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China Test Drives 2019: VW Lavida

VW Lavida in Lijiang, Yunnan.

After test driving the Wuling Hongguang, #1 in China from 2013 to 2017, the logical next step is to get a feel of 2018’s overall leader the VW Lavida. I was able to do exactly that in Lijiang in the Yunnan province earlier this year. Originally launched in 2008 and having quickly become Volkswagen’s best-seller in China with over 3 million units delivered in this country alone, a 2nd generation appeared in 2012 and a 3rd one in H1 2018 which is the one we will be test driving. Spoiler alert: it’s a disappointment as big as it is unexpected.

The VW Lavida from all angles.

The Lavida I tried is priced at 127.900 yuan, that’s 16.500€ or US$18.600. Seems dirt cheap for a compact sedan, but in China this pricing is almost premium. And the bad news is: for that price you’re not getting anything premium indeed. Let’s get one big positive out of the way: the exterior design. If the first two generations were bland to the extreme, this one is a little more spicy, especially the front which for once doesn’t look like any other Volkswagen nameplate on sale in China, making confusion when carspotting impossible. It’s a feat rare enough to be noticed for the German manufacturer in this market. Also, there is lots of space at the back and the boot is absolutely huge. But it’s inside that things take a turn for the worse…

All is good in the best of worlds? Not quite.

Now don’t get me wrong: inside and in a typically German way, everything is at the right place and nothing stands out as bizarre or out of whack. All seems fine in the best of worlds until you remember this is a 2018 vehicle, not 2008. Frankly the cockpit of the 3rd generation Lavida could well have been conceived for the 1st generation a decade ago and left alone since, with the exception of a few details. Tachos are analog, electric seats are a long-gone dream, the gearbox is stuck in the eighties and the touch screen isn’t actually one…

Untouched screen.

…it’s just a small screen that you can’t control by touching it, an untouched screen if you like. But wait, it gets worse… While the screen seems content to just show us radio options (1st image above), when pushing it to the extreme and activating the GPS, a 1985 map comes up and doesn’t even extend to the entire width of the screen (2nd image). Finally, the cherry on top: when parking back the car at the dealership, no help from the rear camera view simply because there isn’t one… Astounding. As a reminder the Wuling Hongguang we just tested had one and costs less than half the Lavida’s price. Yessir. A meagre consolation prize: the parking brake is electric.

The egg shell tone of the lower dash and door sides can’t take the eyes off the omnipresent hard plastics.

But perhaps most disappointingly of all, the materials inside are a mismatch of try-hard posh and full-on low-cost. The door sides and lower dashboard are made of smooth, eggshell-coloured soft plastics that don’t look too bad but seem easily prone to scratches. In this upside-down world, Volkswagen has kept its best materials to the less-visible locations and the top of the dash is made of hard and shiny plastics I haven’t seen since Lifan (image 3 above). How un-Volkswagen and very previous-gen Dacia.

VW Lavida interior.

You have guessed it, the VW Lavida isn’t the most dynamic of vehicles: the first gear is very long, meaning the car will scream its lungs off if you want to start fast at a green light, denoting all the drawbacks of a badly staged auto gearbox. On the positive side, my abrupt left and right turns were handled perfectly as well as emergency braking, the most effective of all Chinese cars driven this year. All-in-all though, the Hyundai Celesta I rented, priced 40% cheaper than the Lavida, is better equipped which is the real surprise here. The tremendous success of the VW Lavida in China simply demonstrates the power of the brand because clearly, the Chinese are getting ripped off purchasing this car, even though they are killers for a bargain. The (sad?) reality is that for now, Volkswagen can totally afford to be very lazy with its latest Lavida and not bear the consequences of such a lack of equipment, performance and quality.

Why is it so successful? Because of the VW brand.

This Post Has 3 Comments
    1. Thanks Rick – Glad you enjoyed. And yes absolutely, notably Toyota with the new Corolla and Nissan with the next Sylphy.

      1. Eventhough the Japanese brands are very popular in China, it is my sense VW benefits greatly from its omni present dealernetwork. But you’re right – it will be interesting to see what the new Corolla and Sylphy are able to achive.

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