2024 Volkswagen ID.Buzz Microbus reinterprets the iconic original
Automakers often invite us to drive prototype versions of future models, but we’re hesitant to accept those offers. Reviewing an unfinished car is necessarily unfinished, especially since we’re inevitably told that anything we don’t like is certain to be changed before the official launch.
But there was no way we would say no to this one, even though it’s a pre-production vehicle that won’t reach our shores for another two years and a quite different European version. of the American model. Because beneath the psychedelic disguise hides the new Volkswagen bus we’ve been waiting for since the Vanagon was retired in 1991.
Volkswagen hinted at several hints of the bus’s return during those years, including the Microbus concept at the 2001 Detroit auto show. But it was the ID.Buzz shown at Detroit in 2017 that presaged the version of production, an EV microbus that will be based on the same Modular EV Platform (MEB) that underpins the Volkswagen ID.4 and Audi Q4 e-tron.
The European-spec prototype was only partially representative of the bus that will arrive in the United States. It was a commercial van rather than a people carrier, with a bulkhead behind the front seats separating the cargo area entirely; all of ours will be passenger versions. It was also based on the shorter 117.6-inch wheelbase that will be offered in Europe, while the plan is to only bring the longer wheelbase variant to America. The US version will also have a larger battery than the prototype’s 77.0 kWh unit.
Don’t worry, the excited anticipation is always warranted. The route began at the Volkswagen Group’s UK headquarters in Milton Keynes, an English town built in the 1970s on once green fields. It has a grid street layout designed by a Berkeley-based city planner with roundabouts at every intersection (a very English touch). It’s a great place to learn about understeer or, in this case, the ID.Buzz’s impressive resilience.
The ID.Buzz’s MEB architecture means a lot is familiar, although the Buzz’s interior shape and dimensions prove just how adaptable an architecture is when it’s not necessary to accommodate a vertical engine. bulky. Battery depth has an obvious effect on floor height, but otherwise the vehicle feels incredibly roomy, translating a high percentage of its 185.5-inch length into interior space. We’re told the US-spec versions will all have three rows of seats.
The prototype used what will be the entry-level powertrain consisting of a single electric motor driving the rear wheels – the Vanagon would be delighted if its successor remained with the same driving wheels. Like the ID.4, it develops 201 horsepower and 229 lb-ft of torque. Volkswagen engineers say an all-wheel-drive version using a second motor to power the front axle will also be offered. Beyond the basic dimensions, few details have been released, although we’re told that all versions of the ID.Buzz will have a top speed limit of 90mph. The short-wheelbase variant has an incredibly nimble turning radius of just over 35 feet.
Despite the modest powertrain specs for an EV, the ID.Buzz is quicker and snappier than its air-cooled ancestors, getting off the line quickly with smooth throttle inputs. It’s not a rocket; we would estimate a time of 60 mph in under 9 seconds. Acceleration decreases as speed increases, and an exploratory run to the 90mph limit confirmed that it takes a long time to arrive. Cruising at 75mph, however, the ID.Buzz felt entirely blissful – something no one ever said of the Vanagon or its predecessors.
While few ID.Buzz buyers expect the athleticism of a sports car, the prototype chassis performed well when pushed. Even in tight, fat corners, there were few clues to the rear-engine and rear-wheel-drive layout, with the stability control intervening invisibly to regain lost traction. The front end wasn’t quick to give up grip either, sticking resolutely to a chosen line despite the VW winter tires fitted for our ride.
While the near-silence of the powertrain was unsurprising, the continued silence as speed increased was unexpected. Vans are rarely quiet companions given their size and lack of soundproofing, but even in its cargo configuration the ID.Buzz remained quiet with only a slight wind noise disturbing the tranquility while cruising. Ride quality also impressed given the commercial-grade underpinnings, though there was a slight float on larger undulations that would likely be calmed with some payload on board. The prototype’s 18-inch wheels, the smallest available, likely contributed to the ride quality. Volkswagen says sizes up to 21 inches will be offered.
There’s not much to say about the Buzz’s interior just yet, as the prototype’s dashboard and door panels were largely disguised. We could see that it has the same user interface as the ID.4 with the combination of a touchscreen in the dashboard and a smaller screen behind the steering wheel. Unfortunately, it also has the same very sensitive HVAC controls, positioned so that they can be inadvertently activated when using the center display.
Yet many smart features work quietly. What initially looked like inconsistent regenerative braking turned out to be ID.Buzz varying the level to match speed when approaching restrictions or intersections. We’re also promised that the finished car will support the upcoming Plug & Charge technology, which will allow cars to communicate directly with chargers to eliminate the need for cards or apps. We don’t have any official range figures yet, but the engineering team says they’d be happy with a rating of 250 miles under the European WLTP test protocol, a distance that the largest battery pack should be able to supply under the stricter EPA standard. We haven’t been given a maximum charging speed either, but are confident fast DC charging will be supported (the ID.4 supports rates of up to 125 kilowatts).
The hippie cred of the original Volkswagen bus makes the new a worthy recipient of an EV powertrain; there will never be a combustion version. VW attempted to electrify the original, creating a unique concept in 1972 that fitted a Type 2 van with 21.6kWh of lead-acid batteries, which filled most of the cargo area and powered a 42hp motor . It had a top speed of 46 mph, unacceptably slow even by the lesser standards of that era. This one didn’t deserve to make production, but the ID.Buzz definitely does. We are eagerly awaiting the final version.
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