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The long-wheelbase ID.Buzz has a drag coefficient of 0.29 despite its upright stance. (James Lippman/Volkswagen)

VW introduces singular ID.Buzz in three-row layout

A unique proposition amid the industry’s string of expensive electric sedans and SUVs, Volkswagen wants its modern take on the Microbus to become its North American halo vehicle.

As automakers keep rolling out new EV models, a kind of sameness has crept into the proceedings. Put a four-door sedan or crossover on a skateboard platform with a 90-kWh-or-so battery, a smattering of futuristic touches, and start shipping.

Volkswagen says it is adding something unique to the mix with the 2025 ID.Buzz it will start delivering to the North American market in the second half of 2024. This three-rows-of-seating variant of the ID.Buzz is the “spiritual reincarnation of the Microbus reimagined for our electric future,” said Pablo Di Si, president and CEO of Volkswagen of America, Inc.

So far, the closest thing to an electric van available in the U.S. market has been the Chrysler Pacifica plug-in hybrid. And though the Pacifica has its own storied heritage, it doesn’t match the historical pop-culture icon that the 1950 Volkswagen Transporter, with its 30-hp 4-cyl. engine, would become. And Volkswagen hasn’t sold a van in America since 2003, the last model year of the Eurovan.

SAE Media joined Volkswagen in Huntington Beach, Calif., where it hosted an enormous event allowing the press to inspect a preproduction prototype while holding a reunion of sorts of Microbus faithful, including a “Buses and Coffee” event including more than 250 vintage Buses.

Starting up front with an enormous, lighted VW logo and continuing with its upright shape and available two-tone paint, the ID.Buzz’s heritage is obvious. But that’s where the similarities end and modernity begins.

Designed specifically for the North American market, what VW is calling the long-wheelbase Buzz is, at 192.4 inches (489 cm), almost 10 inches (25.4 cm) longer than the two-row Buzz currently sold in Europe. The wheelbase is 127.5 inches (328 cm), also nearly 10 inches (25.4 cm) longer than the European model. The three-row Buzz is about as wide as Volkswagen’s largest SUV, the Atlas, but five inches (12.7 cm) taller at 75 inches (190.5 cm). With short overhangs at front and rear, that translates to a surprising amount of space for passengers and cargo, especially with the easy-to-remove third row removed.

Single- or twin-motor propulsion
The ID.Buzz has a rear-mounted traction motor that produces 282 hp (210 kW), compared to the European model’s 201 hp (150 kW). The lithium-ion battery pack has a considerable 91 kWh capacity, 9 kWh more than the Euro version. A twin-motor AWD variant, which officials said could be account for about 50% of models sold, will offer about 330 hp (246 kW). Mark Gillies, VW of America’s PR chief, said that the front-rear power split could, in theory, be varied to as much as 100/0, but that it would be an unlikely scenario. He also speculated that AWD models might feature slightly more ground clearance, as the AWD version of the ID.4 does now.

The APP550 rear-mounted motor is a permanent-magnet synchronous unit with a maximum torque output of 406 lb-ft (550 Nm) that gets to the wheels through a single-speed transmission. An inverter handles power modulation and the electronic controls. Volkswagen did not yet offer a driving-range figure for the Buzz. The European model with the smaller battery is rated at about 260 miles (418 km) under ideal conditions.

Volkswagen says it has made the powertrain more efficient by using a rotor with stronger magnets with a high thermal-load capacity, a newly engineered stator with more effective turns and a maximum wire cross-section. Unlike the air-cooled 4-cyl. from the Microbus days, the unit is cooled with water running through a jacket outside of the stator, and VW says the combined oil-and-water cooling system increases thermal stability.

Access to the rear seats is provided by easy open-and-close power-sliding doors. The rear gate is powered and can be opened or closed by kicking a foot under the bumper. In another improvement over the European model, which has rear windows that don’t open, the long-wheelbase ID.Buzz has a power sliding window reminiscent of the Transporter.

