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September 10, 2019

Review: Volkswagen Santana 180 MPI AT SE Blaupunkt

One word to describe the Volkwagen Santana would be “basic.” Before anyone objects or throws color into that statement, let me clarify that basic does not necessarily mean boring; at least, not in this case. Setting aside any comparisons to Volkswagen’s iconic models, i.e. the Beetle, Jetta, or Golf, the Santana was made for the practical driver—functionality first, stand-out looks second. In addition, the performance does not disappoint and can comfortably take you from point A to point B. After a whole week of bonding with the Santana, I believe this car should be on your list if you’re on the market for either your first car purchase or a secondary addition to your family’s garage.

Again, the Santana may look basic. As you survey the exterior of the car, there isn’t much to get excited about. The design is simple, standard, decidedly German and reminisce of the boxy BMWs back in the day. On the other hand, it is well-proportioned. The length of the vehicle from nose to tail is just right for your everyday sedan, the hood has a gentle slope that is not too long, and the car sits on 15-inch alloys that are complementary to the rest of it.

Apart from its size, it is also very solid, much like what one would expect from a German brand. The best test? Opening the door. That weight and heft from the get-go tells you that the newer VWs has not lost its heritage of producing well-made vehicles that are reliable and durable. Shut the door close and it gives off that satisfying vacuum sealed swoosh. No need for a lot of arm power — the car does it all by itself.

The interior of the Santana combines an elevated cabin experience, while keeping to a youthful, attainable vibe. One of the things that I liked about the cabin was its simplicity. Settling into the leather-fabric seat did not feel intimidating. Most of the trim and finish was done in leather, including the steering wheel that had a racer-inspired design, with spokes that were similar to the Italian Momo wheels of the early 2000s. Because of this, the size of the wheel was just right and the leather made it easy to grip.

Another thing that the Santana got right was how ergonomic the positioning of the accessory controls is. I have always had an appreciation for brands that take into account the human element when at the design stage. Think about how the person will instinctively move when reacting to certain situations. Or, what will his natural movement be—to the left or to the right?

For instance, liked how the switch to open the trunk is located right on the driver’s side door, above the speaker. In most other vehicles, the control for this is usually a lever that is located at the floor or a button that you have bend over to reach. In this case, if you can touch the speaker grille, you can definitely get to the trunk.

Moving on to the rest, the control format was kept consistent. Apart from the window controls, the main switches were all turn-knobs instead of push buttons—including the headlights. This is a feature worth noting. It is rare nowadays to encounter a headlight switch that is not located behind the steering wheel. Rather, this is a feature that can be found in most European designs, with the switch located on the left side of the steering wheel, but below the air conditioning vent.

The center panel’s layout was practical and pretty much predictable. The air conditioning was vent-type, complementing the boxy lines of the Blaupunkt infotainment system. Right below the monitor, you will find the rest of the climate control knobs. And come after the knobs, a roomy section to hold small essentials and space for two cup holders. As I said before, simple, standard and no frills.

Here’s where it got too simple, even for my taste. A standard for modern vehicles is a charging port that is easily accessible by the driver, normally integrated into either the infotainment system or located right by it. Unfortunately, the Santana had neither. If you wanted to charge your device, you had to pop open the glove compartment and take out the long cable ports to connect your own device cable to. I would say that this was a feature that was given more thought. Not only would an integrated port be more convenient for the driver, it would also be less clutter on the part of the passenger, given that the cable would be hanging from the glove compartment and could potentially entangle around other items.

A major consideration for any practical sedan would be space. Starting with the driver’s seat, the Santana offers ample seating space for the driver, as well as legroom. By legroom, we don’t mean the stretch, as it’s a given for the driver. We mean how much horizontal space there is so that the driver has enough to adjust comfortably. In this case, the seat has generous support, wiggle room, and legroom to avoid fatigue on long drives.

Having settled that, space gets more generous for the passenger and the second row. This is where you can enjoy a nice stretch, even if it’s not all the way. The passenger seat can fit a full-sized average male, while the second-row can accommodate three average-sized females. The center passenger just has to contend with the console hump. All passengers, though, can expect back support and adjustable headrests.

What surprised me about this car was the cavernous trunk at the rear. From the outside, it looks like any ordinary sedan. Pop open the boot and I was greeted with cargo space that can fit at least 2 medium-sized luggage and a carry-on (on top). On the daily, you are looking at more than a week’s worth of grocery and market shopping for a household of seven.

Under the hood, the Santana is as reliable as it looks. Don’t expect mind-blowing performance, but the 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine delivers the right power output that can efficiently take you from point to point—and with confidence. First off, the steering is light, but firm and stable. Maneuvering is easy and with enough resistance to keep you in control of the car. Secondly, the transmission smoothly delivers acceleration when you require it. It does not hold back, but it also does not burst outward. Again, stability. Lastly, the brakes were responsive, but with a gradual hold so there is hardly any sudden jerks.

What Volkswagen can improve on would be the start/stop function. The response time for this feature was too slow and clearly not designed for the stop-and-go traffic of the Philippines. Many times, I found the myself not being able to maneuver out of traffic fast enough because there was a delay in waiting for the car to start up again. In this regard, I ended up switching off the function each time I get ready to leave the parking. It’s not a bad feature to have, but the quickness of the response rate should be taken into consideration.

