Volkswagen ID. First test of the Buzz prototype: here is your van

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This is it — it’s the VE we’ve been waiting for. This is the production version of the Volkswagen ID.Buzz concept, which is called ID. Buzz (mind the gap, as the Brits say), and it’s a modern take on the iconic rear-engined bus that’s zigzagged across America for decades. This 21st century hippie van hasn’t been fully unveiled yet, we won’t see it without the psychedelic camouflage until March 9, but I’ve traveled to England to spend some time behind the wheel of a pre-production model and get a better idea of ​​whether the wait and the hype was worth it.

years of preparation

Volkswagen introduced the ID.Buzz as a concept at the 2017 Detroit Auto Show. Futuristic in appearance and adorned with LEDs, the retro-inspired van was part of a series of ongoing design studies created to preview the different directions in which the Wolfsburg-based company can take its modular MEB platform. . Among others, we saw the 2016 IDENTIFIER. concept, which became the ID.3 hatchback, the ID.Buggy that I drove in California, and most recently the ID.Life built to preview an electric crossover suitable for the city, the release of which is tentatively scheduled for 2025.

On a secondary level, the ID.Buzz also stood out as the latest in a long line of concept cars that explored what a modern version of the Bus (which was officially called Type 2) might look like. Wander through the Volkswagen archives department and you’ll come across concepts like the Microbus (2001), Bulli (2011) and BUDD-e (2016). None of these vans reached production; Buzz is the exception to the rule.

What took so long? Volkswagen told me that its engineers had to overcome several hurdles before they could make a modern bus a reality. The term “iconic” gets thrown around a lot in the automotive industry, but the old bus really deserves it; that is, with the original Beetle and the original Mini, one of the most recognizable cars ever built. Channeling that DNA into a pickup truck that can be mass-produced and sold worldwide in 2022 was easier said than done, and Volkswagen took its time because it couldn’t afford to mess it all up. This meant making the front end as flat as possible, like that of the original model, without ending up with a setup where the people sitting in front are the crumple zone.

A peek through the camouflage reveals some of the changes designers have made to the Buzz since 2017. front shocks got a new, more production-friendly look. to her. Walk around to the side and you’ll see door handles, which the design study didn’t have, while the rear gets bigger lights linked by a light bar. The overall proportions, however, have not changed. The Buzz remains tall, boxy and an homage to the Type 2 without being completely retro. It’s not as heritage as, say, the New Beetle that went into production in 1997, but it’s also a lot more interesting to look at than your average van.

Inside, well… it’s forbidden at the moment. You wouldn’t be far off the mark if you assumed the Buzz packs at least the same amount of tech as Volkswagen’s other electric cars, like the ID.4 crossover, and that its interior is at least as spacious as its proportions. box shape suggest. Driving aids are also part of the package, and the Buzz will be used to test autonomous technology in Hamburg, Germany, from 2025. Volkswagen told me it could have easily added one, but chose not to in order to keep the front overhang as short as possible.

Van life meets city life

Here is where we come to a fork in the road. I drove two versions of the ID. Buzz, a five-seat passenger van and a cargo van, and neither is coming to the United States. We’ll have a long-wheelbase model that will look like the European model except for the larger footprint, which hasn’t been unveiled yet. It is expected to offer three rows of seats, although official details remain scarce.

That said, the standard-sized Buzz is 185.5 inches long, 76.3 inches tall, and 78.1 inches wide. For context, it’s about as long as a Tiguan but 10 inches taller and about five inches wider. His weight has not yet been released. Power comes from a rear-mounted motor that draws electricity from an 82-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery to zap the rear wheels via 201 horsepower and 229 pound-feet of torque. Vary? Volkswagen says it should be “similar to ID models with the same battery,” or about 250 miles. Two-way charging will be available, so the van can store juice from solar panels during the day and re-inject it in your house.

Behind the wheel, the Buzz is unlike any van I’ve ever driven, including the original Bus, which I owned (and loved!) as a college student 15 years ago. This is interesting because, on the one hand, you to know you are in a van. It’s roomy, almost cavernous, in a way that even the biggest SUVs on the market could only dream of. And yet, it is surprisingly easy to drive. It’s fast thanks to the motor’s instant torque, it’s quiet and linear like almost all electric cars, and one of the most unexpected features is that it turns like a little hatchback. There’s no motor between the front wheels, so Volkswagen managed to dial in a 35-foot turning radius; that’s on par with an eighth-generation Golf. Turn the steering wheel and it goes on, and on…and on. This is a feature that simplifies driving a van in tight urban areas.

It’s also not as heavy as many vans on the market. This is down to the battery: it’s the heaviest part of the car (it weighs over 1,000 pounds in the ID.4) and is mounted directly under the cabin to keep the center of gravity low. . These features make the Buzz fun. Not in the sense of a Miata on a twisty road, but in the sense that it feels nice because it feels more nimble than it is. The regenerative braking system allows one-pedal driving, but can be disabled with a switch near the steering wheel if you prefer to use the brake pedal. It’s on or off; there is no in-between setting for drivers who just want a little regeneration.

Towing and payload check in at around 2,200 pounds and 1,289 pounds, respectively, which admittedly isn’t much. Equipping one as a camper or pulling a small trailer shouldn’t be a problem, but don’t expect to tow your old Beetle to the next swap encounter with a Buzz.

Here is your van

Volkswagen will start building the passenger and freight variants of the ID. Buzz in Hanover, Germany in the first half of 2022, with the first units expected to arrive in dealerships across Europe before the end of the year. Pricing has not yet been released. The long-wheelbase model that will be sold in the United States will be unveiled soon, and expect to see it in showrooms in 2024 at the latest. Will it be a volume model? Not by any stretch of the imagination. But if there’s one car that can make America fall in love with vans all over again, it’s this one.

Guessing that different battery sizes and dual-motor all-wheel drive will be available at some point in production wouldn’t get us too far into the game of hopscotch speculation. It is a modular platform, after all, and leveraging it makes economic sense. More space between the wheels means more space for battery cells, but nothing has been announced at the time of writing.

Haven’t we been here before?

In our market, the original Bus was exclusively available with an air-cooled flat-four engine. And yet electrification was already on Volkswagen’s mind in the 1970s, largely because of the rising cost of oil. Several battery-powered prototypes were built, and 10 of them were purchased by the Electric Power Research Institute and assigned to the Tennessee Valley Authority for testing under various conditions. Below, these experimental vans resembled the standard production model except for powertrain-specific graphics, cooling vents added to the sliding doors to control battery temperature, and a charging port installed next to the powertrain. rear driver’s side. light.

Examining the spec sheet reveals how far electrical technology has come in recent decades. Power for the electric bus came from 72 lead-acid batteries placed under a raised floor and a motor bolted to a four-speed manual transmission locked in second gear. The riders had 23 horsepower under their right foot, which was enough for a top speed of 43 mph. Range checked out at around 25 miles in ideal conditions, although prototypes were fitted with a primitive brake energy recovery system and the battery could be replaced.

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