The Voyah Free Is Way Better Than We Expected
Issuing time:2022-08-15 21:40
What is it?
The Voyah Free is the first attempt at a premium EV from a company that isn’t known for making premium vehicles, Dongfeng Motor. The Free is also somewhat unique in today’s market, because it is available with both pure EV and extended-range EV powertrains. An extended-range Free will set you back around 46,000 USD. Those looking for a pure EV can choose between a single motor, rear wheel drive version for 51,000 USD, or a dual motor version like our test car, which will set you back around 55,000 USD. That price point puts it in competition with cars like the Li One and even a base NIO ES6.
That Grill Looks Familiar…
For a company that’s best known for making commercial trucks and cheap sedans, Dongfeng did a fine job designing the Free. It must be said, however, that the grill’s use vertical slats flanked by slim headlights is clearly inspired by the Maserati Levante. The Free does manage to separate itself from the Maserati by including an LED light bar above the grill. That light bar meets at an illuminated Voyah logo, which is said to be inspired by the Da Peng, a huge bird from Chinese mythology.
The Free really shines when viewed in profile, where you can see the long hood and low roofline that give it a low-slung presence. That profile is certainly helped by this car’s adjustable air suspension, which allows it to sit even lower once parked.
One of the highlights of the Voyah’s profile was the design of the D-pillar. The black plastic area shrinks the visual size of the D-pillar while increasing the perceived size of the rear glass. It also allows the D-pillar to cut forwards, giving the design a sense of forward motion. The 20-inch, 16 spoke turbine style wheels suit this car to a T, and even have a little extra visual flair thanks to the small, rose gold inserts.
The rear design is smoothly sculpted, with a full-width LED taillight that is, let’s be honest, pretty Porsche-esque. It’s worth taking a moment to complement our test car’s paint color, which was simply gorgeous. It doesn’t come across on video or in pictures, but the bluish-grey even had a hint of green when you got it in direct sunlight.
Up Goes the Dashboard
There was so much about the Voyah Free that we simply did not see coming, and that starts with the retractable dashboard. Yes, you read that correctly, the dashboard is retractable. When you hit the, frankly, unnecessary start-stop button, the dashboard rises up noticeably to reveal three 12.3-inch screens that are embedded in a single pane. You can also raise or lower the dashboard using a dedicated button next to the shift lever. When you do so, you get a simplified version of the UI on all three screens.
The other way to get the screen to retract is to switch to the Sport driving mode. Is this a useful feature? Honestly, no. Unless you appreciate the ability to have a simplified UI on command, we don’t see how it’s useful in the day to day. Of course, every company needs kind of a gimmick to set it apart, and this is Voyah’s.
But that is far from the only thing that we didn’t see coming in the Free. There is also the small matter of the electrochromic sunroof, you know, like a McLaren 720S Spider. This technology allows you adjust the opacity of the overhead glass using a slider in the menu. It can be completely opaque, protecting you from the sun, or almost completely transparent, making for a lighter, airier cabin. This option costs 9,100 USD on the McLaren, and it is standard on 3 out of 5 trims of the Free.
For a car with a retractable dashboard, the rest of the interior design in the Voyah Free is pretty traditional, with plenty of physical buttons. In addition to the above-mentioned start-stop button, there's also a row of buttons below the screen that are used to control AC functions. There's also another row of physical buttons next to the shifter, including one for lowering and raising the dashboard, changing drive modes, turning on the 360-degree camera and activating the automatic parking system. Our favorite was the button that allowed you to easily turn the Free’s parking sensors on and off. That means no more annoying chorus of beeps when you go to the car wash.
There is also the matter of the touch pad, which immediately makes the interior of the Free feel a bit dated. In addition, it’s only programmed for a few functions, including adjusting volume and changing music tracks. If you run two fingers across it, you can also scroll through the map. What it can’t do is write characters of any kind. Voyah says that an OTA upgrade can add more touch pad functions, but that wasn't available on our test car. The Free’s infotainment is also noticeably slower to react than systems from Li Auto, XPeng or NIO.
