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First Drive

VW ID Buzz review: the electric van has landed

Published: 18 Feb 2022
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Hang about, is that a genuine ID Buzz paint job? VW really is going for the original hippy audience, isn’t it?

You wish – that’s just a camo job until Volkswagen officially reveals the new all-electric ID Buzz on 9 March. Don’t expect it to deviate too far from the concept though. Two tone paint will be available.

What’s the score then? Full camper van? seven seats?

Not just yet. Two versions will be available from launch, a five-seat ID Buzz and an ID Buzz Cargo with three seats across the front and a cavern behind. Other versions will follow, but not before 2024. Then we’ll get a long wheelbase version with more seating capacity and versatility, probably bigger batteries and a twin motor/4WD set-up, and the eagerly awaited California camper. If VW is intending to call it that.   

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So none of the cool stuff yet, just a five seat MPV?

That’s about the size of it. But compared to any other family car out there, this is going to look and feel very different. It stands a chance of making the MPV desirable, for a start.

The basics are as follows. It uses the same MEB platform as the ID.3 and ID.4, but that’s scaleable, so here it’s been lengthened, gaining a 2,988mm wheelbase that’s as long as the current Caravelle’s. There are sliding doors both sides. The powertrain is borrowed from the other IDs: a 77kWh battery feeding a 204bhp/228lb ft motor that drives the rear axle. VW hasn’t talked range yet, but expect somewhere around 220-230 miles. So 150 if you’re loaded and checking out the 90mph top speed – that’s what it’s limited to.

So the idea is that it’s the same size as a current T6 Caravelle?

Yeah, which is just as well, since the Caravelle is now being phased out. The Transporter and California versions will continue, but VW is pointing those wanting a combustion-engined people carrier at the new T7 Multivan now – which is based on the smaller MQB underpinnings. Seems like a curious decision to me.

Moving on. Although it has a Caravelle-matching wheelbase the overhangs are smaller so the Buzz is about 200mm shorter overall. It’s also 30mm lower but about 60mm wider. The full measurements are 4,712mm long, 1,937mm tall and 1,985mm wide.

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By SUV standards it’s massive inside. Where they have boots of around 600 litres, this musters 1,121 litres. It’s a big, square space. But it’s noticeably not as big as the Caravelle inside. The body frame is thicker, which is great for torsional stiffness and refinement, but cuts into interior space. And the three seats across the back are rather ordinary – just a 60:40 split bench. It does slide, fold flat and VW will offer a mattress to turn it into a pseudo-camper.

Why no pics of the cabin here? 

Because of that embargo. I could see most it, but the dash was covered by a shroud. The impression I got is that those travelling in the back will be happy enough – but the front seats are where it’s at. It’s the view forward that’s so compelling. The upright windscreen is a long way away, and bracketed by tall quarterlights – it’s like looking into a football goal. You feel surrounded by glass.

The driving position is more relaxed than a Caravelle, the steering comes out to you a bit more, you sit lower in relation to the pedals. There’s still armrests on both sides (a feature which helps make the Caravelle a very comfortable car to do distance in). A quick peek under the camo revealed a very cool dash arrangement with textured finishes and neat storage. There’s a removable multi-function chest between the front seats, but the chairs themselves do not spin round yet. Again, more functionality will come further down the line.

And that’s what I think is missing from the ID Buzz at the moment – a sense that it’s aimed at the sort of people who bought or converted T5/T6 vans because they are so useful and flexible. At the moment this feels like it’s aimed at more conventional family use. Get the big mainstream sales in before starting to specialise.

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Couple more things. You’ll no longer be able to carry bikes on a tailgate-mounted rack. The super-strong struts that allowed something like 50kg of load to be carried, have gone. The Buzz has an electric tailgate and the motors aren’t strong enough to push a rack into the air. Bikes then, will have to travel on a towbar rack. Notoriously tricky to open the tall tailgate when you have bikes on a towbar – hopefully VW will have a solution for that. And that towbar can only tow 1,100kg, where the old Caravelle could take 2,500kg.

You know a lot about this.

I own a T6. This stuff matters to me. But no-one ever bought a Caravelle for the quality of its powertrain. The reliability and economy of its diesel maybe, but not its smoothness or silence. Electric power is a revelation. Unlike sporting EVs this goes straight into the basket marked ‘cars that make sense with electric powertrains’. It’s everything you’d hope a family car, let alone a van, would be: effortlessly smooth, entirely silent, simple to manage, responsive and torquey.

And yes, 204bhp is enough. It has a diesel-beating turn of speed, the right amount of performance for a tall, upright family car. Quick enough that you don’t want more, slow enough that the acceleration isn’t getting ahead of the chassis and causing issues. I do wonder if the 145kmh (90mph) speed limit is quick enough. Especially for a car designed, built and sold in Germany…

And how does it handle?

Far more neatly than a Caravelle. In those, like most vans, all the weight is on the front wheels so you can maximise load space (tyre wear tends to be very uneven). The battery skateboard helps even out the weight distribution and lower the centre of gravity. As a result the Buzz is much neater, flatter and more controlled around corners. And there is something about this being rear wheel drive, like an original VW van – you do sense that you’re being pushed, rather than pulled, along. On this evidence it rides well and is a quiet cruiser. Oh, and an 11.0-metre turning circle is amazingly tight for a machine of this size.

Exactly what you want, then. Any issues worth reporting?

It uses the same universally criticised infotainment as the ID.3 and ID.4. However, this car was running a beta software version that will be fitted to production cars when they land in September. It was much more responsive and had better menu layouts. But it still doesn’t have illuminated sliders for the heating controls, so night time temperature adjustment is still, quite literally, a stab in the dark.

How about neat features?

You can charge it at home. Obviously. Or use it to charge your home. The Buzz will come with bi-directional charging allowing you to function as an energy storage device. Charge it on cheap electric then push that back into your home at peak times.

There will also be over-the-air software updates for the infotainment, charging procedures and driver assistance. But primarily the ID Buzz needs to tune in to the surf van vibe that made the original VW van such a hit. This should be travelling made fun.

But at what cost?

VW says that it’ll cost about the same as the Caravelle, which means a start point up beyond £50,000, so you’re potentially looking at £60k for a nicely specced family Buzz. But that’s where most SUVs are these days, let alone electric versions such as the Audi e-tron and Mercedes EQC, and historically VW vans have been far more depreciation proof.

Beyond the financials, doesn’t this look like a brighter, cleverer solution for the future? I’ve said this before, but could the ID Buzz signal the start of the SUV's demise? Could it kick start an automotive revolution in the same way as the original Renault Espace? It’s less pretentious, less aggressive and better at delivering the greatest luxury you can have in a family car – space. The electric age needs a new shape, a new style and here it is.

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