms protected by grids represents in order to guarantee the safety of employees. You feel small in these very long corridors, the scene is surreal. This will probably make you think of one of the last opuses of Terminator.

Who says Gigafactory says building batteries. VinFast has its own dedicated shed. The Vietnamese brand receives small batteries (or cells), designed by Samsung for example, which are tested and grouped into battery packs. These battery packs then make up the car battery, this design is the same as the Tesla batteries.

VinFast Batteries
The cells are installed in blocks // Source: Ulrich Rozier for Numerama

This choice is explained by the flexibility and profitability offered by the assembly of these small battery cells. By connecting a greater number of battery cells in parallel, VinFast increases the capacity of the battery, thus offering several versions of the vehicle with an extended autonomy.

The Vietnamese group then planned to operate an LFP (Lithium-Iron-Phosphate) battery factory, still in Vietnam.

Two other factories will be built in the United States and in Germany. VinFast has the support of an empire and seems to have the means to succeed.

Attached to German finishes

Now that the introductions are done, let’s move on to this handling of the VF8. This SUV of 4.75 meters long is in line with the Ford Mustang Mach-E, the Kia EV6, and the BMW iX3. Design-wise, the job is done: the lines of this car were drawn by the Italian company Pininfarina, which has worked for luxury brands like Alfa Romeo, Ferrari and Maserati.

VinFast VF8 –  Numerama

Nevertheless, it is clear that this VF8 looks like a master key. Its design is successful, but it does not mark the spirits. If you want a flashy SUV, you’ll have to go for the VF9 instead, a 7-seater SUV whose design was designed by another still Italian agency, Torino.

VinFast VF8 in Plus version in gray // Source: Ulrich Rozier for Numerama

On the other hand, the front and rear light signature should make it fairly easy to recognize the VF8 on the road. There are long LED bars forming the V of the VinFast logo, inside also on the dashboard.

The model we got our hands on is a pre-production model, but we were thrilled with the assembly. The materials used are not as premium as those of German cars, but the assembly is impeccable.

It must be said that VinFast does not aim for the same finish as the Chinese brands, it aims for the high end. The equipment therefore lives up to expectations, with heated and ventilated seats, an opening panoramic roof, driving aids, a head-up display and so on.

VinFast VF8 –  Numerama 11
Unlike Tesla, the physical controls are numerous. There’s also an augmented reality heads-up display.

VinFast wraps the interior in synthetic leather for the Eco version, and animal leather for the Plus version. It exudes quality, but we would have appreciated vegetable leather on all versions.

Inspired by the Tesla mindset

What will probably mark you the most is the single 15.6-inch screen in a horizontal position in the middle of the dashboard. It’s very Tesla, we immediately feel like we have an iPad in front of us.

VinFast VF8 –  Numerama –  2
A large screen with a fluid interface // Source: Ulrich Rozier for Numerama

The home interface is neat and responsive, it will once again make you think of Tesla. Everything is almost in the same place, including dog mode and camping for example. This is the first time that we have seen a dashboard so close to the spirit of Tesla, including new American and Chinese brands.

Interface VF8 –  Number
The interface is clean, the software functions are numerous

Regarding the exterior, the power-operated tailgate opens into a not-so-big, but not-so-small cargo hold. It should be about 400 liters – VinFast has not yet communicated the final values. There is also a frunkya front trunk, not so big, but practical for storing charging cables.

We took the wheel

This model comes only with a large battery and two electric motors, installed on both axles. Either way, it’s a fun-to-drive car, accelerating from 0 to 100 km/h in less than six seconds. Both engines produce 353 hp / 260 Kw for the less expensive Eco version and up to 408 hp / 300 kW for the Plus version.

It has the fault of SUVs because of its too high center of gravity, you will not be as good as in a sedan to take winding roads. But, we greatly appreciated the silence, even at high speed. The steering could provide a little more feel, but the comfortable chassis is successful.

On the autonomy side, it is impossible to evaluate it on the test circuit. Technically speaking, VinFast offers two batteries (82 and 87.7 kWh of useful capacity) for a WLTP autonomy of between 400 and 471 depending on the finishes (Eco or Plus). It should theoretically consume a lot, with a very correct charging speed (11 kW in alternating current and up to 200 kW in direct current).

A certain humility

We were pleasantly surprised by this VF8. Its design isn’t unique or flashy, but this Tesla-inspired interior concept is refreshing. In short, there is a certain humility about this newcomer. So we can’t wait to see the VF8 and VF9, as well as the full range of planned cars, in production versions.

If you are interested in the VinFast VF8 SUV, it is possible to pre-order it on the manufacturer’s website, for deliveries expected by the end of the year. Count at least 43,050 euros for the VF8, to which must be added 120 euros for battery rental. The advantage of this formula is that it allows you to benefit from the 6,000 euros of ecological bonus.

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