Roomy for its size

Published May 6, 2022, 8:03 AM

by Eric R. Tipan

2021 Volkswagen Santana 1.5 MPI A/T SE

Quietly refreshed a couple of years ago, this four-year old model is still trying to carve out a niche in this highly crowded and competitive segment. I’m sure you’re dying to know what the long wheelbase does and if there’s anything else the 2021 Volkswagen Santana 1.5 MPI A/T SE has to offer.

It has unique dimensions, being shorter than the Honda City by 78 mm, but with a wheelbase (2,603 mm) that’s bigger than any of the top models – but not by much.

Like most Volkswagens, the exterior is quite formal to the point where it looks kind of old. Its design is still based on the fifth-generation unit released in China back in 2012, but has undergone several facelifts since then. The latest one adds automatic headlights (with ‘leaving home’ and ‘coming home’ function), front fog lamps, and a sunroof, but a total overhaul has yet to happen.

Noticeable on the exterior are several visible lines along the body, the sharp styling of the lamps, and how the Polar White color contrasts very nicely with the taillights and reflectors on the bumper.

Sunroof aside, the look and shape are very generic making this the least flashy of all the subcompacts out there. If there ever was a ‘mommy sedan’, this would probably be it.

It doesn’t have a smart key yet, which I would consider a major point against it since this feature already comes standard in the top trims of the segment.

The long wheelbase and high ceiling immediately make an impact. It feels like VW’s larger compact sedan, the Lavida. It feels like the seats and seating position have been improved. It’s so much higher now that I didn’t have to pull the lever up to raise it. While it still uses the same leather and fabric mix, the headrest height has been corrected.

I’m glad they revised infotainment system too. Gone is the Blaupunkt screen and in its place is a sharper and a lot more modern seven-inch touchscreen (losing the CD slot, and keeping one knob). It sends audio to six speakers but doesn’t have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There is an option though to order a different seven-inch unit with those features at the dealership. Connectivity options include USB and Bluetooth but the latter weirdly needs re-pairing every so often.

There’s a thick, shiny trim running along the dashboard that somewhat enhances the look of the mostly hard plastic surface, but it still can’t mask the old-fashioned controls of the manual climate control system.

Its 1.5L engine comes with BlueMotion Technology (higher fuel efficiency and lower emissions) is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission and operates under two modes, Drive and Sport. It produces 110-PS and 150-Nm of torque. While the Drive is geared to deliver maximum fuel efficiency, it sucks all the fun out of the drive. Upshifts happen far below 2000 RPM, taking away any feel of ‘pull’ from the torque. The result is a very high 12.5 km/l and an ultra-silky smooth drive. Sport isn’t really much better but it does hold the revs a little higher, which provides a little bit more pull for faster acceleration. System output is

The suspension is stiffer than most in its segment so it lands just a touch more firmly around potholes and speedbumps but is barely noticeable. Noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels are at par with segment standards. What it needs to improve on are better door jambs because it just doesn’t feel as snug as it should be when it closes.

Steering is light and rollover resistance is very good as it takes corners and bends pretty well even at speed due to the long wheelbase. What I wish it had, as a top variant, is a reverse monitor to complement the sensors.

It isn’t perfect, but then again, no car really is. At P898,000 (which is an even lower price than pre-facelift), it undercuts plenty of its counterparts while adding value by reducing periodic maintenance to just once a year (or after 10,000 kilometers), has a three-year warranty (or 100,000 kilometers), and comes with one-year 24/7 free roadside assistance. If you’re looking for roominess, efficiency, and a stable ride, you can’t go wrong giving the 2021 Volkswagen Santana 1.5 MPI A/T SE a shot.