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Volkswagen ID Prototype Review

Paul Horrell’s Volkswagen ID Prototype Review explaining what the thing will look like inside and out, what it’s like to drive and whether it’ll be as history making as other VWs.

Volkswagen built two of the most important cars in the history of all cars – the Beetle and the Golf. It’s now aiming at making that three, with an entirely new electric car for 2020. In an Australian exclusive, we’ve been to South Africa to drive the prototype during its development tests.

Now you’ll have noticed that VW hasn’t exactly been quick on the uptake with EVs. By 2020 Nissan will have been on the market for nearly a decade with two generations of Leaf. Tesla has long pioneered fast luxury electrics. So what makes VW think it’s so special?

Price, mainly. This is supposed to be the people’s electric car.

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Paul Horrell’s Volkswagen ID Prototype Review explaining what the thing will look like inside and out, what it’s like to drive and whether it’ll be as history making as other VWs.

Precisely because it’s not an early adopter, VW expects a bigger market to have developed for EVs by the time this car launches. An increasingly mature charging infrastructure will make electric a practical proposition for more drivers. So VW plans on building huge numbers of this car, and other closely related models from the other Group brands including Audi and Skoda. Its construction is relatively simple, using a normal steel body. Battery prices are falling. All of those things help drive down the cost.

The claim is this hatchback will be priced the same as a Golf diesel with similar power and equipment. That’s with a battery pack capable of 330km on a full charge. A 500km version will also be available.

And guess what, my experience of the prototype says it’ll be nicer to drive, roomier and more comfortable than the Golf.

Now of course, there’s another reason VW is moving with such speed into the EV arena. A huge proportion of its sales in Europe were diesels, and by its own actions in the emissions-cheating scandal, it has discredited that fuel in the public mind. Diesel sales are falling fast. VW needs to catch the wave of the next form of propulsion.

Plus, as a company it desperately wants to be redeemed of its past sins.

What’s it going to look like?

VW previewed the production car with a concept, called ID. It turns out they were already nearly finished designing the real thing by the time they showed the concept, so the two are very similar indeed.

That’s hard to confirm by looking at photos because of the disguise. (Er, that’s why it’s called disguise.) But when you get up close to the prototype, and see how the daylight falls on it, and look at the cut-lines around the glass and doors and lights, you can see it’s a dead-ringer for the concept.

Paul Horrell’s Volkswagen ID Prototype Review explaining what the thing will look like inside and out, what it’s like to drive and whether it’ll be as history making as other VWs.

OK OK, it won’t have cantilevered rear doors or lipstick-cam mirrors or a lounge interior, because those are the sort of staples of concepts that are expensive and impractical for production.

The shovel nose and teardrop rear are of course done to suppress aerodynamic drag. But they also make it look progressive. VW normally evolves its shapes cautiously over the generations, but this one is meant to look distinctive and ultra-modern. It does, and it’s actually handsome too.

Oh and by the way, in this article I’ll carry on using the name ID for the production car, because VW won’t yet say what the final badge will be. 

What’s it like to drive?

It’s not fast, but it has the potential to be fun to drive. The weight, especially with the optional big battery pack, nudges towards two tonnes, and the power is only about 150kW. But the electric motor is in the back, driving the rear wheels.

That gives it loads of traction out of junctions and tight bends. It also means that there’s no torque-steer wriggle through your hands – a problem on the front-drive Hyundai Kona EV.

And the ride is nice and supple. The bodywork feels solid, free of shudders or rattles.

Sure, the calibration of the prototype’s steering assistance hasn’t yet been started when I drive it, so the wheel feels numb. The set-up of the dampers was also on the to-do list, so it heaves a bit over crests. But even so it corners pretty cleanly.

Paul Horrell’s Volkswagen ID Prototype Review explaining what the thing will look like inside and out, what it’s like to drive and whether it’ll be as history making as other VWs.

It also needs a bit more calibration work on the accelerator. It moves away from rest with a small but annoying jerk. Still, no reason why this won’t be fixed for before it goes on sale.

