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DRIVEN: The VinFast VF 8 Is a 402-Horsepower Electric SUV From Vietnam

DRIVEN: The VinFast VF 8 Is a 402-Horsepower Electric SUV From Vietnam

  • The all-electric VF 8 SUV starts at $41,000 and will be the first VinFast vehicle to arrive stateside this winter.
  • VinFast has also announced that buyers will initially be required to lease the battery pack at additional cost.
  • About the size of a BMW X3, the VF 8 offers up to 402 horsepower and an estimated 292 miles of range.
  • We briefly drove two VF 8 prototypes at VinFast's factory in Vietnam.

When the news dropped recently about VinFast's production facility in North Carolina, we had yet to drive either of the company's two U.S.-bound electric SUVs. That changed last week — well, half-changed. We still haven't driven the three-row VinFast VF-9, but the two-row VinFast VF 8? Check. VinFast opened the doors to a few VF 8 prototypes at its factory in northern Vietnam and gave us the green light.

Here's how it went.

Wait, what's the VinFast VF 8 again?

If you're like most people reading this article, you're probably still trying to get a handle on the whole VinFast thing. From an American perspective, the brand has come out of nowhere, but in Vietnam it's well known as the automotive division of the massive VinGroup conglomerate, whose seemingly limitless capital has been fueling its rise. When domestic production started in 2017, VinFast trotted out a roster that notably included the Lux SA, a reworked BMW X5 with eye-catching styling by the illustrious Italian firm Pininfarina.

VinFast Lux SA

VinFast Lux SA

The VF 8 and VF 9 essentially pick up where the "5+2-seater" Lux SA left off, the VF 8 covering the two-row SUV market — it's about the same size as the X5's smaller sibling, the X3 — and the stretched VF-9 debuting as a true three-row rig. (If you've ever been in a three-row X5, you may have noticed that there's not much room in the way-back.)

Of course, another key difference is that the two new VinFast SUVs are fully electric, whereas the Lux SA runs on fossil fuel. Boasting a dual-motor AWD setup as standard (many EVs start with a less powerful single-motor configuration), the first-to-market VF 8 is said to generate 402 horsepower in its full-strength Plus trim. Dial it back to the Eco trim's 348-hp output and you can still get to 60 mph in a respectable 5.9 seconds, VinFast says, while the 402-hp Plus cuts that down to less than 5.5 seconds.

VinFast VF 8

VinFast VF 8

As for range, the VF 8 Eco tops out at a manufacturer-estimated 292 miles, while the VF 8 Plus maxes out at 277 miles. We're typically able to beat these estimates in our own real-world testing, but the VF 8's range numbers aren't EPA-official yet, so you can take them with a larger-than-usual grain of salt.

Summing up, then, the VinFast VF 8 is an all-wheel-drive, two-row electric SUV that supposedly has a lot of power and pretty decent range — and we got to drive one. Actually, two. Buckle up.

How does the VinFast VF 8 drive?

This is the part where we tell you that VinFast only gave us a single makeshift up-and-back lap on a service road in between factory buildings, and that the speed limit for this exercise was 80 kilometers per hour (50 mph). Our copilot from VinFast didn't blink when we hit 100 kph (62 mph) on multiple occasions, but suffice it to say that this initial report is very much subject to change once we get more time in the car with fewer rules.

Still, the red VF 8 that we drove first — the three available prototypes were red, black and white — made a favorable impression. Should you believe those sub-6-second estimates for the 0-60 sprint? We'd say they're in the ballpark. Floor it from a stop and the expected instant-on electric torque is present and accounted for. The rush tapers off noticeably as 60 mph approaches, but that's not unexpected for an electric car, and there's still ample passing power left if you need it.

VinFast VF 8

VinFast VF 8

What else can we tell you … brakes? They felt normal, which is far from inevitable in an EV. Wind noise was nicely managed, failing to intrude at 60 mph in either direction. Ride and handling impressions are best left for our next test, as there simply weren't enough opportunities for exploration this time.

But we can report that the driving position is quite agreeable for a lanky 6-foot-1 human, thanks to the wheel's generous telescoping range, plenty of seat travel and well-placed armrests. Also, the car feels substantial around you — if anything, more substantial than you'd expect from a smallish SUV.

VinFast VF 8

VinFast VF 8

That was the red car, though. Wanting more seat time than our single allotted lap provided, we managed to nab the black VF 8 prototype toward the end of the session. Even though the battery-life display said 74%, it was apparent that a lot of the car's 400-ish horses had left the scene. Whereas the red car accelerated smartly to 60, the black one labored mightily.

We couldn't get a clear theory on the latter's struggles from the VinFast engineer in the back seat, but representatives later explained that the three prototypes were in different stages of development, so idiosyncrasies should be expected. Fair enough, but that makes it hard to draw any broad conclusions about the VF 8's capabilities. For now, let's just say that the red car we drove seemed like a good start.

Pricing and availability

VinFast says the VF 8 is on schedule for an American debut next winter, and its value proposition looks strong at first blush. For example, at the VF 8's current estimated starting price of $41,000, you can only get a single-motor Volkswagen ID.4, which needed a leisurely 7.7 seconds to hit 60 mph in our testing. Adding a second motor to the VW lops a full 2 seconds off that time, putting it neck-and-neck with the VF 8, but your entry price shoots up to just under $45,000. 

There's a catch, though. A few days after this trip to Vietnam had ended, VinFast released pricing details on its mandatory battery-leasing program through the end of 2023, which changes the math. Buyers will be required to choose either the Flexible or the Fixed plan, the former running $35 per month for up to 310 miles of use and the latter costing $110 per month for unlimited mileage. If you opt for the Flexible plan and drive more than 310 miles in a given month, you'll pay 11 cents per extra mile. VinFast notes that the battery lease will transfer to the next owner when the current owner sells the car. These extra costs are significant and must be taken into account by prospective VinFast buyers when cross-shopping against other EVs.

VinFast VF 8

VinFast VF 8

Nonetheless, it's nice to see VinFast aiming at the more affordable end of the spectrum. Many new EV makers have been starting in or near six-figure territory with cars most people will never get to drive, but VinFast is going for the heart of the market. That could very well be a winning formula on our shores.

Edmunds says

Given the limitations of this drive event, we ultimately can't say much more than "stay tuned," but the red VF 8 prototype did get our attention with some solid fundamentals. There's also the bare fact of VinFast's remarkably swift progress since it launched just five years ago. Surely many questioned the company's prospects back then, yet today it's preparing to join the exclusive club of mass-production automakers in America. Betting against its continued success would appear to be unwise.

Editor's Note: This article has been updated to account for pricing details on VinFast's battery-leasing program that were released after publication.