2023 VW ID Buzz First Drive Review: The Bus Is Back as a Stellar, Retro-Chic Electric Van
The new electric van is cute without being tacky, and it drives better and more comfortably than the old versions.
The VW van wasn’t cool until it was cool. My uncle had one and he was the opposite of cool. It was even somehow less cool when he put a Porsche engine in it because it didn’t make it any faster. He was a music teacher, too, which is the professional embodiment of uncool when you’re a kid. (That is, until you’re 10 years out of school and realize just how cool that teacher was.) Hashtag "vanlife” wasn’t cool to begin with, either. I did that. For weeks, I ate, slept, and showered in a van, and that was hardly cool. What was cool? Getting into Arches National Park before the crush of German tourists staying across the street at the Holiday Inn in Moab, Utah. Also cool: The 2023 Volkswagen ID Buzz van that VW offered me the chance to drive.
It’s not every day I’m asked to drive a car with so much expectation, anticipation, and excitement that it may as well have Manning as its last name. But VW finally got the plot, I thought. It only took 20 years of making sedans and wagons that were fundamentally good, but also about as fun as math.
“If it weren’t for the ID Buzz cargo van, we couldn’t make the passenger van,” the automaker said. Oh, so sensibility hasn’t left the VW chatroom, after all. How uncool.
2023 Volkswagen ID Buzz Review Specs
- U.S. price: TBA
- Powertrain: 77-kWh lithium-ion battery | 1-speed transmission | rear-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 201 (150 kW)
- Torque: 228 lb-ft (310 Nm)
- 0-62 mph: 10.2 seconds
- Seating capacity: 5
- Cargo capacity: 40 cubic feet (1,121 liters)
- Curb weight: 5,447 pounds (2,471 kg)
- EPA fuel economy: TBA
- Quick take: The VW ID Buzz has charm for days, and will be the chic pick in school carpool lines soon. It helps that it’s a competent EV underneath its Microbus-inspired exterior.
- Score: 8/10
The Passenger Version
A few housekeeping measures before we get started: the VW ID Buzz I drove was similar, but not identical, to the version we’ll get in the United States. First, the one I drove in Copenhagen is about 10 inches shorter overall than the van we’ll get, and only had two rows of seating—we’ll get a three-row version in the U.S. Second, Volkswagen doesn’t want to tell us a U.S. price. (Never a good thing.) And third, Copenhagen has the best Southern BBQ in the world.
Before complaining about all three points, I already know what you’re going to say: You didn’t really expect the ID Buzz to be cheap, right? Just look at it. It’s the only car made in the last decade that I can remember that actually looks happy. The ID Buzz is so happy, it’s cool. VW can charge us an arm and a leg after the last miserable two years and we’ll pay up to the tune of $60,000 or more.
Volkswagen worked long and hard on cute without tackiness; a lesson it learned from the New Beetle. The ID Buzz has all the charm of the old Microbus, with some to spare. It has neat Easter eggs all over—like smiley faces in the door panels and a bottle opener for a center console divider. All the ID Buzzes we’ll get Stateside will be two-tone, at least initially. They’ll have roughly the same looks, but a little more trunk for your junk.
Allegedly, those who’ve seen the long version say it’s the one that looks the coolest. I say anyone who’s seen the short version forgot what big looks like. Stretching nearly 15.5 feet from end to end and nearly 10 feet from hub to hub, the European VW Bus Lite is a big drink.
Inside, there’s room for up to four passengers and a driver, with almost 40 cubic feet of cargo room behind two rows of seats. Although, you may want to make sure those relegated to the second row are shorter than six feet.
VW leans hard into green for its all-electric bus. Hardly the first time “green” and “VW van” have appeared together in the same sentence, but the automaker’s sincerity and dedication are apparent in the ID Buzz. The upper door panels and dash are very pleasant—however unconvincing—natural-look materials. It’s the kind of stuff found at IKEA that you just know isn’t real maple, but ultimately is just as nice as the real McCoy.
