Friday, July 12, 2019

The Volkswagen Santana Sub-Compact, A Smooth Drive Experience

The 2019 Volkswagen Santana at the steps of the Lingayen Capitol Building.

by Monch Henares

When I hear the name Santana, the first thing that comes to mind is the American rock group led by Carlos Santana, and what a better way to describe the 2019 Volkswagen Santana is through the title of their hit song 'Smooth'.

Recently, Volkswagen Philippines lent me the top-of-the-line variant, a Santana 180 SE MPI AT, for a week of test driving. It's powered by a 1.5L 4-Cylinder petrol engine that fires 108 HP at 6,000 rpm with 150 Nm of torque at 4,000 and is mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission with "Sport" mode (so sorry VW fans, it's not a DSG).  It had more than enough horses to prance around the metro and gallop all the way to Pangasinan and back.

The Volkswagen Santana is powered by a 1.5L 4-Cylinder petrol engine that fires 108 HP at 6,000 rpm with 150 Nm of torque at 4,000.

The Exterior

Seeing this car up close and personal, it looked very simple, but it created a vision of cinematic-like elegance with flowing lines and subtle curves from end to end. I didn't get bored looking at it. It changed character every time the sun would strike it at different times in the day. Maybe because it was dressed in Reflex Silver, playing with all 50 shades of grey under the glaring sun.

Dressed in Reflex Silver, playing with all 50 shades of grey under the glaring noon sun.

The wraparound headlights and taillights design blended with the simplicity of the overall look. They may look ordinary to the meticulous eye, but those well-focused beams of halogen light covered every inch of pavement upfront, thanks to those cornering fog lamps at each side that made the 180-degree illumination possible. 

A rear built-in fog light comes standard too. I just left the main light switch on "Auto", one neat feature not usually found in other sub-compacts.

The exterior has a vision of cinematic-like elegance with flowing lines and subtle curves from end to end.

Halogen lights that covered every inch of pavement up front.

The Interior

First thing I noticed with the simple yet functional interior was the Santana's contoured comfy leather/fabric seats, especially the rear seat. Every time somebody would sit at the back, the first word they would utter is "Sarap", in English, "feels heavenly". Sad to say that the driver's throne is only a 6-way manual-adjustable seat, but attaining that perfect driving position is possible with the manual tilting steering column.  

The Santana's comfy contoured seats and classic dashboard.

Comfortable rear seats with 3-point seatbelts, adjustable headrests, and Isofix anchorage points.

The 2019 Volkswagen Santana received a five-star rating in the tough European New Car Assessment Programme (EuroNCAP) making it a guaranteed safe sub-compact. Other safety features thrown in are driver and passenger airbags, front side air-bags, and ISOFIX anchorage points at the rear.

There are 5 bottle holders and 2 cup holders in the Santana. You and your passengers won't go thirsty, but your power-hungry gadgets would definitely starve because there is only one 12-volt lighter receptacle to be shared by everyone.

Single 12Volt outlet.

This variant has a substantial amount of convenience features. Starting with a Cruise Control that took me a while to get used to (because it wasn't where it usually is), a Multi-function Steering Wheel, Auto Speed-Locking Door Locks, Power Windows, Electric Power Steering, Heated Rear Window, Electric Sunroof, Front Windshield Wipers with Rain Sensors, Manual Air-conditioning with a Pollen Filter, front and rear Individual Reading Lights, and Rear Parking Distance Control. 

A load of convenient features not found on other sub-compacts.

Lastly, it is equipped with an Engine Start/Stop system which stops and starts the engine when the car comes to a stop. It was irritating at times because the transitions were not smooth. The engine or car would jerk a bit while starting up. It's a cool and fuel-saving feature if it worked smoothly. There is no way of turning it off permanently because the system default is set on "On" every time the ignition is engaged.

I'm glad this variant came with a Blaupunkt Philadelphia 865 Infotainment system. With its 17-inch capacitive touchscreen, real-time intelligent info is available through its Car Info app such as, fuel left in the tank, battery voltage, windshield washer fluid level, engine oil level, coolant level to name a few. I found out you can play almost every media platform you connect to it via Android or IOS. It can mirror most phones too. 

Blaupunkt Philadelphia 865 Infotainment system.

