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The VW ID Buzz Is Microbus Nostalgia Done Right: First Drive



I got to drive Volkswagen’s new ID Buzz electric van twice this summer, and it’s a good thing I had a second go. While these days VW is known for cars like the GTI, the ID.4 EV, a couple of decent crossovers, and a certain emissions scandal, there are two Volkswagens that evoke undeniable love and nostalgia: The Bug and Bus. Volkswagen has already had its second and third coming of the Beetle, but we’ve been without a Bus for eons. In fact, the automaker has been teasing microbus concepts for decades. In the region I call home — California and Oregon — you still see a jillion examples of the old-school Bus running around, kept up with pride.

Catch a classic first-gen microbus, also known as the Type 2 or T1 (I know, it’s confusing), and there’s no denying the design still looks fantastic. Decades on, these gems continue to be associated with a particular lifestyle, and as far as allure, they’re packing it. See a clean one roll by and I dare you not to turn your head. So how does the new ID Buzz stack up?

Image for article titled The VW ID Buzz Is Microbus Nostalgia Done Right

Photo: Matthew Askari

The first time I drove the Buzz was at the German Car of the Year test fest in July. If you geek on cars, this is a dreamy couple of days, with a bevy of new vehicles available for short loop drives. The fleet this year was full of winners — including forbidden fruit for American drivers, like the unreasonably seductive Hyundai Staria van and smize-inducing Toyota GR Yaris.

Because there’s a lot of buzz surrounding Buzz, I made sure to take it on a long loop. Then I drove it again the next day. It’s actually the only car I drove twice among the 20 or so vehicles I sampled that week.

To be forthright, I’m a bit of a VW fanboy. I only recently sold my Mk IV Golf 1.8T because it was sitting around far too much (and I already regret that). I routinely cite the 89-hp, four-speed Mk 1 GTI as one of the most fun cars I’ve ever driven. I even have a white Tiguan that I’ve named Tiggy Snow for my snowboard mountain adventures and road trips, and I’m not embarrassed to say I love it. I recently discovered that I need a VW T4 van in my life. I really don’t, but really, I do.

Image for article titled The VW ID Buzz Is Microbus Nostalgia Done Right

Photo: Matthew Askari

But what about the Buzz? My first impression was that it had a fun, playful exterior. Attractive, modern, clean. The interior gave off a similar vibe. It was airy, with considered ergonomics, and it felt fresh. This ID Buzz was a two-row, short-wheelbase model, a variant that won’t be imported to the U.S.

I drove it to Mücke, I breezed through country roads, and I took it on the autobahn. Acceleration was linear, but far from motivated. It never feels fast — count to ten and you’ll just about hit 60 mph. I suppose that’s okay — it’s a van, and the original Bus was a noted slowpoke, even when all of its 60-some horses could be cajoled into service. But the Buzz is quick enough to maneuver on the highway, and surprisingly agile. It also boasts a tremendously tight turning radius.

Image for article titled The VW ID Buzz Is Microbus Nostalgia Done Right

Photo: Matthew Askari

It’s possible that I came into the Buzz with unfair expectations. I had just been driving the Kia EV6 GT earlier that day — a dual-motor EV cranking out 576 hp, that easily blasted to 140 mph on the autobahn, emitting Jetsonian propulsion sounds. But then again, that same day I also drove the Aiways 5, a crossover from a Chinese EV upstart. Shockingly, Aiways plans to bring this vehicle to the U.S., and if that were to happen, it would instantly become the worst car on sale in our country.

But I digress. Buzz has two drive modes, D and B, the latter allowing for near one-pedal driving, which I like. The electric drivetrain is the same one found in the other ID models, a 150-kW motor powered by an 82-kWh (77 kWh useable) lithium-ion battery pack. In the Buzz, this setup makes 204 hp, though U.S. customers will be able to spec dual-motor all-wheel drive with a total of 295 hp and 339 lb-ft of torque. The single-motor European Buzz gets about 260 miles of range, and charge from 5 percent to 80 percent in around 30 minutes on an ultra-fast 170-kW charger. The dual-motor U.S. version will likely have 300-some miles of range, but we won’t know for sure until the U.S. version debuts next year, ahead of deliveries in 2024.

Image for article titled The VW ID Buzz Is Microbus Nostalgia Done Right

Photo: Matthew Askari

It’s not that I was disappointed with my first snapshot of the Buzz. My impression was that it was a good effort, one that would sell well, but I wasn’t sure it felt as special as it needs to be. The old-school Bus has fantastical allure built in: The sound of a zippo flicking shut; catching a crescent moon peeking through parting clouds in the corner of the windshield; a dip in a shimmering lake; sleeping under thin sheets surrounded by forest. The Bus is a vehicle people have lived in, a machine that helps its owners truly live. Can you get that from a Buzz?

