Volkswagen is betting big on nostalgia with the upcoming ID. Buzz. We knew it way back in 2017 when it pulled the cover off the two-tone concept car with a California beach as the backdrop. Five years on, I’m finally getting the chance to get behind the wheel of a pre-production ID. Buzz. Above all, I hoped to figure out if this electric van that we’ve heard so much about will actually tug at American heartstrings like the company thinks it will.
A 45-minute driving stint with a shrouded interior and minimal specs was not enough to answer that looming question, unfortunately. But with new information and a day up close with this pre-pro model, it seems like the Buzz may be more of a utilitarian product than an emotional one.
Buzzin To Drive
Anyone with even the smallest sense of humor can appreciate a giant rainbow-wrapped van running around narrow British roads in broad daylight. Volkswagen elected to let me drive the Protobuzz (unofficial name) at its UK headquarters in Milton Keynes, about an hour outside of London. This quaint town apparently has more roundabouts than any other in all of Europe – a fact that became much less exciting when I realized I would be driving a German-spec car on the “wrong” side of the road. At least fellow motorists could see me coming.
After a few gentle reminders from my passenger/chaperone to please make it back in one piece, the van and I silently set out on a series of tight rural roads before hitting the highway. The first thing that hit me was just how unique the driving position is in the Buzz. Two tall windows behind the A-pillars and a long windshield overlooking a silly-short front overhang make for a wild view of the road. It’s fun – and it just might invoke some association with Buzz's gas-powered ancestor.
However, that kinship ends with one prod of the go pedal. There’s enough potential energy to make me utter the phrase “Hey, not bad for a van.” In more precise terms that means 204 horsepower and 221 pound-feet from a 77.0 kilowatt-hour battery – figures that match the ID.4.
Acceleration from zero starts strong and tapers off quickly as the torque wave starts to run out. But for anyone getting into the Buzz from a lifetime of driving a combustion-powered vans, this should be a happy upgrade. I’m curious to see how much a full passenger load will negatively affect the Buzz’s desire to move, but that remains to be seen.
On-site engineers confirmed that the US version will have unique suspension tuning, so take it with a grain of salt when I say the Buzz felt a bit stiffer than it should. While there was a healthy amount of travel over speed bumps, the damping could use a tweak to make the ride quality more comfortable for a family vehicle. That said, it’s not uncommon for a Euro-spec car to feel stiffer than its American counterpart.
In the last few miles of the drive, I tried to test out the brakes and regeneration with different amounts of force. There are D and B modes just like in the ID.4 to dictate how much regen takes place, with the latter mode working as the one-pedal driving solution. I prefer aggressive regen in an EV, so it was pleasing to feel the Buzz slow down rapidly the moment I lifted off the accelerator. The few times it was necessary to engage the actual brakes, they felt more than up to the task, even with drums at the rear.
Specs For Success?
After the driving stint and a brief walkaround tour for our YouTube channel, VW provided a tech debrief on the Buzz. There are still big questions to be answered, but for anyone who has followed this project closely over time, there is new information to report.
I mentioned that the battery specs for this prototype aligned exactly with the base ID.4, prompting the question of what comes next for ID. Buzz. As for dual-motor and bigger battery options down the road, Volkswagen engineers chose not to speculate, but they didn’t rule out the possibility of either happening at some point. Given their coy gestures, a bigger battery Buzz seems all but certain, as does a more powerful version with all-wheel-drive.
Given the ID.4’s 249-mile range, the Buzz pulling off something over 200 doesn’t feel outrageous.
We can expect the initial Buzzs on offer in the states to mirror the ID.4’s peak charging rate of 135 kilowatts on a DC charger. VW will also offer plug and charge capability at Electrify America stations, eliminating the need to use your phone to set up the charging session upon arrival. Or as a VW rep put it more simply, “just plug it in and walk away.”
Official charge times and EPA-rated range will come months from now, and nobody from the company dared to make a concrete prediction on either. Given the ID.4’s 249-mile range, the Buzz pulling off something over 200 doesn’t feel outrageous.
A Long Road Ahead
Considering how long it’s been since we saw that initial concept car, it’s funny to think that the ID. Buzz is still in its early stages. As confirmed by VW CEO Herbert Diess, our first chance to see the production van sans camo will happen on March 9th. That will also be the first time we see the long wheelbase version, which is the only configuration headed to the US. Volkswagen reps didn’t have an exact timeframe but said that the ID. Buzz will go on sale in the US in 2024, after Europe gets it.
A play on nostalgia is potentially a good thing, but my hope is that VW leans all the way in. Bring us a camper van version, bring us all the two-tone paint schemes, bring us glass skylights and panoramic sunroofs (canvas or otherwise). And while the company is at it, make sure the ID. Buzz’s EV credentials and dynamic behavior are top-notch. If those dream specs become reality, it seems to me that the Buzz will have a much better chance at connecting with customers.
Gallery: Volkswagen ID. Buzz: First Drive Review
Volkswagen ID. Buzz Prototype