Volkswagen ID Buzz

VW ID Buzz front tracking
After more than two decades of teasing, Volkswagen has finally reinvented the van beloved by so many communities

After four concept cars over the past two decades, the moment has finally arrived: the Volkswagen Microbus is back. Bulli, Camper, Microbus, Van: whatever you want to call it, it now exists once more, this time as the Volkswagen ID Buzz.Those concepts came in 2001 (Microbus), 2011 (Bulli), 2016 (Budd-e) and 2017 (ID Buzz, the one that made it). Whatever desire Volkswagen had, it was only at its fourth attempt that it got what was turning into an obsession over the line.That time is now due to the opportunities afforded by the flexibility of the MEB platform beneath the ID Buzz and the other ID models. With the ID Buzz, we’re seeing the benefits and design freedom that a skateboard chassis with floor-mounted batteries provides.Whereas the related ID 3, ID 4 and ID 5 cars all feel a bit too box-ticking for creating cars of a familiar size and shape to bridge the gap from the internal-combustion era to the electric one, the ID Buzz is anything but: it’s a concept car made real. How can you not smile after looking at it?The look is truly traffic-stopping. Our test drives were papped more than if we’d been in a Bugatti, such is this car’s presence. The ID Buzz will reach the UK at the end of the year in one of two versions: a five-seat MPV and a van labelled Cargo.If there’s one disappointment with the ID Buzz MPV on paper, it’s how limited the line-up is for now. When you think of the classic Microbus, you imagine making a cup of tea in the back or making up a bed. Not yet in the ID Buzz: it’s all conventional.Other versions will start coming from the end of next year, however – among them a seven-seat long-wheelbase version designed to take Volkswagen’s icon back to America, a four-wheel-drive version, and then the one that we really want to try: a replacement for the California, a full holiday home on wheels.It’s the MPV version we’re testing here. Up front are two large, comfy seats complete with armrests, and there are three seats on the bench across the back in a 60/40 split, accessed by sliding rear doors. The rear seats fold flat and can be slid forwards but can’t be removed, unlike in the recently launched and seemingly infinitely flexible Volkswagen Multivan that’s built on the MQB architecture. That lack of flexibility is a shame and a missed opportunity.Still, the storage capacity is vast, at a standard 1121 litres rising all the way to a maximum of 2123 litres with everything in its flattest, most tucked-away position. The boot floor can be raised or lowered, albeit not that easily, and while there isn’t a beach-hut version yet, both a kitchen set and a bed can be specified from the accessories list to fit in the back.The technical specification is familiar from other MEB cars to date. The ID Buzz uses a rear-mounted 201bhp, 229lb ft electric motor, which draws power from a 77kWh lithium ion battery pack. The range is 258 miles in the entry-level Life version (£57,115) and 255 miles in the Style (£61,915) and 1st Edition (£62,995) models that complete the launch line-up.While it’s a heavy car, at 2502kg, and looks a large one, it’s actually more compact than it appears. At 4712mm, it’s a similar length to the Volkswagen Passat. It’s 1937mm tall and 1985mm wide, and on the road it’s the width you feel most. Yet visibility is excellent, notably forward, thanks to a big split in the A-pillars, making the ID Buzz easy to place. The wheelbase is just shy of three metres long, and long it is, which allows for a wheel-in-each-corner design that really gives the ID Buzz a hunkered-down presence.The cabin is full of clever little cubbyholes and places to store (lose) the contents of your pockets, and you will never be short of a place to charge your phone, because up to eight USB-C ports are offered.The fun outside gives way to a more functional inside, yet it’s still a bright and cheery place for all occupants to enjoy, particularly in the light colour scheme of our Style test car. Lots of recycled materials are used for the trim, and there’s no real leather in here – a first for a Volkswagen in modern times.The layout is typically VW – simple in design with a driver’s screen for vital functions and a larger central screen for almost everything else. Most controls are operated via the central screen or by switchgear either on the twin steering wheel spokes or on a couple of overcrowded steering wheel stalks. The complication is due to the fact that the right-hand stalk, formerly a simple wiper control, is now used for the ‘PRND’ transmission selection functions, which means wiper operation has to migrate to the left-hand stalk. You get used to it, but the layout of previous VW models is better.It’s a very spacious interior, notably for front passengers, with the absence of a transmission tunnel allowing for a game of footsie with your co-pilot. If you can reach them, that is: such is the width that you do feel like you’re sitting quite a way from your front passenger. The windscreen also seems miles away.Volkswagen’s infamous infotainment system features, running the latest 3.2 software that new Volkswagen CEO Thomas Schäfer promises is far more secure and stable than previous iterations. He also admits that it’s not as user-friendly as it should be, which is putting it mildly.