When you think of EV SUVs, you probably don’t immediately think of Vietnam. Neither did I when I explored some of the newest and most innovative EVs at the 2022 New York International Auto Show.
I ooh-ed at the Hyundai and Kia electrics. I ahh-ed at the new Nissan and Toyota models. And I also took a passing glance at what American automakers like Ford and Chevy were offering (yawn).
It was a niche (and a fast-growing one, at that) dominated by Asian automakers. We’ve become completely accustomed to Japanese and Korean cars. But Vietnamese? That was a new one for me. It wasn’t until I attended the media launch for the Vinfast VF8 in San Diego last week that I started digging in deep into this electric vehicle. It’s one that has a lot of auto journalists talking, and not in a good way.
Vinfast as an Automaker
If you’re here, you may not know anything about Vinfast. They are the automaker division of the tech arm of VinGroup, a multi-billion dollar corporation that employs over 50,000 people in Vietnam. In addition to the tech group, they also own shopping malls, healthcare facilities, real estate development, and more.
They’re big and in a position to well-fund this fast-growing automaker, which has been in existence since 2017. In fact, they started as a manufacturer of ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles as well as electric scooters. They’ve since pivoted to focus solely on the EV space, a strategy that perhaps gives them an advantage over more traditional automakers still straddling both worlds.
Media Launch of the Vinfast VF8
The Vinfast VF8 is their first vehicle to enter the United States, reaching the shores in March of 2023 as a lease only option to residents of California. And it’s had a mixed reception.
Early adopters are excited to get their hands on the first 999 imports, or what Vinfast is calling the City Edition, a version of the VF8 with a slightly lower range than the forthcoming Standard Edition.
On the other hand, many traditional media journalists are quick to pounce after the media launch last week, peppering their headlines with words like, Just Don’t, Very Very Bad, and Yikes.
So who’s right? The bottom line is the consumers are the ones that can make or break Vinfast. So I talked to a few of them. I figure those that have been driving the VF8 City Edition for a few weeks might have a little more insight than media members who have spent a whopping 3 hours behind the wheel.
Ultimately, I’m not here to counsel you on purchase decisions, but I will tell you my honest first impressions from the media launch of the Vinfast VF8 City Edition – the good, the bad, and the potentially ugly.
First Impressions of the Vinfast VF8
Let’s start with the visuals. Aesthetics are always what attracts me to a vehicle first. And this VF8 has a clean, modern look. It’s an attractive two-row SUV that looks like a Hyundai Tucson and a Ford Mustang Mach-E had a baby. Unfortunately, I don’t think it will necessarily turn any heads but it does fit in nicely with the current palette of mid-sized SUVs available in the United States.
The interior is also nicely appointed, with clean lines, a minimalist dashboard, and sustainable materials like vegan leather. It won’t get mistaken for a luxury car on the inside or out but it’s a comfortable and intuitive cabin.
And here is where I remind you that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I have read many journalists touted the exact opposite of what I’m saying. Focusing on cheap plastic materials and seats that crease well before their time.
I do think that there are areas that could be upscaled, including the quality of the plastic and the accents where it’s used, specifically the handles used to fold the rear seats. But the creasing in the vegan leather actually made it look more like an authentically aged leather seat. Maybe it was intentional but the appearance was not where I felt the VF8 was lacking.
Except for the push-button transmission shifter. Do not like. Maybe I’m old school but I’d like to stay that way.
So how does the VF8 drive?
This is where it got fun. I’m usually the last one on the road when I attend media drives. With this group in San Diego, everyone was posing, taking pictures, setting up, and I just wanted to get on the road.
About 30-45 minutes ahead of everyone, I put it in D and took off. And right away, I had some concerns. More on that in a second.
I immediately hit the 5 (that’s Interstate 5 for you non-Californians, like me) and accelerated up to quickly moving traffic. And this is the best test for a vehicle for me. I didn’t have to think about what I was doing. The driving experience was intuitive and the vehicle was responsive. In fact, overall, I’d say the ride is nice, handles well on curves and with speed. The suspension feels a little stiff to me but it’s what I would expect for an SUV.
