VOLKSWAGEN in the Philippines is currently replacing some models sourced from Latin America and Europe with those made — and in some cases found only — in China. The China-built Volkswagens are more affordable as these do not incur hefty freight costs and duties. One such model recently introduced by the German car maker is the Lavida 230 TSI DSG which, by the looks of it, is supplanting the compact sedan spot in the local range occupied by the Jetta — a global model. If so, the Lavida has big shoes to fill.
• Volkswagen (and the seven car brands belonging to its group) subscribes to a uniform corporate look, and apparently even its models built and previously intended solely for China are not exempt from familial styling. As such the Lavida wears subtle but pleasant sheet metal marked by tidy lines, crisp angles, muted contours and upscale-looking lights. The car’s design may not be distinctive, but it is tasteful — just like the Jetta’s.
• Cabin is roomy, with sufficient space for five people. Passengers in the back have no reason to complain about the lack of legroom. And, yes, this also applies to the one in the middle.
• Just as welcome for backseat occupants are the large, wide-opening rear doors, which make getting in and out of the back easy.
• Speaking of doors, all four fitted to the Lavida close with a solid thud — as can be expected from a European car. They are also a bit heavy to open or close. This, actually, is a good thing. It spells quality.
• Like the exterior’s styling, the cabin’s is just as neat. The predominantly black furniture appears somber, with the leather-wrapped seats, gloss-black accents and touches of chrome trim promoting a business lounge vibe.
• Cabin furniture feels well put-together. Gaps between panels are uniformly tight, controls and switches engage slickly, and no part vibrates noticeably enough to cause worry something might rattle after a few years have passed.
• Like in other Volkswagens, the multimedia and climate controls are simple to operate and clearly labeled. Logically, buttons are used for functions where buttons work best (like for choosing audio modes or preset radio stations), while knobs are used where knobs work best (like for adjusting the air-conditioner’s temperature and fan speed settings).
• Steering is electrically boosted — like in most modern cars. But VW managed to dial in enough heft in the Lavida’s system, telling the driver where the front wheels are pointed at and how much grip there is underneath.
• Ride quality is just as competent. The suspension is pliant enough to cushion against bad road surfaces, but isn’t too soft that the car cannot be accurately steered around corners anymore. The cabin is well insulated from noises and vibrations, too. Both indicate a solid body structure.
• Engine, though not exactly strong, propels the car briskly enough. It’s also unobtrusive.
• The steering wheel can be raised or lowered, but it cannot be pulled closer or pushed farther from the driver. This hinders a proper seating position for some drivers — like taller ones, who will end up reaching far too much for the steering wheel.
• Material covering the steering wheel seems like it’s some sort of plasticky leather. Unfortunate because this is an important touch point.
• The mountings for the front pair of seat belts cannot be raised or lowered as well. True, those in BMWs cannot also be adjusted, but the front seats (especially the driver’s) and steering wheel in BMWs boast a wide range of settings, negating the need to fiddle with the seat belts. In the Lavida, the seat belt can end up too close to the base of the driver’s neck — not an ideal position.
• Sunroof is too small it seems just a wasteful touch.
In all key areas — construction, styling, cabin amenities, driving dynamics, ride quality — the Lavida keeps to known German-car traits. Even if it’s built in China. — Brian M. Afuang
Volkswagen Lavida 230 TSi DSG Comfortline
Price: P1.171 million
Engine: 1.4-liter inline-four, turbocharged gasoline; 128 hp @ 5,000 rpm, 225 Nm @ 1,400-3,500 rpm
Transmission: Seven-speed DSG
Drivetrain: Front-wheel drive
Wheels/Tires: 16 inches, 205/55
Key features: Climatronic air-conditioning; multimedia unit with USB, aux-in and Bluetooth connectivity; smart entry system with push-button ignition; hill-hold control; tire-pressure monitor; sunroof; leather seats; glove box cooling