First drive: Volkswagen ID Buzz concept review
We had a short test drive in ID Buzz concept in California
The electric ID Buzz, which will go into production in 2022, is inspired by the classic Microbus. We have a run in the concept version in California
Entry to the ID Buzz, the concept Volkswagen has confirmed will go into production as the modern-day Microbus, combines the magic of contemporary electronics and traditional heave.
Waving a hand within the side swage line on the driver’s door triggers an electronic opening mechanism, which involves the conventional front-hinged driver’s door swinging open to reveal the concept’s wonderfully simplistic yet surprisingly roomy interior.
The floor is mounted at a high 525mm due to the need to house an extensive crash structure within the front end and the battery within the long 3300mm wheelbase, but there’s a small step integrated within the sill area to ease entry as you climb aboard. You step up and then into cabin.
Inside the Volkswagen ID Buzz concept
The initial impression once you’re inside is just how high you are positioned above the road: the driver’s seat places your torso well above the belt line. In combination with an upright windscreen it offers a commanding view enhanced by generous quarter windows. The links with earlier Microbus models are undeniable and provide the ID Buzz with a wonderfully authentic feel.
With a design that aims to reduce clutter, the high mounted full width dashboard is devoid of any controls. The main functions, including the gear selection and indicators, are all housed within the rectangular steering wheel.
The I.D. Buzz is fitted with two electric motors, one mounted at the front within the short nose section, the other within the rear-axle assembly. This gives it four-wheel drive capability. Each motor delivers 201bhp, although the combined system output is limited to 369bhp. It’s a layout Volkswagen boss Herbert Diess says will be mirrored on more upmarket versions of the new Microbus.
The ID Buzz can also be configured as a rear-wheel-drive model featuring a 268-hp rear-mounted electric motor in a drivetrain layout similar to that of the I.D. hatchback.
Fitted with a large 111 kWh lithium-ion battery mounted low in the floor, Volkswagen claims the ID Buzz has a zero-emissions range of up to 372 miles on the European test cycle.
Driving the Volkswagen ID Buzz concept
A swipe of your finger on a starter button within the touch sensitive steering wheel is all that’s needed to prime the electronics and ready the I.D. Buzz to move off.
The one-off concept has been in use all morning by the time I get my turn in the driver’s seat, and there are concerns about the level of energy remaining within the lithium-ion battery.
Although designed with an augmented reality head-up display unit within the windscreen, there are no obvious instruments to reveal the battery charge. As a result, my drive is curtailed to a couple of runs of about a mile along 17 Mile Drive, a picturesque tourist road on the Monterey Peninsula in California.
While only a brief encounter in a concept with the single motor and rear-wheel drive layout likely to power entry level versions, it nevertheless provides a good indication of what we can expect when the production version arrives in 2022.
The I.D. Buzz gets underway with surprising vigour as I call up D (for drive) with a swipe of my finger across the steering wheel. This early concept might not possess the full quota of reserves promised by the twin-engine spec, but the e-Golf-based driveline and rear-wheel drive set-up is sufficiently sorted to zip away from standstill with instant response. It hits cruising speeds with engagingly flexible properties when the traffic allows.
Volkswagen says the boxy concept weighs close to 2000kg, though it gives the impression of being a lot lighter. Like most electric vehicles, the strong torque ensures it feels eager.
With a coasting function aiming to maximise efficiency, it freewheels with very low frictional losses when you come off the throttle, rolling along with the electric motor disengaged from the drive process until you pick up the power again or nudge the brake pedal to wipe off speed. Driveline refinement is quite impressive; there’s no trace of whine from the electric motor mounted in the back.
Volkswagen intends equipping its new Microbus with contemporary autonomous driving technology. With a steering wheel that retracts back into the dashboard and a driver’s seat that swivels through a full 180-degrees to face the rear, it has been properly conceived to support hands-off driving. The concept, though, runs a more conventional set-up that relies on purely on the driver.
The steering is light but slow to respond and not very direct at all – but with four years of planned development before it is due to reach showrooms, Volkswagen will surely ensure it matches the impressive levels of steering response and directness shown by recent new models.
The electro-mechanical system, whose rack is mounted forward of the front axle line, can manoeuvre the I.D. Buzz around a Pebble Beach car park without much trouble, although it requires a good deal of twirling the steering wheel to engage much lock. Once up to speed it improves with greater weighting and more feel. Among the functions Volkswagen is touting is a rear-wheel steer system offering a turning circle of less than 11 metres.
The ride is firm and quite noisy. Most design-based concepts ride like shopping trolleys, and with the I.D. Buzz riding on 22-inch aerodynamically optimised wheels shod with prototype 235/45 tyres, there’s little in the way of proper wheel travel or comfort inducing compliance.
But these particular facets of the ID Buzz’s driving characteristics are not really representative of what we can expect of the finished product. When it launched in 2022 it will use the MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension set to be used by all MEB-based Volkswagen models. They’re taken from the company’s existing MQB-based models, and for the most part they all handle and ride with pleasingly direct and refined driving traits.
Further likely developments include adaptive damping and self-levelling rear air springs to control ride height when loaded with passengers and/or luggage. This, and the fact that the MPV’s inherent layout provides it with a very low centre of gravity, is reason enough to suggest its dynamic qualities should meet the heady expectations already being heaped upon it.
Initial impressions of the ID Buzz
This basic concept provides a sound basis for the return of one of the motoring world’s most iconic machines.
Sliding rear doors and a fully flat floor shows the ease of entry and generous accommodation we can expect from the future Microbus. Positioning the driver so far forward creates sufficient room to accommodate up to eight, and the interior is designed to support a multitude of different layouts. There are two separate luggage compartments, at the front and rear.
One of the factors that have allowed Volkswagen to realise its long-held plans of resurrecting the Microbus is the packaging advantages provided by the MEB platform structure. With the electric motors placed down low, the frontal area has been dedicated almost entirely to crash deformation. The only components housed up front are power electronics for the driveline and air conditioning compressor. Everything else resides underneath the flat floor.
The engineering brief, as it stands today, calls for it to be sold exclusively with electric drive and offer a choice of standard and long wheelbases.
Four years is a long time to wait, but if the promise shown by the ID Buzz concept during our brief drive is reflected to any degree on the production version it will be well worth it.
Source: Autocar Online