German Engineered, Raised In Asia
First-time car buyers typically flock towards subcompact (or B-segment) cars, thanks to their ability to offer features found in more expensive cars but at a size and price that’s more accessible. Thus, brand loyalty is highly dictated by the excellence of a product offering. If the car is good, there’s a high chance that the owner will still consider the same brand when upgrading to a bigger and better car. This segment also tends to be filled with Asian offerings, so why not try a European car that’s been developed for the Asian market? Say hello to the Volkswagen Santana.
Upon first inspection, the Volkswagen Santana seems to lack the flashiness of its competitors such as the new 2020 Mazda 2, but its classic lines and straightforward looks will surely age well. Its lines and creases are simple, with no element seemingly out of place. Eschewing trendy designs also mean that it’s sure to avoid looking weird perhaps 10 years from now. It also doesn’t look particularly small, either. The dimensions also play with your eyes, making you think that this is a much bigger and longer car than it actually is.
Likewise, the interior is as simple as the outside, but Volkswagen has made sure that build quality is top-notch with the nicest sounding door thud in its segment. Being the top trim variant means that there’s faux leather on the seats and a few areas which contribute to giving the interior a more premium feel. One gripe, however, is the limited adjustment of the steering wheel. It only adjusts for reach and not rake, which makes the driving position feel a bit awkward for me at times.
Otherwise, space is pretty good for the rest of the occupants. Having one of the longest wheelbases in its class has enabled the Santana to have excellent rear legroom. Headroom is also great thanks to its traditional upright design, while shoulder room shouldn’t also be an issue since the Santana is also one of the widest. Likewise, the 480-liter trunk is one of the biggest in its class, only trumped by the Honda City at 536 liters.
Vehicle functions are made through the 7-inch Blaupunkt Android-based touch screen infotainment system, which works well enough. Touch response is snappy, though some menus and functions feel convoluted to use. Unfortunately, there’s no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. This infotainment system is a P31,000 option for the 180 MPI S and 180 MPI SE.
Under the hood of the Volkswagen Santana 180 MPI SE is a 1.5-liter inline-4 petrol engine that produces 110 hp at 6,000 rpm and 150 Nm of torque at 4,000 rpm. This engine is fitted with a fuel-saving engine start/stop system and is mated solely to a 6-speed automatic.
Out in the open road, the Volkswagen Santana’s excellent refinement is immediately noticeable. Volkswagen’s engineers have surely paid attention to delivering a small car with the refinement of cars from a class higher. For instance, the suspension quells road imperfections delicately while road and wind noise is kept to a minimum.
Likewise, the steering is also geared towards comfort. The steering ratio caters more to reducing minute steering corrections when driving down long highway stretches. If it only weren’t for the lack of adjustment for the steering, the Santana would be perfect for me when going on long highway drives.
As such, don’t expect the Santana to have the sportiness of the Honda Jazz and City, let alone a Mazda 2. Whereas those cars have been designed to have a degree of sportiness, the Santana is definitely geared more towards comfort. It’s perfectly fine, though, since most people buy a car in order to travel in relative comfort from A to B.
Power delivery is perfectly adequate for this car, though there’s a bit of lag from the transmission when moving from a standstill. It’s just a minor gripe though, as the 6-speed automatic performs excellently in other situations. Oh, and as for fuel economy, it settled at an impressive 11.4 km/l, and that’s with the annoying engine start/stop system turned off.
With a plethora of well-performing subcompact cars in the industry, where does the Santana fit in? Well, if you want a small car with the refinement of cars from a higher class, along with a touch of German quality, then the Santana is your best bet. Sure, the car is built in China, but that shouldn’t put you off since Volkswagen’s quality standards are consistent regardless of which plant the car comes from. Besides, a lot of people are buying a P67,000 iPhone 11 Pro that’s made in China and yet no one bats an eye.
All eyes are still towards its traditional Japanese competitors, but the Volkswagen Santana does offer quite a number of compelling selling points, chief of which is its once-a-year maintenance interval (or every 10,000 kilometers whichever comes first), giving you more time to do what matters more in your life.
Pricing and Rating
Exterior Design: ★★★★☆
Interior Design: ★★★★☆
Space and Practicality: ★★★★★
Fuel Efficiency: ★★★★★
Value For Money: ★★★★☆
Price: P962,000 (+P31,000 for Blaupunkt infotainment system)*
Overall: 4.3 out of 5
*Pricing is correct and accurate as of this article’s time of writing.
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