At this year's North American International Auto Show, we saw gorgeous concept and production cars from companies around the world, but there was only one concept that was an almost-universal hit. Damn-near everyone who saw it said that they wanted to take it home. That car was Volkswagen's nostalgia-infused I.D. Buzz electric van. With its futuristic flare and autonomous functionality, it felt like yet another tease of a Microbus reboot that would delight before ultimately disappearing.
But that's not the case. Volkswagen has not only confirmed that the I.D. Buzz will arrive at dealerships in 2022, but they were kind enough to let me drive the concept car along the beautiful California coast. Many hours later, I'm still smiling.
One look at the I.D. Buzz and you'll know this is a car that is not about the numbers, but given it is all-electric and EVs tend to be judged on the merit of their range and performance ahead of all other factors, lets start there. At its debut, VW said the I.D. Buzz concept had a big enough battery pack to enable approximately 270 miles of range on the American EPA cycle. It'll also put a whopping 369 horsepower to the ground through its all-wheel drive system.
The original Microbus? It had 25 horsepower. My how things have changed.
That's enough performance to get the car from zero to 60 in less than five seconds, but really that's not a challenge I expect many potential I.D. Buzz owners will think about. More important are the planned autonomy features. Press on the large VW logo on the steering wheel and the entire thing folds back into the dashboard. Once autonomy is enabled, the drivers' seat can swivel and rotate 180 degrees, even sliding around on channels in the floor.
The completely reconfigurable interior is Volkswagen's vision for what a future of autonomous driving will look like, a decidedly trendy look at the "living room on wheels" idea we've seen from so many manufacturers lately. With one of the most comfortable, wide-open, bright layouts I've ever seen in a car, if this is the future of self-driving transportation, color me sold.
Of course, the current concept can't really drive itself. That's where I came in.
If you've ever had the opportunity to attend Monterey Car Week, the whole series of events is best described as the most beautiful, most expensive traffic jam you'll ever see in your life. Getting anywhere takes three times longer than it should and you'll spend plenty of time sitting in traffic while watching and smelling some priceless automotive relic overheat.
And so driving at high-speed around the sinuous canyon or coastal roads is almost always out of the question. And so my brief time behind the wheel in the I.D. Buzz concept was at a pretty low speed -- but not just because of the traffic. A VW rep also asked me to keep the speed down because the charge in the pack was getting low and, frankly, because this is still just a hand-built concept.
But it is a fully functional one. Walk up and glide your fingers along a touch-panel situated within the car's inset beltline and the doors open themselves automatically. Hop in and they close themselves, too -- just like the. To go, just step on the brake pedal and press the "D" on the steering wheel. The gear illuminates and away you go, though since there's no actual autonomy here it's up to you to keep both hands on the oddly shaped but comfortable wheel.
Steering is phenomenally light, electronic boosting turned to the max with no regard for driver feedback, but frankly none needed. Steering is also quite slow, which makes turning this thing feel just a bit like a real bus. Acceleration, too, is a bit municipal, but it was impossible to tell whether that was thanks to the lack of remaining charge or simply a decidedly relaxed throttle map to keep heavy-footed journalists from slinging this priceless yellow concept into the bay.
Basically, it wasn't a particularly exhilarating drive, but that really didn't matter. I was grinning ear-to-ear the entire time, more so than I have in any other car in a very long time. The incredibly bright, wide open interior creates a very airy space, but it's the visibility that enables you to see the smiles on the faces of everyone around when you drive this thing, people who congregate around this thing in droves. Their smiles are seriously contagious.
I don't know what it is about that iconic bread loaf shape of the Microbus that inspires so many good feelings from everyone around. With the fumes of Dieselgate still hanging in the air, clouding consumer confidence in the brand, Volkswagen could use some goodwill here in the US. Based on my brief time behind the wheel, I'm pretty confident the I.D. Buzz is exactly the kind of bright, yellow ray of light the company needs. I can't wait to see these on the road.