On my first drive stop, I definitely had to make some adjustments. The brakes are what I would call the opposite of touchy, requiring more pressure than expected to activate. But the brake regeneration is intense. You have two options: High and Low. When in High, it mimics one-pedal driving with a very stop/go feeling. And it’s one I don’t care for, at least not in this car. After switching it to Low, I was much more comfortable and didn’t give it a second thought.
Similarly, I found many of the safety measures to be aggressive, bordering on annoying. The Lane Departure Warning, for example, with its constant messages and chimes, drove me a little batty. But again, I quickly found the settings and modified it to suit my tastes and driving style.
What possibly annoyed many writers is one thing I love about the Vinfast VF8. This is a highly customizable car giving you an incredible amount of options to adjust to tailor it to your needs.
Overall, I found the Vinfast VF8 easy to drive and complemented by comfortable seats and intuitive controls.
What needs improvement
Okay, let’s get into it. It looks pretty. It drives nice. But it is far from perfect, as I’m sure you know if you’ve read literally anything else online about the Vinfast VF8.
My biggest issue when it comes to the VF8 boils down to one word: software.
Software, software, software.
Many of the customizable settings were reset when turning the car off and back on. At one point, many of the drive systems threw error messages for no apparent reason.
The good news is that none of these issues affected the drive quality. The bad news is that you really shouldn’t be seeing these kinds of issues on a brand new car, even if it is a first year model. The better news is that software issues are easily resolvable through over the air (OTA) updates, like when your iPhone updates while you’re sleeping.
And for any issues that aren’t resolved OTA, Vinfast has mobile technicians that come to you to service your car.
I did have other complaints. Nothing that would be a dealbreaker but some things I feel compelled to address with a potential consumer.
- My primary complaint as mentioned above (and it’s a big one) is the software. I want to make that clear. There are way too many bugs to simply be overlooking. Some of these errors or problems should be easily reproducible in real-world driving situations and then fixed. Back in my day as a software tester, we didn’t automate anything. It was all ad hoc testing – push this button and then this button and see what happens. Because if you can think to do it, a customer will too.
- The rear seats are exceptionally H E A V Y. For a vehicle of this caliber, I expected to be able to push a button to collapse the seats. Instead, there’s a hidden plastic handle that quickly lowers the seats from the 60/40 split into a flat fold. But good luck getting that 60 side upright with one hand. It’s very heavy and very awkward to place upright.
- The Head Up Display is a great idea but too dimly lit. Without any center gauges in an EV, the driver is typically forced to look at the center screen (the left side of the center screen, at least). The Head Up Display is something I’ve come to rely on in a vehicle and it’s especially important here – just a little difficult to see.
- Start-Stop Ignition is missing. This was probably my number one pet peeve. There is no ignition switch, by design. You can use an app to control this or use your key fob in proximity to the car and simply depress the brake pedal. That starts the motor. To turn it off? Well, I still couldn’t figure that out. Supposedly you can lock the car upon exit and the car will power down after two minutes. I think there’s a strong argument for being able to sit in the car and turn it off so this feature doesn’t make sense to me.
I’ve heard that Vinfast moves quickly (perhaps a little too quickly?) with listening to feedback and implementing changes and fixes. So I anticipate seeing at least the software issues resolved quickly. And with a deal for Vinfast to build a new factory in my old home state of North Carolina, opening in 2025, they appear to be in it for the long haul. Let’s hope they make them built to last.
Final thoughts and customer feedback on the Vinfast VF8
Ultimately, I’m not here to convince you to buy or not buy a certain vehicle. In fact, the Vinfast VF8 City Edition (the first 999 brought into the United States) is only available for lease and only in California (many thanks to you early adopters for paving the way!).
My three-hour experience is really just a quick look at what the VF8 has to offer. But existing owners know best. They are more invested in a positive outcome (and more likely to have legitimate complaints). So I asked a few of them about their experiences.
