VW wants to make people feel warm and fuzzy inside. Is this the car to do it?
Why we’re running it: Volkswagen is looking to repeat the glory days with a massive family EV, but is it as easy to love as a bug?
Life with an ID Buzz: Month 1
Welcoming the ID Buzz to the fleet – 22 November
“My absolute passion is for the brand, and to get the brand back to where it belongs – to the hearts of the people. Real Volkswagen again. A love brand.”
VW CEO Thomas Schäfer there, outlining to Autocar earlier this year his plan to recapture the brand’s once-enviable popular appeal in order to compete effectively with fearsome new rivals that have comparatively little heritage, and to ensure its cars remain desirable in this era of increasing technical homogeneity between modern EVs.
For a tangible embodiment of this objective, look no further than the ID Buzz, a slick, smiley electric MPV that nods stylistically to one of VW’s most successful historic models – but is otherwise every inch the technically competitive flagship model it needs to be.
It must, at once, be a space-age family hauler that competes convincingly in a crowded field, while tugging on the heartstrings of diehard VW fans who might otherwise be completely disengaged with the marque’s current portfolio and positioning.
If you’ll excuse a modicum of self-indulgence, I think I’m quite well placed to judge the Buzz on its capacity to succeed in this endeavour. I was brought home from the hospital in the back of a Mk2 GTI, I’ve endured innumerable soggy ‘holidays’ in bay-window Type 2s, my best friend and I once rescued a T3 Transporter from the scrapheap, a succession of five-cylinder Golfs have graced my family’s driveway (presently filled by a current GTI and a Mk2 Polo), and my first car – which I’ve kept against all odds for more than a decade – was a 1972 Beetle.
In this line of work, it doesn’t really do to confess to brand favouritism, but there’s no denying VW is a marque I’ve always held in high regard. That deep-seated affinity, though – for me and no doubt thousands of other paid-up members of the ‘dub club’ worldwide – has been harshly tested of late.
Widely publicised software issues and usability gripes have plagued the firm’s current crop of cars, which have hardly sought to compensate for their shortcomings with perceptible charisma and distinct personalities like VWs of old.
In 50 years’ time, will you reminisce fondly about all those brilliant summers you spent trekking around the country in a T-Cross, laugh at the memory of all your old ID 4 Pro’s charming quirks, or go on a wistful rant about how they “don’t make cars like that anymore” when someone down the pub mentions the Taigo? Possibly not.
The Buzz, though, is the antithesis of those rather clinically conceived crossovers. A wilfully whimsical statement of intent from a brand that has decided elements of its storied past can live on, with some concession to modernity, in its bold electric future.
And it’s no flash in the pan: we’ve already heard how certain existing names (Tiguan, Passat, Golf) will be carried forth, in recognition of their intrinsic importance to the Volkswagen story, and the neat little ID 2all concept nods heavily to some of the brand’s most popular hatchbacks in a bid to recapture the fun-loving, crowd-pleasing ethos that defined its predecessors. Familiarity breeds contempt? VW is hedging its bets on the very opposite being true.
Not that you would ever mistake the Buzz for its air-cooled ancestor: beyond the two-tone paint scheme and blobby, bread-bin silhouette, there are few overt stylistic links to the Type 2.
Take a good look around, though, and you will find a couple of fun little nods to the spirit of the VW bus ‘brand’: there are Harvey Ball-esque smiley faces in the door handle recesses and engraved surf bus motifs in the trim at the rear, for example, and the three stripes across the D-pillar are where the air intakes were on the original. Neat.
Call it cheeky, call it cringeworthy – the truth is: I like it. Cars have become far too serious, so it’s nice to be spending time with one that majors on joviality without verging on contrivance, as we have observed with some other retro-flavoured cars – particularly those that can’t lay claim to so lengthy and pervasive a back story as the VW van.
If you needed a measure of its credibility, perhaps it suffices to say that I’ve received several knowing nods from classic VW owners already – and believe me when I say that’s no small feat (I once waved and nodded at the driver of a lovely T3 Notchback from a 2004 Bora, forgetting I wasn’t in my Beetle, and nearly had to go into hiding) – so this is a good start for the Buzz. Plus, it’s already proving far more useful than any five-seat SUV at this price, with seats that fold flat and a massive hidden load space under the boot floor enabling it to do a very passable impression of a van when needed.
It’s hardly as utilitarian as the Microbus, but I’m hoping it emerges from our test as a convincingly practical alternative to more conventional big EVs like the Audi Q8 E-tron and Kia EV9.
Because, ultimately, what we need to determine here is whether the Buzz is as much about substance as it is style: can this £67,000 people carrier really be, at once, one of the most capacious, charismatic, comfortable and competent EVs on the market?
Only an arduous few months of road trips, house moves, long-distance commutes, dog walks and tip runs will give the full picture, but at least I don’t need to worry about rusty heater channels and seized heater cables on this one.
Being a five-seater, the Buzz I tried was pretty bulky compared with a hatch that could do the same job. But on every other count it was great. It looked and drove beautifully – and I particularly trust my own judgement because I recently owned a diesel VW California. The EV was better in all respects except touring range.
Volkswagen ID Buzz SWB 77kWh Pro Style specification
Specs: Price New £62,844 Price as tested £66,394 Options Infotainment Package Plus £1560, Type 2 charging cable £190, Candy White/Energetic Orange paint £1800
Test Data: Engine Rear-mounted Permanent-magnet synchronous motor, 77kWh battery Power 201bhp Torque 229lb ft Kerb weight 2502kg Top speed 90mph 0-62mph 10.2sec Energy efficiency 3.3mpkWh CO2 0g/km Faults None Expenses None