Already the car is smooth and quiet under way. The engineers have figured out more fixes for wind and tyre noise before production starts, but they’re actually pretty low already. The power units is all but silent, although below 30km/h a speaker buried in the nose emits a synthesised hum to warn pedestrians it’s coming.

The transmission is a fixed single ratio, but of course you still have a PRNDB selector to tell the motor which way to turn. The D position gives very little deceleration when you lift off the accelerator. Touch the brake pedal and it first brings in regenerative braking, sending energy back to the battery by switching the motor into a generator. The B position lets you activate this regenerative braking simply by lifting off the accelerator.

Paul Horrell’s Volkswagen ID Prototype Review explaining what the thing will look like inside and out, what it’s like to drive and whether it’ll be as history making as other VWs.

If you drive with anticipation, neither if these methods is more efficient than the other; it’s a matter of preference. I like the B position – you hardly ever have to touch the brake pedal, so you positively know you’re avoiding the wasteful friction brakes.

What’s the interior like?

Inside, it’s roomy. It’s the length of a Golf but has more than 10cm extra in the wheelbase. That’s because there’s no piston engine overhanging the front wheels so it’s short there. And to make space for lots of battery under the floor, they stretched the wheelbase, which also happens to make lots of room for people in the back seat.

Up front it feels spacious too. Absent the engine, they were able to move the main dash panel forward and the air-con unit forward, away from the driver and passenger. It’s a neat design job, but they won’t let me show you pictures because the finish on the proto is still a bit rough’n’ready.

Of course you control everything by touch panels. The engineers admit that this isn’t actually any better than real switches. But they say it’s just what people want and expect these days. Especially the new sort of non-traditional car buyers VW needs this vehicle to attract.

So a central touchscreen takes care of infotainment and settings, augmented by touch-bars below it along which you slide your finger to control stereo volume or temperature. Because the dash itself is so far away, that screen is mounted in a pedestal to bring it within comfortable reaching distance.

By the same token, the driver’s screen is mounted not on the dash but on top of the steering column. Also, there will be the option of a head-up display, projecting onto such a big area of the windscreen it’ll be able to give you augmented-reality navigation and driver-assistance.

That’s a fancy option, but the engineers stress that the ID will be a simple car to operate. It’s all about making the buying, running and driving of an electric car as simple as possible. They want it to feel familiar rather than intimidating. It needs to appeal to the masses.

What’s the charge system?

It has an 11kW AC charger on board, so if you have a robust home supply you can charge it in four-to-five hours.

The DC rapid-charge inlet takes the CCS plug, which is the standard for European and new Korean EVs. It will accept up to 125kW of current, because the battery is liquid-cooled, unlike the air-cooled one in a Nissan Leaf.

That allows it to be juiced up to 80 percent capacity in 30 minutes. Such charge posts are now being installed in Europe and will spread worldwide.

What will be in the range?

This is just the first car on the VW Group’s all new ‘modular electric platform’, or MEB. Also in 2020, within months of this hatchback, VW will launch a crossover, aimed at America and China but also fine for crossover-crazy Australia. That will have the option of second motor for AWD. It was previewed by the ID Crozz concept.

By 2022 there will also be a van, as seen in the ID Buzz concept, and a luxury saloon. In total from 2022, there will be 27 different models of VW, Audi, Skoda and Seat cars and crossovers and light vans on the platform.

The group is aiming for a million electric cars a year built off the MEB from 2025 onward. That’s a huge, huge commitment.

Paul Horrell’s Volkswagen ID Prototype Review explaining what the thing will look like inside and out, what it’s like to drive and whether it’ll be as history making as other VWs.


Paul Horrell

Paul Horrell

Paul's working life has been paced out in cars. He began road-testing when the VW Golf was in its second generation. It's now in its eighth. He covers much more than the tyre-smoking part of the road-test landscape. He roots around in the financial machinations of the car corporations and the apparent voodoo of the technologies. Then he clarifies those complications so his general readers – too busy to lodge their heads up the industry's nether regions – get the fast track on what matters and what doesn't. A freelance writer living in London, he usually gets around the city by bicycle, which adds to his (sometimes justified) reputation as a bit green and a bit of a lefty. He's a member of Europe's Car of the Year jury.