Volkswagen ID Buzz prototype review

Tell me what you think…

Volkswagen ID Buzz, the all-electric replacement to its iconic Type 2 van is finally here.

This is the camper van, right?

Coming along in (wait for it) 1949, the Type 2 was only Volkswagen’s second-ever model (hence the ‘Type 2’ designation), but it became a cult classic utility car beloved especially by the liberated, hallucinogenic-enhanced free-thinkers of the 1960s. The Type 2 was not only loved by those who gave it the nickname of the ‘Hippy Van’, but also the free-loving West Coasters who still treasure the Type 2.

It was affectionately called ‘Bulli” in Germany. It was a popular vehicle and later, in a modified form, even the inspiration for Scooby Doo’s Mystery Machine. This vehicle was so well-known that it could be recognized wherever it went at one time. It’s hard to resist a smile when the local owners club whirls by you on the motorway, all shiny and with peace signs.

You could also say that we have been waiting for the follow-up act for a while. The revival of VW’s “Microbus” has been revisited and re-visited many times over the past two decades, with several show cars hinting at a corporate intention that is believable.

Until now. Bulli is now on the brink of returning with the new ID Buzz. Production will begin in Hannover, Germany this summer. UK vans will be available in showrooms by the autumn 2022. The camper version is also coming soon.

How do you modernize a van that is 70 years old?

A sustainable electric drivetrain is the best place to begin. The ID Buzz, just like the Type 2, was built on the chassis from the original Beetle. It shares the same passenger-car model architecture as the Type 2: the MEB platform used to build Volkswagen’s ID 3, 4, and 5 (and many more models from VW’s sister companies).

This makes it an electric-specialized car that is built from the ground up. It also avoids some technical compromises that can affect how van-like, commercially-derived electric MPVs ride, handle, and perform. The ID Buzz uses a car-like suspension.

Later models will have more power and twin-motor four wheel drive. However, the ID Buzz at launch will be powered by an electric motor mounted in the rear. It produces 201bhp as well as 229lb ft. This is a lot, considering its MPV-comparison. The under-floor battery will be able to provide a range of approximately 250 miles, according to lab-test certifications.

If those stats don’t convince you, VW hopes that the car’s highly-functional, well-equipped, and welcoming interior will. (Think wireless device charging and ambient lighting features, and quietly colourful material themes). This is assuming that the exterior design has not won you over.

VW must be aware that VW Camper traditionists may not like the design. But it is better to take a chance and make something than just bowing to it. Even though the ID Buzz measures over 4.7m at its largest, it isn’t micro. It doesn’t have the Type 2’s small wheelbase nor its ‘forward-control’ design configuration (one in which the driver sits ahead the front wheels, leaving more room for passengers and cargo behind him, but putting at risk of disaster in the event that there is a head-on collision).

For this production version of the ID Buzz concept vehicle of 2017, VW has also reshaped the corners. It looks less retro and cutesy than the show car, but is more modern and offers more interior space.

We have yet to see the final version, but we are awaiting the photos. Our prototype was wearing a stripy rainbow camouflage wrap, which hides the final details.

How practical is this thing?

The ID Buzz’s wheelbase is almost the same length as VW’s full-sized VW T6.1 Transporter. It isn’t quite as tall. The ID Buzz keeps its roofline below two metres, so it can fit comfortably below car park height restrictions. And it has a shorter front and rear axle overhangs. It fits perfectly between the existing MPV vehicle classes. It is a lot taller and longer than a Citroen e-Berlingo. However, it is a bit smaller than a standard-sized Ford Transit, so it will fit in a typical parking space much more easily.

The passenger version features a five-seater cabin, with sliding seats and plenty of space for adults in back. It also has a 1100-litre trunk behind it. This is more than many family hatchbacks when all the seats are down.

The back volume is nearly four meters cubed if you purchase the commercial version with the Cargo-badged name. Although it isn’t tall enough to stand in, the back can hold all the paraphernalia for a family with four people.

If you are an entrepreneur, the van can hold two “euro-pallets”, each weighing 600kg. A van can be ordered with a secret compartment underneath the front seats that allows you to slide in loads up to 2.2m long (although the surfboard should go on the roof). If that sounds too big, you can get a van with a long wheelbase in 2023. It has an additional 200mm loadbay length. Then there is the inevitable Camper version.

How does it drive?

As a preview of the future, Volkswagen allowed us to spend an hour driving a Buzz Cargo prototype. You can have it with two or three seats in the front row and with or without bulkhead loadbay dividers. We drove it in a two-seater version.

Although Volkswagen has not yet confirmed the car’s weight, it does feel heavy and bulky on the roads. However, it is smooth, refined, and extremely easy to drive. Although it has more power than some electric monocab MPVs or vans, the ID Buzz doesn’t feel fast out of town. However, it can accelerate quickly from crawling speed and is responsive enough for you to grab any gap in traffic.

The car accelerates at 50 mph and is well-managed. It’s also impressively quiet, which is remarkable considering its size and weight. However, the electric passenger car’s assertive pace is not evident at motorway speeds. It is not a Tesla-like driving experience and it won’t be until VW adds a GTX badge to the rear and an extra drive motor to the front.

You’ll be more impressed by the car’s smooth ride and cruising abilities. If you are familiar with van-based MPVs, this car is likely to appeal to you. Even the Cargo version, which has a stiffened rear suspension to support its payload, rides smoothly and doesn’t crash or fuss.

The car has light and manageable steering with moderate directness and consistent weight. Because the front wheels can turn at greater angles than most rivals (the motor is in the back), it turns very tightly and is easy to park.

You can also get it with sliding rear passengers doors and twin boot doors instead of a hatchback rear end. Both help make the car seem smaller in tight spaces.

Verdict

The ID Buzz appears ready to transform the electrified utility vehicle in a variety of ways, from comfort and refinement onboard to performance and range and even static desirability to carrying configuration.

All of this will come at a price. The launch versions of passenger cars are expected to go for more than PS50,000. While commercial derivatives and later versions with smaller drive batteries might be more affordable, this car will never be as cheap as its technically simpler counterparts.

Even at this price, anyone who sees the appeal of the car will recognize it as a vehicle that can do things no other EVs can. While that may not make driving fun relative to other EVs, it will allow for a varied, active, and interesting lifestyle.

The car’s design is the most important aspect. It’s as close to the original Type 2 size and shape that VW can make in a safe, modern-looking family car that offers the space and comfort that other cars have.

After looking at the issue for a long time, the decision-makers of the company could have just shrugged off and put the car on the shelf for another decade. But they made the bolder choice to see if the VW Bus might be embraced by a new generation. We think they will, if they have the means.

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