‘Why press one button or go through one menu when you could go through many, many more?’ seems to be the mantra behind it, the kind of software that’s designed in a lab with no real thought or testing into how such complexity manifests itself when you have to do something else at the same time; like focusing on driving and not crashing, for instance.Bafflingly, the digital heater controls on the centre console still aren’t backlit, so trying to turn the heater up or down at night is quite literally a stab in the dark. Things quickly improve, though, when you get onto the business of driving the ID Buzz, which is all very enjoyable.Electric power suits a car of this size and brief so well, the quietness and refinement, in particular, a real boon. The driving experience will be familiar from any of the growing number of MEB-based cars from Volkswagen, Audi, Cupra and Skoda, delivering brisk but not hair-raising acceleration, and well-judged regenerative braking for more one-pedal driving in the ‘B’ driving mode, selected from the column gear selector. It can still provide a good surge forwards when needed, though, with enough torque on tap even higher up the rev range. The steering is nicely weighted and precise in its operation, and it undoubtedly feels like that of a car, rather than a van. That latter point goes for the handling, too, the ID Buzz proving itself a surprisingly adept performer through the corners, with far less body roll than you would expect, thanks to the low centre of gravity afforded by the battery pack mounting.Manoeuvrability is great, too, the turning circle just 11.1 metres thanks to the rear-motor, rear-wheel-drive layout. It also rides nicely, with a multi-link rear suspension as standard. There are no major disturbances from bumps in the road, although it’s a little soft and wallowy on the motorway, and there’s some wind noise (still, at 0.29, the drag coefficient is surprisingly low).On UK roads, the Buzz feels in some ways remarkably like VW’s well-established dynamic model for a medium-sized commercial. The steering effort, gearing and the stabilising understeer built into the Buzz’s chassis are all quite familiar, as is the overall effort and retardation of the brakes – though the Buzz has plenty of brake pedal travel, and a detectable step between the regen and friction phases of braking.But in other ways the ID Buzz is a long step ahead of its combustion-engined predecessors. Its ride is impressively composed and quiet over high-frequency ripples. Its chassis has a feeling of tautness, damping is fairly impressive and – better still – the cabin is as quiet as a good saloon’s over coarse surfaces. Only when pressed over roads with big, long-wave bumps does the suspension begin to lose composure, and even here it does pretty well.Best of all, the ID Buzz’s elevated driving position, good steering, all-surface capability and refinement make it quicker, and easier to handle, than its 4.7-metre size suggests. VW Transporters and Californias have always worked well as family transport, but this new EV edition promises to set an even higher standard. It feels more mature than the other ID cars too, the extra size and weight aiding the refinement, sense of calm and overall substance. Performance is decent, and the claimed WLTP range of 258 miles seems, if anything, to understate the possible. Our fully charged Buzz started out by showing 309 miles of range, and in normal-brisk driving looked like delivering close to 270 miles: a marked improvement on what we observed in hotter conditions on the car’s European launch in Copenhagen (about 200 miles). The fastest DC charging rate the Buzz can accept is a fairly speedy 170kW.The VW ID Buzz isn’t cheap by anyone’s definition, but it is a very cool addition to the electric car ranks, and a classic case of ‘if you really like the look of it and want one, the price isn’t going to put you off anyway’. And if you are sold on those looks, there’s nothing in the way it drives to put you off either, so long as you’re prepared to take some night courses to try to conquer that infotainment system.That aside, the one real disappointment of the ID Buzz is that the layout is all rather conventional, as a five-seat MPV without any clever configuration that can be done with the seating. Thankfully, the versions that come with a beach lifestyle as standard will follow.For now, then, let’s celebrate the triumphant return of an icon: one that has been very well executed for the electric era, and will only get better and more desirable from here. UK roads reporting by Steve Cropley
Source: Autocar

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