As one of the most recent Volkswagen vehicles to hit the market, the Santana was a pleasant surprise. For the functionality and performance that it offered, it is well worth the price tag of P 993,000. That is, if that’s all you’re after. Given the array of options on the market today, I believe that it would be more of an advantage if the Santana was given an updated style and design. I stand by my first statement that it deserves a place on any first car buyer’s list, especially if you’re looking for understated, classic, no-frill styling that is practical and reliable.

Words and Photos by Gen Tiu.

2019 Volkswagen Santana 180 MPI SE Blaupunkt
Ownership 2019 Volkswagen Santana 180 MPI SE Blaupunkt
Year Introduced 2018
Vehicle Classification Sub-compact Car
Warranty 3 years / 100,000 kilometers
The Basics
Body Type 4-door sedan
Seating 5
Engine / Drive F/F
Under the Hood
Displacement (liters) 1.5
Aspiration Normally Aspirated
Fuel Delivery EFI
Layout / # of Cylinders I4
BHP @ rpm 110 @ 6,000
Nm @ rpm 150 @ 4,000
Fuel / Min. Octane Gasoline / 91~
Transmission 6 AT
Cruise Control Yes
Fuel Economy @ Ave. Speed 7.00 km/L @ 13 km/h
Dimensions and Weights
Length (mm) 4,475
Width (mm) 1,706
Height (mm) 1,469
Wheelbase (mm) 2,603
Curb Weight (kg) 1,160
Suspension and Tires
Front Suspension Independent, MacPherson Strut
Rear Suspension Torsion Beam Axle
Front Brakes Vented Disc
Rear Brakes Drum
Tires Dunlop Enasave EC300+ 185/60 R 15 H (f & r)
Wheels Alloy
Safety Features
Airbags 4
Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS) Yes, with EBD
Traction / Stability Control Yes
Parking Sensors Yes, Rear
Front Seatbelts 3-pt ELR with pre-tensioner x 2
Rear Seatbelts 3-pt ELR x 3
ISOFIX Child Seat Anchor Yes
Other Safety Features None
Exterior Features
Headlights Halogen
Fog Lamps Yes, Front & Rear
Auto Lights Yes
Rain-sensing Wipers No
Interior Features
Steering Wheel Adjust Tilt
Steering Wheel Material Urethane
Seating Adjustment (driver) Manual, 6-way
Seating Adjustment (front passenger) Manual, 4-way
Seating Surface Leather/Fabric
Folding Rear Seat No
On-Board Computer Yes
Convenience Features
Power Steering Yes
Power Door Locks Yes
Power Windows Yes
Power Mirrors Yes
Proximity Key No
Climate Control Manual
Audio System Stereo
SD Card
# of Speakers 6
Steering Controls Yes


  1. will summarize this article:

    - there is absolutely nothing outstanding, inspiring or beautiful about this car.

    - but hey, the doors are heavy and the trunk space is okay.

    - this is for people who don't care about what car they drive.

    - really hard to give positive reviews on these CDM veedubs. it's like squeezing water out of a stone.

    1. good one lol, anyways it does remind me of the e36 back in the day... not bad.

  2. VWs are a lot safer than Japanese cars.

    1. Nice fallacious hasty generalization but ok

    2. gotta love these VW salesmen praising their patron. kahit sa facebook sila lang ang humihirit. LOL

  3. Alot of great cars are getting pushed to the wayside thanks to pre-judgement and misconceptions. Maybe test drive it first? Its because of this we get mediocre offerings from the big brands and they can freely jack up their prices just because they know we would be sucked in to buy them anyway. A 1 million peso Vios or City? No thank you.

    1. Just realized that this costs north of 1 million as well. Come on VW help me out here!

    2. see? and you do realize VW was selling marquee products like the Polo, Golf and Jetta before they decided for reasons they kept to themselves to stop that and sell these China domestic market budget vehicles instead. Did you know we are the only country outside of China that sells these models?

    3. You do realize that you get a lot from those 1million peso Vios or City, or Mazda2 or Rio, right? Factor in how many features they have and inflation, you get a lot more for your money compared to what you'll pay for them 10 years ago.

      And I'm pretty hesitant on the reliability and more of these Chinese models. Perhaps after 5 or more years, they'll come around.

  4. Yeah, a lot of prejudice here. I'm from Europe but I'm now in Manila and if I goto to our EU dealer online, for 17.820 Euro / 1M and 12K PHP, you will just get a base Polo Trendline with an 80 hp engine. Sure, it's the newest Polo platform, but these VW Santana trims compare pretty well in terms of value & quality for money.

    Doesn't matter if the production plant is in China ; the engineering, materials and production methods are still German. The Santana has a well engineered safety cage with impact beams running within the doors.
    I don't want to drum up a really sad real life story I know of, which involves a car crash of a Honda City & a truck, but I'd say the passengers would have had better chances if that Honda City would have been a VW Santana.

  5. VW can't be no. 1 if these cars are just plain boring. If you value stability and safety, buy this instead of the vios or Almera.


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