Volkswagen ID Buzz vs Tesla Model Y, Volvo XC90 & eDub classic T2 | Top Gear
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Volkswagen ID Buzz vs Tesla Model Y, Volvo XC90 & eDub classic T2

There’s no question the new Volkswagen ID.Buzz looks the part, but what about the rest? Time for a thorough investigation...

Published: 22 Mar 2023

Is it a good EV? vs Tesla Model Y

Say camper van and people think VW. Say EV and it’s Tesla: the Hoover or the Biro of electric vehicles. I’m not just talking about range and charging here, but also about the other stuff that electric power enables: packaging, comfort, dynamics. With the ID.Buzz, all this reflects its origin in a conservative 85-year-old German car company struggling with software. The Tesla too reflects its origin, in a radical 19-year-old California-born tech company that has struggled to come to terms with car manufacture and ergonomics.

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Photography: Olgun Kordal + Mark Riccioni / Words: Paul Horrell, Peter Rawlins & Ollie Kew

The Model Y is basically a tall Model 3, which means it’s low in drag and comparatively light. This AWD long range one has a 75kWh usable battery and two motors, and still it squeaks under two tonnes. The Volkswagen is half a tonne more, and it casts a very big, very square shadow. Pushing that through the air has a penalty. With us the VW did about 2.6 miles per kWh on a motorway in 10°C weather. The Tesla is narrower in the cabin, lower and more hawk shaped and was good for 3.3mpkWh at the same speed. That means a range of 200 miles for the VW and nearly 250 for the Tesla, though both would go further in mixed driving. This isn’t just about aero drag – the Model Y is also a bit more energy efficient than VW’s crossover, the ID.4.

Ignore the efficiency readouts and the Model Y can be also famously quick. Free of wheelspin you’re at 62mph in the low fives. The VW absorbs double that time. The Tesla still feels lively on the motorway, but in the VW you need ambitious anticipation to join a gap in outside lane traffic. Both have well modulated accelerator mapping so they’re graciously smooth to operate.

In a broad brush sense, the Tesla has cornering to match its power. Its steering is quick in ratio, but well damped, so you won’t be twitchy, and the well mannered body roll rate helps too. But it’s oddly joyless. Blame steering with no feel or engagement. Yet the suspension is far firmer and harsher than it needs to be, so it bangs and hops along. It’s a sporty SUV that isn’t. Tesla should have recognised it’ll mostly be driven rather less furiously. The Volkswagen soothes away all fury. OK, its steering is numb but it bids you enjoy the landscape not stress the tyres, riding on lovely supple suspension.

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Volkswagen ID Buzz

Despite its car platform, the ID.Buzz is packaged as a van. It’s a box. The windscreen is way ahead of you, your shins are near vertical and you sit tall – going eye to eye in your flower power EV with the compensators in their snorting AMG G63s. But your raised seat is mounted on a crude frame that steals legroom from the people behind. So the lower Tesla has more room for five people’s legs. The Model Y shows some amazing packaging nous actually, including of course the frunk/froot.

The VW’s calm and happy nature offsets the frustration of using its screen system. The latest version is better organised – the energy computer now sits permanently in the driver’s screen. But the touchscreen is still horribly laggy. The Tesla’s screen reacts instantly, and its graphics are sharply rendered in ultra cool monotone. I’m sure it looked terrific in the test lab. Yet it is absolutely diabolical to use in a moving car. There’s nowhere to rest your hand. The maps show light grey roads on a slightly less light grey background. Frequently used and urgently needed functions demand scuba-deep menu diving.

But it’s great at finding you a Supercharger. Lately Tesla has also opened a few of those to civilians who have the Tesla app, and that’s also trouble free, so we did a side by side test on 150kW Superchargers. Starting around 20 per cent on a cool evening, both the VW and the Tesla accepted around 145kW, and still 100kW past 50 per cent. Impressive.

The Tesla is faster and more efficient, but its driving experience is oddly hard to warm to. The VW relaxes you, because of the drive and the joyous design and habitability.

I’d choose it. Tesla has always been a cult. The Buzz will be too, if for very different reasons. 

Paul Horrell

Is it a fitting replacement for the original? vs eDub classic T2

“Guys, I’m struggling a bit,” comes the call over the radio from the 1972 Volkswagen Type 2, nicknamed ‘Solbrit’, that’s just rolled to a stop halfway up the hill ahead. Uh oh. This part of our ID.Buzz test could be over before it’s even begun.

We’re on the Wrynose Pass in the Lake District, headed towards the Hardknott Pass, one of the gnarliest and steepest roads in the UK. We wanted to face the Buzz off against its 20th century predecessor, by means of a hillclimb – no small task, with the Type 2’s original rear-mounted, air-cooled engine renowned for overheating when tackling even the slightest of gradients. Looks like it's living up to its reputation.

