Preview: Volkswagen ID.Buzz Electric Minivan Breaks Cover

A fresh EV design that exudes nostalgia

Volkswagen ID.Buzz European version Photo: Volkswagen

Volkswagen revealed the production version of the ID.Buzz electric van during an online event, and it looks much like the concept shown in 2017. This upcoming model promises an appealing blend of nostalgia, interior versatility, and gas-free motoring.

The ID.Buzz has been a long time in the making. More than two decades ago, Volkswagen unveiled a more conventional heir to its original Microbus. Although the concept vehicle drew much attention at the time, the German automaker couldn’t balance the distinctive flat front with adequate crash protection. The company eventually punted and rebadged a Chrysler minivan as the Routan for one forgettable generation. 

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Now in the midst of its transformation to an electric-focused company, VW has been able to address this engineering challenge by using its scalable Modular Electric Drive platform. MEB is already used for other Volkswagen Group models, such as the ID.4 and Audi Q4 E-Tron. The clear benefit here is that, of course, there is no engine up front, enabling great flexibility in packaging. Automakers have long made claims about the versatility of electric vehicle platforms, with their skateboardlike designs holding large battery packs under the floor, but none have showcased the benefits as clearly as the ID.Buzz.

That flat floor also maximizes interior space, likely making this compact van feel roomier than its dimensions may suggest. 

Production in Germany for the European-market cargo van will start this spring. Production for the U.S.-market minivan is slated to start in late 2023. 

@consumerreports After years of various concept cars, #Volkswagen has finally shown the production version of their new electric van - the ID. Buzz. #cartok #nyautoshow #nyias #carsoftiktok #idbuzz #microbus ♬ original sound - Consumer Reports

What it competes with: Traditional minivans and electric, midsized SUVs, particularly the Chrysler Pacifica plug-in hybrid, Toyota Sienna hybrid, Volkswagen ID.4, and the upcoming Subaru Solterra and Toyota bZ4X
What it looks like: A futuristic take on the classic Microbus
Powertrain: 201-hp electric motor; rear-wheel drive
Price: $40,000-$50,000 (estimated)
On sale: 2024

Volkswagen ID.Buzz European version, rear
Simple, rectangular lines carry through the body, glass, and paintwork for a definitive one-box design.

Photo: Volkswagen Photo: Volkswagen

CR's Take

The concept for this specific vehicle debuted in 2017, so it has been a long time coming: The Microbus is finally reimagined for the 21st century. Its unique take on electric vehicles makes the ID.Buzz stand out; there isn’t anything on the market like it. 

The design conjures memories of the old, classic van. It is a shame that Volkswagen didn’t capitalize on that with a different name. But for all the attention this model will garner for its heritage, the real story is the packaging. 

The ID.Buzz overflows with design character, adding visual appeal and giving it unique proportions. Short overhangs maximize wheelbase, which can aid ride, and minimize overall length. The European-market version shown is 20 inches shorter bumper-to-bumper than other minivans like the Chrysler Pacifica and Toyota Sienna. However, the version that comes to the States will be longer. By how much, Volkswagen won’t say yet. 

The three-row interior features second- and third-row seats that fold forward as needed to adjust to the passenger and cargo needs (shown below). Thus far, the ID.Buzz looks to be in rare company as a three-row EV. Currently, three-row buyers would need to look toward the expensive Tesla Model X to seat six or more. 

This combination of size and versatility, matched to an electric powertrain, should have unique appeal. 

However, there is one concern: Volkswagen announced that it would have 201 hp. We experienced the ID.4 SUV with that setup, and we found acceleration to be rather tepid. Even the 295-hp all-wheel-drive ID.4 doesn’t jump off the line as one might expect from an EV. Volkswagen has indicated that more powertrain variations will be available; we hope that proves to be the case for the U.S. market. 