The ride is controlled by struts at the front axle and a multilink setup in the rear. One perhaps superfluous touch are the faux air vents on the D-pillar that the company said are meant to recall the original Bus’s engine-cooling slats.

Hip cabin
Inside, engineers and designers worked to make the interior both elegant and useful.

The cabin comes in three flavors: dark brown leatherette seats with white piping, blue door inserts and a dark wood-look dash; light grey leatherette seats with clay-colored piping, clay door inserts, a light wood-look dash and light gray accents; and light brown leatherette seats with yellow piping, light gray door inserts and a washed-wood-look dash and black accents. Ambient lighting is controlled by selecting five preset “moods,” or by assigning an overwhelming 30 colors to different regions of the cabin. The center console, which can be removed easily, has flexible storage compartments with dividers that can be removed and used as a bottle opener and an ice scraper.

The upper trim level (there are only two, and currently they haven’t been named) includes a 67.4-inch (163-cm) by 40.8-inch (104-cm) electrochromic sunroof. In its standard, unelectrified state, it is opaque. When current is applied to a polymer-dispersed liquid crystal (PDLC) layer, the panel becomes transparent. Even when transparent, coatings work to reflect sunlight to reduce heat buildup in the cabin.

All front seats in the ID.Buzz lineup are 12-way power units with heat, ventilation and massage functions, as well as memory. The second-row bench seat – the outer positions of which are heated – is split 60/40 and the backs can be angled by 16 degrees. The entire bench can slide forward-and-back up to eight inches and has a slide function to facilitate third-row access. A heated steering wheel also is standard, as well as heated mirrors, washer nozzles and windshield.

The second and third rows can fold flat and an available “Flexboard” can span the last bit of floor behind the rear seats to make a fully flat loading platform with storage underneath in two boxes for an Ikea-like under-bed storage arrangement.

Technology is everywhere in the Buzz, from the eight USB-C ports around the cabin, a 110-volt outlet under the passenger seat and 12-volt charging in the back. A 12.9-inch (33-cm) central infotainment display is standard and is complimented with a 5.3-inch (13.5-cm) screen for the usual driver’s gauge information. And VW has addressed a common complaint of the European ID.Buzz by lighting the touch slider controls for the HVAC.

A unique HMI touch is a light strip that runs below the windshield that is used to support the driver with alerts to navigation turns, incoming calls and emergency-braking prompts. The ID.Buzz comes with VW’s IQ.DRIVE suite of driver assistance tech, including lane centering, forward object/collision detection, dynamic road sign display and more.

Jeffrey Lear, VW of America’s EV product manager, said second-row captain’s chairs will be an option but reduce occupant capacity to six instead of seven. He said the design of the Buzz, which includes many visual callbacks to its heritage, is meant to stand out. “Everything about this car is meant to be special and cool,” he said.

The North America-bound Buzz will be manufactured in Hanover, Germany, in a factory that can produce 400,000 vehicles for all global markets. If it becomes a high-volume hit, the automaker would have to create more capacity somewhere, said Andrew Savvas, head of sales and marketing for VW of America. He added that a vast lineup of camping, sporting and other accessories is in the works. “It’s critical to our success that we offer lifestyle opportunities for this car,” he said, while adding that he wants to honor the car’s surfing and counterculture heritage, but that “I don’t think surfing is the only entry point for the vehicle.”

With the vehicle at least a year away from being sold, VW conceded that a few vitals such as price, driving range and towing capacity are not yet finalized. The European version can tow 2,204 lb. (1,000 kg) in RWD and 3,968 lb. (1,800 kg) in AWD layout.

Ford and Mercedes say they will be bringing compact electric vans to the U.S. market, though their offerings likely will skew commercial in nature. For the immediate future, the ID.Buzz will be the only compact EV van available in North America. Sales chief Savvas insists it won’t be considered a typical minivan. “I’m 100-percent confident [of that],” he said. “This is for the electric-car crowd, the stand-out crowd. Not the [chiefly utility-driven] minivan crowd.”

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