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But hold your horses, because at the wheel is Kit Lacey, founder of classic vehicle electrification company eDub Conversions. And the Type 2 he’s driving is no ordinary Type 2, having had a full heart transplant – and now running on electrons. Here we’ve got the top spec conversion kit with 53kWh battery, 93bhp electric motor, and 150ish-mile range, priced from £64,999. Cheap it isn’t.

Kit’s concerned because the constant start/stopping for photos is causing the electric motor’s temperature to spike. Fortunately, he’s brought his laptop along and wirelessly tweaks the settings so the fan switches on at a lower temperature. We roll back to level ground, get a good run up, and the challenge is back on.

Until we bump into traffic headed in the opposite direction, halfway up the even steeper climb to the summit of the Wrynose Pass. Though the temperature is now stable, Kit’s lost all momentum. He tweaks the eDub’s settings to maximise the power output, floors it, and finally makes it up and over.

Volkswagen ID Buzz

I’m following in the Buzz (77kWh/204bhp/258-mile range), where it’s fair to say that it’s breezing it so far. But it doesn’t come cheap either – the as-tested price of £65,465 makes it almost like-for-like with the eDub.

It’s not hard to see that VW has clearly riffed on the Type 2’s image with the Buzz, from the wraparound windscreen to the sliding side doors and fake cooling vents, but quirky styling apart it’s there that the similarities really end. While the ID.Buzz is currently little more than a glorified MPV, the Type 2 offers endless customisation options, with this one previously modified by its owner and fully roadtrip equipped. It’s a stark comparison.

The Hardknott Pass – and its 30 per cent inclines – soon looms into view. Kit waits to check the route is clear and then starts the ascent, before I set off in pursuit. The lofty driving position and light steering lends itself to the rutted single track road, and while the Buzz feels slightly cumbersome, you just have to trust your instincts, ignore the constant beeping from the proximity sensors, and go for it. Several twists and turns later, and we make it up and over the summit too.

A “completed it, mate” moment for both the ID.Buzz and the eDub then. On the return journey I jump at the opportunity to swap. The Type 2 is far more involving to drive, the heavy steering all in the shoulders and the brake pedal quite frankly a cramp risk, but there’s no denying the new electric gubbins have transformed the drive. The accelerator pedal is perkier compared with the progressive feel of the ID.Buzz, and its 0–62mph acceleration is swift enough.

Where to spend your £65k? There’s no denying the ID.Buzz’s quirkiness, and as a funky family runabout it’s got plenty of charm, but for an adventure like this the eDub feels the more authentic. Electric drive has given the Type 2 a new lease of life, improving on many of the original’s flaws, and secured its future in our new battery powered world. The Buzz isn’t quite a tailor- made replacement just yet, but I suspect its time will come.

Peter Rawlins

Is it practical family transport? vs Volvo XC90

If the ID.Buzz is to succeed as more than just a Pixar-faced novelty act propping up VW’s maligned ID range, then it needs to succeed not just as a credible EV and a £60,000 item, but as a family car. And the quintessential active outdoorsy family lifestyle vehicle is, without a shadow of a doubt, the Volvo XC90. It’s the least objectionable large premium SUV.

It’s 276 per cent less ‘powerfully built company director’ than a BMW X5. You might consider giving way to one as it indicates to depart Waitrose. It outwardly projects its mission – to look after your family, not sneer at other people’s. The Buzz is even more doe-eyed, and you’d imagine it’s also much better packaged. No bonnet to park, a taller tailgate – and a lower floor, freed of even the Volvo’s vanishing off-road pretensions. Except, on contact with the real world, the Buzz doesn’t emphatically hand the ageing Volvo its P45. It too has a raised floor, because of the underslung batteries, so the legroom isn’t generous. True, sliding rear doors are invaluable in a car park, but once aboard the Volvo’s more clearly annotated seat fold mechanisms are simply easier to tumble, and the view outward marginally superior.

Volkswagen ID Buzz

Plus the XC90 offers either a 1,007-litre boot, or two child-only rearmost seats, and still squeezes in a clever pop-up luggage divider to prevent the organic quinoa mushing into the desiccated squid. The ID.Buzz’s (admittedly vast) split level boot floor is less versatile, and the extended overhang seven-seater version that’ll make better use of this cavern is perhaps a year away. Up front the XC90 is ageing, but its 12-year-old touchscreen (which mistakenly contains the heater controls) is both less laggy and more intuitive than the very best VW can build you right now. It argues back that cubbies are the real currency in this market, with huge door bins and more charging ports, suspending any threat the family might have to talk to each other on the slog back from Calais. Volvo is about to supplement its XC90 range with the £100k EX90. But VW shouldn’t presume this is a natural changing of the home guard moment. The Buzz is a fab piece of exterior design, but not the Swiss Family Robinson army knife we’d hoped it was – yet.

Ollie Kew

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