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Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Review: 2018 Volkswagen Santana 1.4 MPI Trendline MT

Six hundred eighty six thousand pesos doesn’t get you much car these days. A second-hand car is possible, but for those who want something new, the choices are limited. You can’t even get an entry-level Kia Rio or Hyundai Accent at those prices, much less something like a Honda City; only the bottom-rung Nissan Almera and Toyota Vios are available, and goodness, they’re pretty much penalty boxes with wheels. But, lo and behold, there’s one new entry that’s pretty much shaken the sub-compact genre and it comes from an unlikely source: Volkswagen. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the 2018 Volkswagen Santana.

At these rock-bottom prices, understandably you can’t expect lofty things. And true enough, the Santana is a no-nonsense, basic commuter car. There’s no Bluetooth, no trip computer, no variable intermittent wipers, no steering wheel controls; heck, it doesn’t even come with vanity mirrors or a trunk light. Yet, strip it to its most basic elements—the drivetrain, the platform—this is clearly a commuter car done right; German engineering at its finest.

Everything starts the moment you open the Santana’s door. It may be cheap, but it’s still got telltale Volkswagen heft. It opens and closes with a resounding thud—a common barometer for build quality. Drive off and it’s pretty clear that the engineers have done their chassis homework too.

It feels solid with none of the floaty, hollow feel that commonly plagues sub-compact sedans. The ride is decidedly firm, but never uncomfortable. Solidity is baked in whatever the obstacle is—ruts, cracks, potholes—everything is absorbed before it reaches the driver’s seat. The steering is light, perhaps a bit lifeless, but it’s precise and quick, especially around the center. And as the speeds build up, so does the confidence. That light steering turns weighty and together with the planted chassis, it makes highway driving actually enjoyable in such a small car.

The Santana’s strength continues with its drivetrain. With its 1.4-liter 4-cylinder engine, it’s down 100-cc compared to top-range Japanese sub-compacts, but what’s so great about it is how it maximizes all 90 horsepower and 132 Nm of torque. The secret perhaps has something to do with the 5-speed manual’s impeccable gearing. 

It feels lithe, making short work of accelerating between intersections or traffic lights. It’s also a generally quiet and refined motor; only slightly becoming raspy beyond 4,300 rpm. And even then, it’s smooth with no unwanted vibration or harshness. The gearbox itself is also surprisingly precise. There’s always a slight hesitation getting it into gear from Neutral, but after that, the shift action is crisp. Admittedly though, the clutch engagement is high and together with the engine’s propensity to drop revs eagerly means a bit of a learning curve when it comes to operating this three-pedal set-up. Still, it’s a rewarding experience down to its 8.72 km/L fuel economy figures.

Moving on from the solid underpinnings, the rest of the Santana package is safe, if a bit unremarkable both inside and out.

The exterior design is predictably corporate with its horizontal face, angular contours, and sharply-creased body. It’s handsome in a conservative sort of way, although the 14-inch hubcaps are a bit of a letdown in this day and age. Still, the overall quality, including the paint job exudes a Teutonic feel despite its Shanghai-based origins.

The same can be said about the cabin, more or less. Predictably, the Santana uses materials which are all hard to the touch, but at least they’re solid and well-wearing. In this particular unit, there’s a piece of loose trim, but that’s down to some haphazard repair job than poor build quality (the clips fell through and it was stuck on with double-sided tape). Moving on, some aluminum-looking bits could have brightened up the cabin, but as it stands, it looks rather gloomy. Still, kudos has to be extended to its ergonomic simplicity with well-marked, well-placed controls. It also must be said that for its class, the driver is treated like a king thanks to a seat that moves 6 ways and a steering wheel that adjusts for tilt. The seats themselves are firm and supportive, but the pedal’s off-center placement does limit its comfort, especially during long stints behind the wheel.

The sub-700,000 price tag means that the Santana is competing with the Picantos and Brio Amazes of the world, but in terms of size, it’s clearly a class up. It sits right smack in the middle of the B-segment providing ample (but not class-leading) levels of head, shoulder, and most importantly, leg room be it at the front or back. There’s no surprise that the front seats are pretty inviting, but what is surprising is that the rear seats are well-thought of (almost). The only gripe? The obtrusive center tunnel that’s aggravated by the fixed cupholder/cubby hole. Still, there are actually three adjustable headrests at the back together with three 3-point seatbelts; something not found in every sub-compact or even every compact sedan nowadays. Moving to the back, the electrically-actuated trunk reveals a deep, square-cut cargo hold that can swallow two full-sized suitcases plus a carry-on roller luggage or two.

Obviously, because the Santana’s engineered to a price, something’s got to give and that “give” is found in its rather short list of standard equipment. As previously mentioned, there’s no Bluetooth, trip computer, variable intermittent wipers, steering wheel controls, vanity mirrors, or even a trunk light; even the speakers blurt out the tunes through just 2 speakers. Having said that, it does counter these shortcomings with all power amenities (including a one-touch driver’s window), an audio system with a built-in aux jack, SD card slot, and USB port, dual SRS airbags, ABS with EBD, and even ISOFIX child seat anchors. In other words? It may have skimped on the luxury trimmings, but where it counts, it comes across as a solid value.

And that logic, the one where it builds itself around a rock-solid foundation pretty much summarizes the whole Volkswagen Santana experience. Its list of luxury and convenience features may not be as long, but it delivers on the things that matter. It doesn’t cut corners on the amenities that matter—comfort, safety, and most importantly, the driving experience. The Santana may be a commuter car, but it’s also one that finally encapsulates what Volkswagen stands for: the people’s car.

