Review: 2022 Volkswagen Santana 1.4 MPI M/T

Review: 2022 Volkswagen Santana 1.4 MPI M/T

Updated on June 23 2024

When someone mentions a European car, the first thing that would typically come to mind is a luxury vehicle. While these are the norm over in the Old Continent, having a European car for a daily driver here seems like a foreign idea. Perhaps that's because most of us grew up with Japanese cars.

Granted, there are non-Japanese cars that were often used as daily runabouts in the past. You have iconic models such as the Ford Escort (Ford Europe product, assembled locally), Holden Torana (Australia but assembled in the Philippines), and the Volkswagen Beetle. The only Western automaker at the moment still makes a significant impact here in terms of sales is Ford thanks to its SUVs and pick-ups.

But that isn't stopping Volkswagen from wanting to expand in the Philippines. When the German automaker returned to market about seven years ago, they had a full battalion of models to offer. However, some of these were not exactly within reach and fully loaded. Volkswagen rectified that by sourcing models from China. The result is much lower prices and a model called the Santana.

The Santana has been Volkswagen's bestseller in China for years. It was also the car that cemented VW's hold and legacy in the Chinese market. It's also been on sale here for quite some time, and we're here to tell you it's an underrated gem, especially when you're considering one used.

But first, the design, and it's not exactly a standout to put it bluntly. In base model form, it even rides on skinny tires and steel rims. On the flipside, the Santana is not what one would call ugly, either. The look is similar to that from the rest of the Volkswagen line-up. It might not stand out from the crowd, but at least you know it's a Volkswagen. The design is clean, simple, and uncluttered. It won't look dated as soon as newer models arrive. If you're curious, the doors give a nice, solid thump when you close it, just like a European car. You wouldn't call it “lata” or “manipis”.

What we have here is the 1.4 MPI M/T, the least expensive variant in the Santana range. It may look basic on the outside, but it's decently equipped inside, especially for the price. How much is it, you ask? We'll get to that later but it comes standard with a comprehensive infotainment system that includes mobile phone mirroring, Waze, and even vehicle information. It also has a subwoofer courtesy of Blaupunkt.

As for interior accommodations, the front seats offer a good amount of support for the lower back. The bolters are thick and secure you in place. Best of all, the door arm rests are one of the biggest in its class. However, there are some things for improvement, namely rear seat accommodations. It's not tight at the back, but legroom is less than comparable Japanese models, particularly the Suzuki Ciaz and Honda City. We'd also appreciate if the base model came with a center arm rest, grab handles, and a more comprehensive multi-information display.  It does make up for it by having adjustable headrests, a rarity in this segment. The large trunk also makes up for the lesser legroom inside. If you need even more space, the Santana GTS wagon/hatchback is also available.

Performance is delivered by a 1.4-liter engine with 90 PS and 132 Nm of torque. The transmission is a five-speed manual, but a six-speed automatic is also available if you choose the 1.5-liter model. If you go for the bigger engine, that one produces 110 PS and 150 Nm of torque.

Around city streets, there is enough power to pull its own weight, but out on the highway, you feel the extra kilograms due to what could be thicker steel. That's not to say it's slow but you will have to rev the engine a little higher to get more out of it. The 1.4-liter also needs the extra revs when you're going uphill. Because of its long gearing, you will need to downshift.

Speaking of shifting, the clutch action is light with a high biting point. First-time manual drivers don't have to be afraid because it's forgiving and resists stalling as much as it can. The gear lever is short with precise throws, giving you more confidence behind the wheel. As a starter car, the Santana isn't intimidating to drive at all.

The Volkswagen Santana's ride is commendable as well. Despite its size, it's one of the most comfortable cars in its class. For a car in this segment, it's smooth and irons out the bumps almost as well as larger sedans. If anything, it shows that Volkswagen knows how to tune suspension systems, regardless where the model is built. As for handling, it can be engaging thanks to a steering rack that provides feedback. While it's not comparable to a sports car, it's good for its class. Not only that, it can take on winding roads with no issue. Perhaps the only limiting factor here are the tires and the lack of stability control. Stability control is available in the higher-spec models.

Now for the subject of price and it's pretty good value. At the moment, Volkswagen is offering the entry-level Santana for PHP 550,000. That means you get a larger sedan for the price of a subcompact hatchback. If you prefer the automatic version, that one is down to PHP 735,000, still lower than most of its competition. Volkswagen means people's car. With pricing like that, it's also the people's Volkswagen, whether it's new or second-hand.

As for used pricing, it can be as low as PHP 325,000 up to PHP 450,000. And if you're looking for a second-hand Volkswagen, shop with us at Automart.ph! Because of the value proposition, these cars get snapped up quickly so buy yours today!