I just wish it had a rear camera to support the audible Driver Parking Assist. With a dozen high-tech features available out there for assisting a driver on reverse, this was a bit "backward". Get the joke?

The Journey

Our trip took Arabelle and me to our favorite northern base-camp at Bonuan Binloc in Pangasinan once again. It is a great and familiar test drive route that has all the roads conditions and terrain you could test drive a car on.  

We've always wanted to do a photoshoot of a review vehicle in front of the steps of the majestic and grand Lingayen Capitol Building in Lingayen, Pangasinan which is like 30 mins from Bunoan. The Capitol building was built in 1918 by my great grandfather, Don Daniel G. Maramba, during his term as Governor of Pangasinan from 1916- 1922. Don Daniel is popularly called "The Grand Old Man of Pangasinan".

Successful photo shoot at the steps of the Capitol Building.

The area in front of the grand steps is off-limits to vehicles and is secured by removable pole barriers. I asked my uncle Alikhan Maramba to request the security guard in charge permission to enter and do the photoshoot. The almost impossible was not hard at all to do. Uncle Alikhan, with the security guard watching, comes back and lifts the barrier for us to come in. Just like that. He probably told the guard the man who built the Capitol was his grandfather.

Enjoying the drive around the Capitol with the sunroof open, flower power style. With my partner

Proud of my Great-grandfather's achievements.

We did the photo shoot in less than an hour and proceeded to the famous Lingayen Baywalk before the ever-hasty sun hid in the horizon. The Baywalk is a very new stretch of cemented road along the beachfront on the Lingayen Gulf, starting from the Capitol grounds heading 2-kilometers west. 

Fifty shades of grey. The 2019 Volkswagen Santana at the Lingayen Baywalk.

Santana Drive Experience

I was happy with the way the Volkswagen Santana drove. It had enough engine power to make our trip a pleasant one. Take note, it is not a speed machine, but a gentle family car that will take you where you want to go safely and make you confident, even over mountains, you will make it back without a hitch.

It handled like a German-engineered car should. Precise on the curves, and brilliantly stable on the straights. 

I tested the traction-control system, which VW calls Electic Stabilization Program (ESP) on an empty stretch of wet road, which was quite sandy and slippery. I tried to simulate a car avoiding some large debris on the road. I quickly steered left to avoid the imaginary debris, then steered the car back into the lane again. It passed! Bravo!

In a real-life high-speed situation, a non-EPS car would have spun out of control, but the Santana took it with confidence and surety. The ESP works in perfect harmony with the Anti-lock Brake System (ABS) and the Anti Slip Regulation (ASR) systems.

One thing that really impressed me more than Carlos Santana's guitar playing in 'Smooth', was how smooth and solid the VW Santana rode over bumpy dirt roads. I've never experienced a sub-compact take a rough road like his mid-size brother would. The suspension never bottomed out and it wasn't bouncy at all. Truly amazing.  

The only three things that bothered my sensitive ears were a faint wind-noise from the sunroof area, some road noise from the tire well area (nothing some sound deadening pads won't cure), and lastly, the non-blaring monotone horn that won't even startle the most excitable pedestrian.

18 km/liter on the highway recorded after constantly running 80 km/hr (on cruise-control) for 150 km on an almost level freeway.

Fuel economy was remarkable. The Santana did 12 km/liter city, and 18 km/liter on the highway recorded after constantly running 80 km/hr (on cruise-control) for 150 km on an almost level freeway. 

Monchster Rating

After considering its overall look, interior and exterior features, engine and transmission feel, safety and convenience features, affordability, and total driving experience, I think the car is worth more than its price tag of P962,000.00. It's going to give the Toyota Vios and Honda City a run for their money. 

In a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the highest, I would give the 2019 Volkswagen Santana 180 SE MPI 6AT a Monchster Rating of  8.75

# # #

Through the Santana sunroof.

Monch "Monchster" Henares is an award-winning automotive journalist, and feature writer for the Philippine Daily Inquirer's "Road Talk". He is also a media blogger @, tech and motoring specialist, inventor, and automotive engineer. He managed the motorpool for a limousine company in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. He is now based in Manila, Philippines, and is the President of BuildMeUp Corp.

You may e-mail him at

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