The ID.Buzz shares many components with the ID.4, which has lower than average reliability based on reports from owners. However, delaying U.S. launch could give VW time to work out initial problems on its new van.

Volkswagen ID.Buzz European version, rear cargo area
The split seat folds flat but can't be removed.

Photo: Volkswagen Photo: Volkswagen

Outside

With a two-tone paint scheme, the ID.Buzz draws some visual connection to the classic, rear-engined Microbus. Most notably, the strikingly flat front conveys that this isn’t your typical minivan, because there clearly is no space for a six-cylinder engine up there. 

The body lines create a V-shaped hood, dressed with an oversized VW logo—an essential style cue. However, the LED headlights look like angry eyes—an unexpected twist for a model meant to evoke flower power. The lower grille has a wide weave, resembling a laundry basket more than a conventional air intake. 

Those tires sure are pushed out to the corners. Between them are the front doors and rear sliding side doors. Overall, the creative design meets the expectations set by the 2001 Microbus concept and more recent concept vehicles.

Volkswagen Microbus and ID.Buzz concept
The Original Microbus, left, and the 2017 ID.Buzz concept.

Photo: Volkswagen Photo: Volkswagen

Inside

A minimalist cabin design is both nostalgic and decidedly modern at the same time. The instrument panel is quite small, looking like a small pod behind the steering wheel. And there isn’t the usual center stack of climate and audio controls. Instead, there is a touch screen for all such functions; the screen looks stuck on the center dash, like a free-floating tablet computer. The setup looks nearly identical to the ID.4’s, which we found cumbersome and frustrating to use. 

The ID.Buzz follows a recent trend with air vents that stretch across the dash as a single element, rather than having several distinct vents. This gives the interior a simple appearance, and the horizontal lines make the cabin seem wider.

Volkswagen ID.Buzz interior - European version
A simple design gives the interior a minimalist feel.

Photo: Volkswagen Photo: Volkswagen

The gear selector is mounted to the steering column, keeping the floor space between the front seats open. 

As with other electric Volkswagens, there are discrete lights at the base of the windshield that are used for warnings, such as signaling obstructions when parking or the need to brake. Further, the driver can select from multiple hues for ambient interior lighting, adding to the psychedelic traveling experience. 

There are three seating rows, with three-across seating for the second row and two-across in the back. These two rows can fold forward, creating a flat load surface. Of course, they cannot fold into the floor, like with the Pacifica, because there is a battery there. The front seats are available with a massage function.

Volkswagen ID.Buzz European version, doors open
The two-tone look carries over to the interior, as seen on the seats and trim work.

Photo: Volkswagen Photo: Volkswagen

What Drives It

The ID.Buzz uses a single motor, with 201 peak hp, to drive the rear wheels. Propulsion relies on a 82-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery mounted in the floor. The charge rate is up to 170 kW, enabling rapid replenishment when using a public DC fast charger. Given the early unveiling of the ID.Buzz (two years ahead of its arrival at dealerships), it is expected that some numbers will change before the ID.Buzz officially launches in the U.S. And the MEB platform is conducive to other arrangements, such as the 295-hp, AWD setup in the ID.4.

A key figure will be the range. Based on the ID.4, we would expect the rear-drive van to travel up to 250 miles between charges. No official estimates have been released.

Safety and Driver Assistance Systems

Volkswagen said it would provide a full suite of active safety systems for the European market, and the same is likely to be true for the U.S. Expect the usual suite of forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, and lane keeping assistance. Features like adaptive cruise control, blind spot warning, and rear cross traffic warning may be optional, based on initial European-market information.


Jeff S. Bartlett

A New England native, I have piloted a wide variety of vehicles, from a Segway to an aircraft carrier. All told, I have driven thousands of vehicles—many on race tracks across the globe. Today, that experience and passion are harnessed at the CR Auto Test Center to empower consumers. And if some tires must be sacrificed in the pursuit of truth, so be it. Follow me on Twitter (@JeffSBartlett).