Editor's choice
9 Sep 20

Driving impression VW ID3: the Beetle of its time

Never has a brand’s future depended so much on a single vehicle than in the case of VW and the long-awaited all-electric ID3, dubbed the Beetle of its time. Fleet Europe put a ‘1ST Edition’ model through its ambitious paces.

Volkswagen has one goal: to become Europe’s largest EV maker and outsell Tesla as fast as possible. It brings a spacious 5-door hatchback to the arena that is much more affordable – if you opt for the medium-sized battery – and less performance-oriented than the Model 3. Indeed, it’s more of a people’s car.

That’s not to say that a list price of at least €30k excluding VAT makes it a cheap car, or at least not “Beetle-cheap”. Things look a lot different, though, if you consider the tax advantages bestowed upon this all-electric car, not least in Germany. Unfortunately, in this ununited Europe, countries are not singing from the same hymn sheet and whether the TCO adds up is a very local matter.

Not a Golf

Aesthetically, the ID3 clearly expresses its VW DNA, but not without revisiting some of the brand’s style codes. It is 4.26 metres long, 1.8 metres wide and 1.58 metres tall and there is 2.77 of space between the front and rear axle. By way of comparison, the Golf’s numbers are 4.28, 1.79, 1.49 and 2.62. The boot capacity is nearly identical, namely 385 versus 381 litres.

The biggest differences are indeed to be found in the wheelbase (+15cm) and the vehicle height (+9cm). The ID3 is incredibly spacious on the inside thanks to this stretched wheelbase and the extreme interpretation of what Americans used to call a cab-forward design. The very short nose (which is filled with ancillaries and leaves no room for luggage) combined with a slightly higher driving position and a large windscreen translate into a pleasant feeling of airiness.

The dashboard looks minimalistic and crisp and is characterised by a human-machine interface that is nearly 100% digital. No iDrive controller or other physical buttons on the centre console – you must resort to the touch screen, which reacts to an approaching finger, but also requires you to divert your eyes from the road ahead. Some might miss a rotary switch for the radio volume and direct access to the climate control. The central display will remind some of an iPad, with its home button to the left and apps to control the various vehicle functions and settings.

Those who expect Golf material quality are bound to be disappointed, though. To save weight and no doubt costs, VW has opted for hard and thin plastics in the cabin, which do not live up to the brand’s reputation. Or is this a homage to the original Beetle’s modesty? Frankly, the Renault Zoë and Opel Corsa-e make a better impression. That doesn’t alter the fact that the build quality is satisfactory and that you feel right at home.

Silence and comfort
Turn the BMW i3-like gear selector at the steering wheel to the D position and off you go. Digital keys stored in a smartphone are not yet available, but VW is working on it. The same goes for many of the other connectivity features – software issues have delayed the launch, but VW decided to release the first vehicles anyway and update them over the air later.

As you would expect from a 150kW motor, accelerations are vigorous and smooth, without however being as aggressive as aboard the Mini Electric or BMW i3. The main USP of this VW ID3 is unquestionably the quality of the soundproofing. Noise coming from the tyres and suspension are absorbed very well – perhaps thanks to the insulating properties of the battery pack in the floor. Aerodynamic vibrations hardly get a chance to penetrate the cabin either, making this one of the most silent vehicles we have ever driven.

The suspension is comfort-oriented, too, without making the car bouncingly reproduce irregularities in the road surface. The steering feels artificial and slightly vague, at least more so than the brakes. You can choose between two drive modes D (for Drive) and B (for Brake). In the first case, the vehicle will coast when you lift your foot off the pedal, which is ideal on motorways and open roads. In the second case, releasing the accelerator results in a strong braking action caused by the electric motor, which then acts as a generator to recover as much energy as possible. You still have to depress the brake pedal in the end, though – it’s not like the Nissan Leaf’s e-pedal.

Electric performance
Today, the ID3 is only available with the medium-sized battery, which contains 58kWh of lithium ion cells.  We drove our test car for 150km, half of which was motorway, a quarter was spent in the city and the remainder consisted of inter-urban roads without too much traffic. The trip computer indicated 17.8kWh/100km, which means 300km should be feasible with a full charge.

Interestingly, the ID3’s Eco Assistant not only prompts you to take your foot off the accelerator to save power, it also increases brake energy recuperation if you comply and there is a vehicle in front. Indeed, it leverages data from the front radar. The same applies when the adaptive cruise control is activated. The Eco Assistant also recuperates energy proactively by taking into account topographic and other information from the sat nav (hills, corners, roundabouts, speed limits). This increases the actual range even more.      

As to the “physical” charging at home or at the office: this can be done at 11kW if you have three phase alternating current. To fully top up the 58kWh battery you need roughly 6 hours. If you use single phase AC, you should add 3 hours to this time. Should you wish to use a DC fast charger, the ID3 will keep you waiting for half an hour to get its state of charge back to 80%, provided that the charger produces 100kW. All pretty standard stuff.

Yes, the Volkswagen ID3 ticks all the boxes as a company car and it does offer all the features you expect from a brand-new BEV model. But no, the ID3 is not the Beetle of its time, nor is it the Golf of the 21st Century for that matter. Still, if Volkswagen plays its cards right – for instance by helping their corporate customers to transition to e-mobility with a 360° approach, it may very well outperform the Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model 3 combined.    

Identity Card:

Volkswagen ID.3

58kWh 1St Edition

Power:

150kW/204PS

Transmission:

Single reduction, rear-wheel drive

Battery size:

58kWh

Maximum torque:

310Nm

0-100 km/h:

7,6s

Top speed:

160km/h

Average power consumption during test:

17,8kWh/100 km

Estimated range during test:

300km

Authored by: Dieter Quartier