What we learned driving VW’s new electric ID Buzz


a green and white ID Buzz, an orange and white ID Buzz, and a yellow and white VW ID Buzz parked underneath a dock crane
Enlarge / Volkswagen won’t reveal the US-spec ID Buzz for another year, but it invited us to drive the European version, which it has just launched.

Jonathan Gitlin

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—Few vehicles in the time we’ve been covering the industry have attracted—or sustained—quite the level of interest as Volkswagen’s ID Buzz. Part realization of two decades’ worth of concept cars and teases, part apology for dieselgate, it’s an electric minivan with retro-cool styling, built on a solid electric vehicle platform. US-spec ID Buzzes are still some way off—we won’t get the Buzz until 2024—but in the meantime, VW asked if we’d be interested in trying out the two-row, European-spec model, which is just about to go on sale the other side of the Atlantic.

Boxy microbuses have been a part of the VW lineup since 1949’s original Type 2, also known as a T1, Kombi, or Transporter. As time went on, the buses evolved to be more angular, and they eventually started to look like any other minivan. But as VW found with the Beetle concept in 1994, there’s a lot of affection out there for its early designs.

The first retro-looking revival attempt was a 2001 concept called the Microbus. This was before people realized you could daisy-chain immense amounts of laptop batteries together to make a viable electric vehicle, so the 2001 Microbus concept would have been powered by VW’s internal combustion engines—most commonly its ubiquitous and cheaty diesels, no doubt.

VW has kept the Microbus' charm intact for the production ID Buzz.
Enlarge / VW has kept the Microbus’ charm intact for the production ID Buzz.

Jonathan Gitlin

Ten years later, a less gainly concept called Bulli followed; it was smaller and had conventional rear doors, only two rows of seats, and a more pronounced nose and engine bay, but theoretically, it would be made as a battery EV or a conventionally powered vehicle. With a 102-inch wheelbase, it was too small for the US market, and 2011-era EV technology would have meant Nissan Leaf-like specs and performance.

In 2016, VW showed off a concept minibus called BUDD-e, but the more interesting announcement at the time was a new modular platform for electric vehicles, similar in concept to the modular architectures that VW Group brands have used to such good effect. By this time, VW’s legal woes with regulators in the US and elsewhere were headed toward a conclusion, one where VW transformed itself into an EV powerhouse, paying hefty fines and setting up Electrify America along the way.

So what better way to garner some positive press than by giving the crowd what it wants? Ars first met the ID Buzz at the 2017 Detroit Auto Show; it was still in concept form, complete with a maglev gnome on the dashboard. Public reaction was overwhelming, and unlike the later ID Buggy concept, a business case was clear—the ID Buzz was green-lit for production.

The Buzz attracted plenty of attention and many questions whenever we parked.
Enlarge / The Buzz attracted plenty of attention and many questions whenever we parked.

Jonathan Gitlin

US-bound ID Buzzes won’t arrive until 2024, as getting the ID.3 and ID.4 out the factory doors has been a higher priority. In fact, we won’t even see the US model until next year. But the chance to spend a day driving the shorter-wheelbase, two-row EU version was too hard to pass up.

Underneath that eye-catching body is a similar electric powertrain to the ID.4. That means a 201-hp (150-kW) permanent magnet synchronous motor driving the rear wheels, powered by a 77 kWh (useable, 82 kWh gross) lithium-ion battery pack mounted under the cabin floor and between the axles.

The ID Buzz’s drag coefficient is a decent 0.285, but there’s no getting around its large frontal area, so that translates to a WLTP range of up to 263 miles (432 km); for context, an ID.4 has a WLTP range of 333 miles (537 km) versus an EPA range of 275 miles (443 km). Over the course of a day’s driving, we averaged 3 miles/kWh (20.9 kWh/100 km), which would equate to 231 miles (372 km) on a full charge.

We didn’t test recharging, but the ID Buzz can accept a DC fast charge of up to 170 kW, which should return the battery to 80 percent in 30 minutes. At 11 kW, an AC charge from 0 to 100 percent state of charge takes about 7.5 hours.

A black steering wheel is a much better idea for a family car than the white wheel we saw back in March.
Enlarge / A black steering wheel is a much better idea for a family car than the white wheel we saw back in March.

Jonathan Gitlin

From the driver’s seat, you have a widescreen view of the world, as the split A pillars minimize blind spots. But you sit relatively far back from the windshield—blame the need for impact-absorbing crash structures—and that means the roof can cause a bit of a letterbox effect. But it’s still a very easy vehicle to place on the road or park despite being relatively wide at 78.1 inches (1,985 mm). (The mirrors add almost 10 inches to the width.) That width and the ID Buzz’s massive greenhouse conspire to make for a roomy cabin when you’re sitting up front.

Our test Buzz ditched the first edition’s white steering wheel and infotainment system for more practical black versions, but otherwise, it was much the same as the preproduction model we filmed in Los Angeles back in March. I should note that VW’s MIB infotainment system seems snappier than in the last car I drove, with noticeable improvements in swiping between screens and apps. However, the voice recognition prompt was a little too sensitive, often interrupting our conversation after mishearing and thinking my driving partner or I had just said its trigger phrase, “hello ID.”

The three-dimensional plywood on the dash reminds me of the BMW i3 (in a good way), as does the simple main instrument display and drive mode selector. And tech nerds will be gratified to see so many USB-C ports arrayed around the cabin—I counted at least eight altogether. There’s a 230 V AC outlet under the rear seats.