The second row of the Voyah Free is simple, yet comfortable. Simple because there's not a lot of features to be found. There are no AC controls for the second row, and the seats are not adjustable in any way. Thankfully, the standard angle and the seats themselves are quite comfortable, with a very generous lower seat cushion. There's also plenty of room to stretch out thanks to the Free’s 2.96-meter (116.5 inches) wheelbase, which is longer than the Li One. There are two USB ports, but they're mounted very low on the back of the center console, making them difficult to reach.
Rear cargo space in the Voyah is a bit disappointing considering its 4.9-meter length. This is due to a combination of a large rear seating area and a low roofline, both of which cut into space. There is also no storage under the floor. The Free does have a frunk, but it’s not very large, and it has the cheapest plastic lid we’ve ever seen. Starbucks Frappuccinos have sturdier lids. It's also held up with a very low-tech string and hook system.
Better than Expected, but Not Perfect
Dongfeng started off as a commercial truck maker, and while they've been making passenger vehicles for quite some time now, they're on the much more affordable end of the spectrum. Thus, our expectations for how the Free would drive weren't particularly high. We were wrong. The Free definitely drives like something that’s worth 55,000 USD.
That's especially true when you put your foot down and unleash the 1040 Nm of torque (770 pound-feet) that are available from the front and rear mounted electric motors. At 4.7 seconds, the Free doesn't have the fastest on paper zero to 100 km/h time, but the way it delivers power makes it feel just as fast as almost any EV we’ve reviewed. Mash the accelerator, and the front end rises up while the four Pirelli P Zero tires scramble for traction almost all the way to 100 km/h. It is a true rocket off the line.
Throw the Free into a corner, and it doesn’t completely fall to pieces, particularly when its adjustable air suspension in in performance mode. Regardless of the driving mode, however, ride quality remains quite comfortable. It's not the best air suspension we’ve ever experienced in a Chinese car, but the cars that had slightly better air suspensions were considerably more expensive than the Free.
The steering, while definitely on the lighter side, is well-weighted without feeling overboosted. The same is true for the accelerator, at least when you’re not purposefully trying to snap necks. The brakes work hand in hand with the air suspension to bring the Free to a stop with minimal head bobbing.
That doesn't mean the Voyah Free is free of problems. The safety system is one of the most annoying and intrusive we’ve ever used in a car. It beeps at you for everything, from the speed detection system to the driver monitoring system. This car seems to be on a mission to beep at you whenever possible. The Level Two driver assistance system is also subpar. It handles the basic task of adaptive cruise control with competence, but once you engage the systems more advanced lane keeping abilities, it responds with small, frequent adjustments to the steering wheel that undermine your confidence that it knows what it is doing.
The Free is also weak in an even more important area, range. Voyah claims an official NEDC range of 475 km from an 88 kWh battery pack, but we saw less than 300 km. Thankfully, in addition to fast charging, the Free supports 11 kW slow charging, just like a Tesla. Most EVs we test only support 7 kW slow charging, which would take around 13 hours to fully charge, whereas the Free takes around 8 hours.
One final unexpected feature of the Free was its augmented reality instrument cluster. At first, we were confused why it was in black and white when other systems are in color. Then we realized it’s because it has night vision, something you normally only see on high-end German vehicles like the 7-Series and S-Class.
So, is the Voyah Free a premium vehicle? Well, let us explain it by putting a new spin on an old phrase; if it looks like a premium vehicle, feels like a premium vehicle, and drives like a premium vehicle, then it's a premium vehicle. It must be obvious at this point that we had strong doubts about whether Dongfeng could actually produce a premium EV on their first try, but it seems like that’s exactly what they've done with the Voyah Free
Motor: Front + Rear
Power: 510 kW, 1040 Nm
Battery: 88 kWh
EV Range: 475 NEDC
0-100 km/h: 4.7 seconds
CDM Price: 55,000 USD
Article classification: Electric Vehicles