2018 Volkswagen Santana 1.4 MPI Trendline
Ownership 2018 Volkswagen 1.4 MPI Trendline M/T
Year Introduced 2018
Vehicle Classification Sub-compact Sedan
The Basics
Body Type 4-door Sedan
Seating 5
Engine / Drive F/F
Under the Hood
Displacement (liters) 1.4
Aspiration Normally Aspirated
Fuel Delivery EFI
Layout / # of Cylinders I4
BHP @ rpm 90 @ 5,500
Nm @ rpm 132 @ 3,800
Fuel / Min. Octane Gasoline / 91~
Transmission 5 MT
Cruise Control No
Fuel Economy @ Ave. Speed 8.72 @ 15 km/h
Dimensions and Weights
Length (mm) 4,475
Width (mm) 1,706
Height (mm) 1,469
Wheelbase (mm) 2,603
Curb Weight (kg) 1,100
Suspension and Tires
Front Suspension Independent, MacPherson Strut
Rear Suspension Torsion Beam Axle
Front Brakes Vented Disc
Rear Brakes Drum
Tires Hankook Kinergy EX 175/70 R 14 T (f & r)
Wheels Steel with Cover
Safety Features
Airbags 2
Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS) Yes, with EBD
Traction / Stability Control No
Parking Sensors No
Other Safety Features None
Exterior Features
Headlights Halogen
Fog Lamps Yes, Rear
Auto Lights No
Rain-sensing Wipers No
Interior Features
Steering Wheel Adjust Tilt
Steering Wheel Material Urethane
Seating Adjustment Manual
Seating Surface Fabric
Folding Rear Seat No
On-Board Computer No
Convenience Features
Power Steering Yes
Power Door Locks Yes
Power Windows Yes
Power Mirrors Yes
Climate Control No, Manual
Audio System Stereo
# of Speakers 2
Steering Controls No


  1. Will they sell an automatic model here?

  2. How about VW's parts and maintenance is it easy on the pocket?

  3. The value proposition of the VW Santana is being challenged by the new vios, as the latter made Bluetooth, 7 airbags, and traction control standard across the range. Not to mention familiarity of the talyers and abundance (and affordability) of aftermarket spare parts when it comes to servicing, should you opt not to service the car from the casa. It will take time for VW to convince the buying public that their vehicles are cheap and easy to maintain.

    1. I agree. I was surprised to see the Vios cost more than the City and Mazda 2 with each trim taken into context, but the traction control, 7 airbags, and included ISOFIX are great to have as standards. Hopefully, pinalakas nila air-con nila, and may door bottle holders na (like the City).

      I think more of maintenance ang issue like you said, more so with the Dual-Clutch of VWs (I'm a bit skeptical at their durability and reliability, pero I must confess that I've never driven one).


  4. Skeptical of a China + Car maker with a track record of intentionally, with the use of precise engineering, deceiving customers, personally.

    At any rate, will be a tough battle for this entrant given the command of Japanese and Korean brands in the market.

  5. To be accurate VW deceived the emissions regulators in the US, which indirectly deceived their car buyers. They programmed the ECU to know when it's being tested (speed sensor at zero, no movement from the steering wheel, OBD port being accessed, etc.), then it switches to a really lean fuel map. The result is a clean output during the test. But the moment it hits the road it returns to its former map which prioritizes power and efficiency at the cost of emmissions! This then satified their horsepower and range claims.

    Really sneaky but for Philippine use, with hundreds of jeepneys plying the streets whose output for a day is much worse than a modern 'cheating' TDi, it would not matter. Its (VW TDi) output will be similar to local Japanese and Korean TDis which wouldn't pass US emissions standards either.

    1. Yes, perhaps we're already basking in dieselgate grade fumes.

      It's the deliberate deception that should make all of us worried. This isn't some underengineered flaw, like Ford's screwy transmissions, or Takata's explosive airbags. There was no plan to comply from the start, just plain deception.

      How low was the bar set? If they can screw consumers from developed countries, what's keeping them from shortchanging backward markets?

    2. VW is still a great car... have you tried one? Monteror is worst... I've seen many airbags not deployed... We should just follow stricter regulations in our local car industry... many cars will fail... Oh, i have an old beetle, a golf GTI and a 2015 passat. Their just great cars.

    3. Oh I've owned 8 VWs from generations 1 to 4, all watercooled and gas powered. I believe their charm lies in how they can seem not to stick out in a wet market like a humble corolla but also be refined to drop you in a dignified manner in a hotel lobby for a formal affair. They are classless, which is why in Europe you see blue collared workers as well as wealthy estate owners driving them.

    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. excellent starter car for college kids or young prodessionals

  7. 8.72 km/L?????? that's so thirsty??

    1. At 15km/h speed bro... My Chevrolet spin 1.5 is at 5km/l and mazda2 skyactiv is at 8km/l at same speed respectively.

  8. I can't find any 2018 crash test for the Santana. Does anyone know how many stars?

  9. 8.72km/L sounds not so economical if i understand it correctly. An agent told me that fuel consumption can last 13km/L City Driving and 17km/L in the Highway. Can you clarify things with me. Thank you.

    1. Fuel economy depends on your driving and road conditions. My 8.72 km/L was done pretty much in stop-and-go traffic. It'll likely reach around 17 on the highway, but don't expect more than 10 km/L even when city traffic's light.


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