Affordable Santana offers VW reliability


The Santana is Volkswagen’s best selling model in China.

The Santana, Volkswagen’s new entry-level passenger car in the Philippines, has a legendary history.

According to this legend, when Deng Xioaping assumed power and instituted economic reforms opening China to international trade and investment, he said that China should manufacture only one car model.

At about that time in 1982, Volkswagen had introduced the Santana in the market, but sold it for only two years in Germany. The story goes that during a trip to Europe, Deng went to the VW factory in Germany, decided the Santana would be the one-car model for China, and had the factory transferred lock, stock and barrel to his country.

If this story is to be believed, it is how the Santana came to be manufactured in China to this day, still using 1982 parts and still ranking as one of the most reliable and, therefore, best-selling cars in China.

The Santana doesn’t really break down, and anyway its parts are available nationwide, the story goes.

The true story is that in 1984, Volkswagen AG signed a 25-year contract to make passenger cars with SAIC (Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp.), abiding by China’s foreign investment restrictions at that time.

VW Group China

The Volkswagen-SAIC joint venture was so successful that in May 2004, Volkswagen Group China was established, with its two major partners being SAIC and FAW (First Automobile Works).

Shanghai VW Automotive Co., Ltd., which has a fixed term of 45 years until 2030, produces five Skoda models and seven Volkswagen models including the new Santana.

Four million units of the Santana have been sold in China since domestic production began in 1983.

Prior to January 2018, Volkswagen cars were made in China exclusively for the domestic market.

Early this year, Volkswagen AG moved to expand its presence in Southeast Asian markets by exporting SAIC VW and FAW VW products to the region, including a pilot shipment to the Philippines of the Santana, Lavida and Tiguan. The Santana GTS and Lamando will follow in November.

New platform

The Santana launched last May by the Ayala-owned Volkswagen Philippines, also known as AC Automotive, is the all-new, second generation of the model, this time built on the same platform as the Audi A1 and VW Polo instead of the B2 system that goes back to the 1979 Audi.

(If you don’t know it yet, Volkswagen in Germany owns Audi, Bugatti, Lamborghini, Porsche and overseas brands SEAT and Skoda.)

The grille of the 2018 Santana follows the brand’s iconic fascia: chromed horizontal slats under the hood with a big VW badge at the center.

The 4 cylinder, 1.4 liter gasoline engine produces 92 hp and 132 Nm max torque.

With a wheelbase of 2,603 millimeters and an overall length of 4,475 mm, the Santana appears longer and bigger than the Toyota Vios, but remains within the 4-door subcompact sedan segment.

The exterior design is bland and conservative, one that would remain classic when the gaping maws, deep creases and sharp sculpture of more radically designed cars will have gone out of style.

German tradition

The gray, minimalist interior matches the exterior’s calming appearance, but the whole package taken together is solidly built, true to the German tradition of superior craftsmanship.

In fact, enabling the export of made-in-China VW cars to foreign markets reflects a vote of confidence cast by Europe’s largest carmaker in its SAIC partner’s production standards.

Driving the new Santana, you are reassured by the quiet, smooth, efficient performance of the 1.4-liter, 4-cylinder MPI (multipoint injection) gasoline engine and the 5-speed manual transmission.

Electronic power steering enhances the driving experience, while control and stability are increased by the laser-welded body construction.

The Santana remains stable on the road at expressway speeds, but once you hit 120 kph or faster, the 89-horsepower engine acts strained. It makes you wonder why 181 kph is cited as the Santana’s top speed in the sales brochure.

Family car

On the other hand, the Santana is not being sold as a sports sedan or high-performance car. It is offered as a family-friendly car since its roomy cabin, including a spacious rear seat, is suitable for a family of five.

With a cargo capacity of 480 liters, the trunk of the new Santana is conveniently bigger than the first gen’s.

Inside, simple, logical ergonomics dominated by a 5-speed stick shift.

The 1.4 Santana is fuel-efficient, too, consuming 5.9 liters of gas every 100 kilometers.

Maintenance is no problem since preventive maintenance service (PMS) is required only once a year, or every 10,000 kilometers.

Airbags for the driver and front passenger, an anti-lock braking system, and a rigid safety cage with front and rear crumple zones to help absorb a crash impact, are standard safety equipment.

German engineering, German craftsmanship, German steel—what more could you ask for when shopping for a new car? The right price, of course.

Surprisingly enough, the 2018 VW Santana 1.4 Trendline MT has it: P686,000 only.

But if you want a more exciting entry-level Volks, wait till November for the Santana GTS.

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