My second go with the Buzz was at a VW event for automotive journalists in Copenhagen, Denmark. The strategic location for this launch resonates. Denmark is often able to harness all of its energy needs from renewables. If EVs are to be truly green, we need a green grid. There’s already a large carbon footprint when it comes to battery production, amid other concerns, but it’s important to note we’re in the infancy of this shift, and in theory, there’s a lot of technology in development that will make this whole thing more viable.

This time, with an entire day to spend with the Buzz, I got to appreciate a few details I hadn’t picked up on the first time. Settling in, I notice how cushy the seats are. They’re comfy, the kind you won’t mind sitting on for longer drives. The optional 12-inch touchscreen seems nicer than the ones on other ID models, though it was a little buggy. The voice activation also repeatedly kept chiming in randomly, or asking for commands in the middle of my conversation with passengers.

Image for article titled The VW ID Buzz Is Microbus Nostalgia Done Right

Photo: Matthew Askari

There are plenty of clever storage compartments, and there are thin, foldable trays in the front seatbacks, like you’d find on an airplane, perfect for snacking. The second row seats proved to be comfortable as well, and can slide about six inches forward or back.

From a design standpoint, VW was also able to keep some of the spirit of the original Bus, with its incredibly short overhangs, but part of this is an optical illusion. When you’re in the driver’s seat, you’re actually quite far from the front of the car, but with the big panoramic windshield and a cascading dash hiding some of the bulk in front of you, you don’t realize it. Partly owing to that windshield—and cutouts behind the A-pillar — visibility is fantastic.

The Buzz is also loaded with nifty easter eggs. The center console is fully removable should you wish to use that space; when installed, look closer and you’ll notice the dividers double as an ice scraper and a bottle opener. The sixth-gen Euro-spec Golf R had a bottle opener, but somewhere along the way VW ditched it for the U.S. market. If they don’t bring these things to the U.S.-spec Buzz, please roast VW with all of your might — these little details are incredibly handy, and the bottle opener is especially welcome when camping, tailgating, or just lounging somewhere scenic.

Image for article titled The VW ID Buzz Is Microbus Nostalgia Done Right

Photo: Matthew Askari

Image for article titled The VW ID Buzz Is Microbus Nostalgia Done Right

Photo: Matthew Askari

Look down in the footwell and you’ll notice the accelerator and brake pedals have “play” and “pause” symbols on them, another playful touch. There are unique materials — and plenty of hard plastics — on the interior, but the styling helps it pull off a premium aesthetic. There are packages, at least in Europe, that offer a flat-floor insert with storage compartments underneath, perfect for setting up a mattress. There’s also a QUQUO out-of-the-box kitchen, bed, and storage all-in-one unit that VW had on display. Again, we don’t know if any of this will make it stateside, but stuff like this embodies the spirit of the VW microbus.

On that note however, the U.S. is only slated to get a three-row version of the Buzz, about a foot longer than the Euro-spec model I drove. I’m sure the powers that be did their due diligence to find the best product for our market, but it seems like a missed opportunity to exclusively target large families with a product that seems ideal for the young, active buyers every automaker is obsessed with.

Image for article titled The VW ID Buzz Is Microbus Nostalgia Done Right

Photo: Matthew Askari

My Euro-spec Buzz had two-tone paint, which will be standard on the forthcoming U.S. model — a white roof over a selection of warm body colors. VW’s designers did a great job of merging a retro aesthetic into a fully modern electric minivan. In fact, I can’t remember a car that turned so many heads everywhere I went, or garnered so many smiles and thumbs-ups. There’s an instant emotional connection with the Buzz. Cyclists on Copenhagen’s many bike paths looked the van up and down. Beachgoers near Malmo, Sweden pointed and waved. It’s the kind of dream scenario every designer envisions for their car, but only a few modern vehicles actually pull it off.

The VW ID Buzz won’t arrive in the U.S. for at least another year and a half, but when it does, it will instantly be the most attractive van on sale. A pricier dual-motor version should offer a quicker Buzz. Entry-level models are expected to begin around $55,000, and you’ll be able to comfortably add ten grand to that for dual-motor all-wheel drive and other upgrades. While at present we’re only slated to receive the three-row version, I hope VW will keep the rich adventure-van spirit of the Bus alive, and offer the smaller, more youthful version as well.

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