Volkswagen I.D. Buzz First Drive
It’s electric, it’s super cool, and it’s finally, actually happening.
– Pebble Beach, California
With a maximum speed of 25 miles per hour, the Volkswagen I.D. Buzz is one of the slower cars cruising 17 Mile Drive in Pebble Beach during Monterey Car Week. Indeed, the lineup of cars trailing me increases with each passing minute, the bright yellow bus leading the way as I drive along the California shore. But it doesn’t matter. Everyone loves this thing – the folks behind me are holding smartphones out the window to snap a shot, and passersby shout “cool!” and smile. I’ve never received so many thumbs-up in one afternoon.
But what the hell am I doing driving a concept car along the beach? Its showcar tires restrict my speed, the whole bus rattling and trembling as I bounce over bumps in the pavement. No, there’s no real driving experience to talk about here, other than the fact that, yes, the I.D. Buzz can drive under its own power. The steering wheel is weird to hold, what with its rectangular shape, and there’s lots of weight in its action. The throttle and brake pedals feel stiff under my feet, but it’s not like I’m doing much of either, anyway. But hey, at least the turn signals work. Really, though, Volkswagen’s just letting me blast around in the Buzz to build, well, buzz, about its recent (and huge) announcement: the iconic VW bus is coming back.
Yes, by 2022 we should see a new Microbus in U.S. showrooms. It’ll be the third vehicle to launch under Volkswagen’s new electric family of cars, following the I.D. hatchback and I.D. Crozz CUV, both of which have already been confirmed for production. Volkswagen tells us it’s aiming for the production version to make good on the concept’s promise of 369 horsepower (275 kilowatts) and a driving range of around 270 miles. But for now, the hodge-podge concept I’m driving uses a version of the new e-Golf’s electric powertrain, simply because, well, it’s what’s currently available. “This thing was only ever intended to drive on and off a stage,” one Volkswagen representative reminds me.
But this isn’t just some far-away showcar; there are a few production-intent hints here. The size and shape, for example, are largely representative of what you’ll see on the road someday. Volkswagen tells me the width and height are about right, but the road-going car will be a little shorter in length, riding on the new MEB scalable architecture that’ll underpin the company’s new family of electric cars.
What’ll the production car look like? Your guess is as good as mine. I’ve seen Volkswagen pen several modern takes on the iconic bus shape over the years. The Bulli and Budd-e from recent years evolved into the I.D. Buzz you see today – details like headlights and taillights might change, but you can bet the shape will be pure Microbus (with as flat of a face as modern pedestrian crash standards will allow). Side-view cameras will evolve into mirrors; the huge, shiny wheels will be toned down and wrapped in real tires. My only request is that VW offers the production version in this exact shade of highlighter yellow, with matching interior accents.
Speaking of which, the interior will be just as cool and clever as it is on this concept, with a rear bench seat and lots of movable/reconfigurable pieces inside. In the concept, there’s a lounge style, almost couch-like two-seat setup at the rear, with an entertainment hub in the middle of the floor that houses an iPad with internet connectivity, and four USB ports to charge every passenger’s iPhone. You can also slide that module up, between the driver and front passenger seats, for easier access to infotainment controls when you don’t have friends kicking it in the back.
Sitting inside, there’s a commanding driving position, with an expansive windscreen right in front of you. Volkswagen says it wants the new bus to feel just like the old one, with a wraparound glasshouse design and a panoramic view of the world in front of you. If the width and height really does remain the same, expect ample shoulder- and headroom – the bus may have a relatively compact footprint, but there’s a generous amount of space inside.
Don’t get your hopes up for anything too futuristic, though. The rectangular steering wheel with flush-mounted, haptic buttons for the gear selector, turn signals, and other controls? Look for something a bit more conventional. What could happen, however, is the ability for the steering wheel to completely retract into the dashboard, allowing the driver’s seat to turn 180 degrees and face the rear passengers. Of course, that also means the Buzz concept’s I.D. Pilot autonomous drive function would need to happen. But, come on, by 2022, we really ought to have mobile lounges, right? It’s the future, guys.
But until the future becomes the present, so much of the production I.D. Buzz will remain a mystery. The good news is that it’s actually, definitely happening. And considering the hugely positive response that’s surrounded all of VW’s Microbus redux concepts over the years, I imagine this is one niche vehicle that’ll find plenty of happy customers here in the States. Pull out your wallets, California surf folk – Volkswagen’s coming for ya.