The general consensus is that they recognize these are first gen vehicles and that issues are to be expected. But overall, they are pleased with the driving experience and Vinfast’s response to any issues that arise.
They also aren’t thrilled with many of the reviews out there, taking the time to go line by line with what auto journalists got wrong AND what they got right (it’s not a rosy world!).
Nam N says:
I have been using the Vinfast VF8 since March 18. Love the car. A few areas can be improved and fixed via software.
Anthony L says:
I love my VF-8 CE Plus with over 500 miles so far. Ceramic coated and ready to keep it until it end. Charging with no issue with a VinFast charger installed at my house and firmware update has no issue either.
Nhat N says:
I’m an owner of the vf8 for 3500 mi now. To be fair, some negative reviews last week have some merits. I actually have fallen in love driving this car, so I would like to share with you some of my feedbacks on these reviews.
Examples where reviewers got wrong:
VF8 rolling downhill in Non-Creep mode
There is no parking brake: that is not true
Annoying beeps and chimes from driving aids: they can be turned off easily
What some reviewers got correctly:
- Surround view camera software needs updates to be more robust and consistent.
- Suspension can be fine tuned a bit more (however this wasn’t meant to be a sport car)
- Faux leather (but I believe VF touted in their mission to be environmentally friendly in making cars)
- Temperature control is either real hot or real cold (actually the temperature does change to setting but the lag time is too slow and this is something VF should work on. For immediate effect, I adjust the fan speed)
- The actual range exceeded the EPA estimate: I agree with several reviewers who noticed this.
I had many reservations before I decided to try this car. Now I love every minute driving it. The only issue I had was a flat tire, which VF took care of it right away (even though I could have called my insurance for towing). Their mobile service is exactly as advertised. It is discerning to see so many negative reviews, and even more troubling is to see that some of these reviews were not entirely fair.
Taylor H says:
I have had my leased City Edition VF8 for a month now and I’ll share the following three review observations:
First, what is it like to be a VinFast Customer? AWESOME. There have been issues, however…, each time I call the service center, they come to me, leave me a loaner VF8, take my car, they resolve the problem within a day or two, and then they bring my car back to me. Everyone I’ve dealt with has been professional, timely, and the service has been great. I don’t know of another manufacturer that is providing that level of service.
Second, what is the driving experience like? I love it!
I’ve test driven several EV’s now, and test fit many more. I’m 6′-2″ 300 lbs and being able to get in / out of a car comfortably is important to me. I find the VF8 very comfortable. At least one day a week I have a 2 – 3 hour commute, and then back that evening and I’m very comfortable in the VF8. I’ll go as far to say it’s the most comfortable car I’ve driven.
The actual drive it’s smooth, quiet, and comes with lots of power. My VF8 is a Plus model. I’m getting between 185 – 240 in range depending on….many things.
The third area to discuss is system software… The system software needs work!
Big picture, yes these issues can be solved with a software update and every time I have the service depart look into an issue the system comes back to me better than I left it. While that’s a credit to the Vinfast service department, it also tells me Vinfast is going too fast and hasn’t developed the required quality control programs to address these issues before the vehicle is handed over to the general public.
Natalie L says:
It’s been more than 2 months since I picked up my VinFast VF8 City Edition Plus from Del Amo Showroom in Carson, California. I used to hate driving, but driving an electric vehicle like VF8 has been my favorite part of the day.
I have been enjoying every moment of driving this car down the streets, so when not-so-nice articles coincidentally published on the same day VinFast announced their public listing I feel the need to speak up as a current VinFast VF8 driver.
Natalie went on to cite many reviewers and provide a counterpoint to many of the journalists’ takes. Ultimately this reflects how current Vinfast owners feel. They like what Vinfast has shown them and are rooting for them to succeed. But ultimately Vinfast has to find the balance between providing a quality product and moving into a quickly evolving market.
Personally, I’m rooting for them too.