Ditto for the seats that are shod only in sustainable cloth and natural materials, clad with a geometric pattern that looks so “this came from a lab,” they’re practically wearing white coats.
The VW ID Buzz is clearly cute and wears its eco-smart rep on its sleeves but doesn’t reek of kitsch. I like it.
Of course, the party trick now is a silent powertrain, which couples a 77-kWh battery to a 201-horsepower electric motor on the rear axle to drive a van that weighs more than 2.5 tons, according to VW’s scales. If that sounds to you like a recipe for slow, you’re right. VW estimates the ID Buzz accelerates from a standstill to 62 mph in more than 10 seconds—and frankly, that feels optimistic. Granted, there are slower cars on the road, and the VW ID Buzz gives me plenty of time to recall what those are; my uncle’s van, for instance.
But VW vans were never quick anyway. At least the new van is more comfortable and better to drive than the old versions.
The VW ID Buzz runs atop the automaker’s dedicated MEB electric-car platform. For the uninitiated, MEB is VW’s skateboard platform also found underneath the ID.4, ID.3, and a handful of other Volkswagen Group EVs. VW changes platforms about as often as we conduct censuses.
Buzz is the largest MEB-platform vehicle so far and, according to VW, the best application yet. That’s because, according to ID Buzz development engineer Harald Bettenhausen, the long lithium-ion battery is a structural component, something older vans didn’t have. That floor-mounted battery stiffens the whole van, fixing something that made many rickety Westies actively miserable to drive for long distances.
I couldn’t pry a specific weight figure from engineers beyond “several hundred kilos” but added heft also lowers the van’s center of gravity, makes the floor lower, and places good weight over the lone, rear-drive axle. That may sound like driving my back patio, but my back patio is a great place to hang out with a lot of people. In and around Copenhagen, I drove nearly 90 miles, had quiet conversations, listened to foreign radio, and imagined a good time.
That’s all you need from a van.
The Cargo Version
Now for the worker-bee version. Excitement and anticipation don’t always keep the lights on and eventually, automakers would like to make money. That’s the VW ID Buzz Cargo van’s jam. On a quick adventure, I tried to imagine life as a delivery driver: in and out, up and down—you know, on the job. The ID Buzz Cargo van sheds about 200 pounds compared to the passenger van, and it feels moderately peppier. (I’ve asked VW if the throttle mapping between the two were different but haven’t yet heard back.) I even drove around with the door open to see if the VW Buzz Cargo screams at its driver, which it doesn’t.
An electric cargo van is a smart move, and VW isn’t alone in making the shift. Put simply: None of us stiffs have the same purchasing power as Amazon or Walmart. Fortune 500’s splash damage is our two-tone ID Buzz happy camper. I have to learn to be alright with that.
That’s because, up until the VW ID Buzz arrives in the U.S., electric cars work to grab our attention. Sleek, massive, hyperfast, expensive, or quasi-self-driving; what’s "cool" about EVs today tries too hard.
The ID Buzz is effortlessly cool thanks to its heritage. It helps that the van is nice to drive as well. For four hours, over 90 miles in highway and city driving, the van settled into the background and shuttled in and out of narrow Danish streets effortlessly, and returned 3.1 miles per kWh, which isn’t as efficient as other electric cars with a svelter shape. On the other hand, on the beaches in Malmo, Sweden, the ID Buzz was a head-turner and attracted attention wherever it went.
The ID Buzz’s liftgate is power operated, for good reason: it’s massive. Its load floor is low, an advantage any van will have over an SUV. The sliding rear doors don’t intrude on the charge port, which is located on the rear fender, and getting into the rear seats is a breeze—another advantage of a van.
Behind the wheel, it feels far more solid than older VW vans, a testament to the rigidity only an electric vehicle can offer thanks to more solid running gear. In Europe, the passenger van with two rows makes sense, but we’ll never see it. In the U.S., our version with three rows is what people say they want, but it’s hard to know if the rigidity and added heft will diminish the overall feel.
What sets the Volkswagen ID Buzz apart is how impressive it is without trying hard at all. That’s cool.
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