Volkswagen's show-stopping throwback is now available in the UK. Should you jump on the bandwagon?
By Nic Cackett / Sunday, 29 January 2023 / Loading comments
Quite a lot has happened since we first drove the ID Buzz in Denmark last summer. It has been awarded What Car? car of the year for one thing. For another, VW has confirmed that it will unveil a GTX variant of the model in 2023, which will likely have four-wheel drive and up to 335hp. Moreover, if the attention it garnered while in PH’s possession is anything to go by, word about the ID Buzz has spread like wildfire among the general public. Even allowing for the look-at-me quality of the two-tone paint job, the Buzz is very obviously a conversation starter, especially among young families.
What, precisely, is the nature of that conversation is anyone’s guess. Almost certainly real-life sight of the car will lose it as many fans as it wins; no doubt the Buzz looks great on a show stand at Geneva or charging beachside at Santa Barbara, but parking it in Morrisons under leaden skies is a surefire way of bringing any clever concept back to earth. Divisive styling isn’t necessarily an impediment to sales success, of course – indeed, VW has plainly embraced the idea – yet it is almost certain to land people on either side of the ID Buzz fence, which may very well divide lovers from haters. Who, after all, has no opinion to impart?
Still, there is plenty here for the admirer to appreciate. As Matt Bird noted back in September, the Buzz does not want for unconventional charm. That was an obvious quirk of the original Camper, but it remains an admirable quality in something as large and as brick-shaped as an electric minivan. Essential, too, really, because Volkswagen expects you to part with £57,115 for the entry-level Life model. The more expensive Style trim driven here is £61,915 – or £65,465 with a few optional cherries on top. Playing either/or is largely fruitless with something as idiosyncratic as the Buzz, but it’s worth noting that VW’s also very new and capacious Multivan can be had for roughly the same amount.
The Multivan contains more seats (some of them removable) and a petrol-electric alternative to the Buzz’s fairly modest 255-mile range and 90mph top speed. It also blends in like Coffee-mate. This means it’s aimed chiefly at business users. The Buzz, meanwhile, seems aimed predominately at ball pit users. Don’t expect a small child to turn his or her nose up at the EV; the space and light and generally cheerful vibe are as quaffable as orange squash. Perched high in the driver’s seat, your inner child isn’t likely to complain either. The position is cannily set: not too van-like, but not very much like a car either. No doubt the Camper is the inspiration, yet it seems custom-made to accrue miles, too. With its flip-down cupholders, double armrests and column shifter, it all seems pleasingly elementary to use. And very comfortable.
Predictably, some of this goodwill evaporates when you come to use the notoriously unhelpful infotainment system, but let’s gloss over that (except to say that the voice assistant that frustrated Matt in Copenhagen with its unbidden prompts nearly had me rage-plough the Buzz into the nearest tree) and simply acknowledge that the Buzz has it, and therefore you’ll have to live with it. Some of the very annoying stuff – the voice, the absurdly zealous lane-keep assist – can be switched off at least. And when you’re left in peace, left to appreciate the visibility and the convenience and the space and the quiet, chances are you’ll like the Buzz quite a lot.
As ever, there is the usual ingratiating EV-ness baked into that. It is hard to dislike something that moves away from a standing start like a sailboat catching a sudden gust of wind – the improbable haste is just too persuasive, especially in something that weighs 2.5 tonnes. Again, we failed to test the Buzz with anything more burdensome than a dying Christmas tree aboard, yet on the basis that most buyers are not buying one with searing straight-line performance in mind, it seems brisk enough. In fact, in traffic and on deathly slow UK roads, the model seems well matched to its 229 lb ft of torque. No other occupant is going to thank you for snapping their heads back anyway.
Moreover, driving smoothly and considerately tends to bring out the best in the Buzz. Instantaneous response and the beneficial weight distribution afforded by the skateboard MEB platform means it easily exceeds your expectations for such a tall minivan. It steers keenly enough, too, and clearly some effort has been expended on making the rolling refinement live up to the hush afforded by the rear-mounted electric motor. To call the Buzz car-like is a stretch because your relationship with the steering wheel – not to mention the split A-pillar and the distance to the windscreen and the hollow, van-like clunk of the closing doors – preludes any notion of it. Better to imagine the buck stopping at likeable MPV.
This is underlined by what happens if you introduce the Buzz to a typically uneven B road at the national limit. It’ll cling on gamely enough, but you’ll be increasingly aware of the competing stresses of kerbweight, body control, cornering speed and ride quality, that’s for sure. And while the Buzz is engineered well enough to let no one facet fall dramatically by the wayside, the sense of escalating duress – not to mention the degree of head toss if things get really choppy – will likely have you taking it down a notch. Hardly unexpected or unreasonable for a model of its size or underlying commercial purpose, yet it reinforces the idea that the Buzz is ultimately not quite as much fun to drive as it is to look at.
However, given what VW is paying homage to here, it’s certainly possible that any dynamic shortcomings are largely beside the point. No one bought a camper or a microbus to crow about the handling. If the anecdotes – and more than a few films – are to be believed, they did so with an enduring and light-hearted sense of adventure. And while some might find its manufacturer’s attempts to commercially leverage that carefree spirit a little cloying, the Buzz comes closer to a happy-go-lucky attitude than most modern cars. Particularly those with zero emissions among their claims to fame.
Even the question of who precisely is supposed to want the thing seems to have been rendered moot in the wake of its apparent popularity. The absence, for now, of a third row of seats (a longer wheelbase seven-seat version is promised) means the Buzz is not currently suitable for very large families – usually the go-to audience for minivans – and for smaller families there is already a very wide selection of cheaper and much more rewarding (to drive, at least) cars to choose from. Most dedicated EVs count inventive and spacious packaging among their strengths, and many easily outstrip the Buzz for usable range.
But no matter. By sheer dint of its dissimilarity, the big VW holds a significant trump card. With some obvious exceptions, the never-ending parade of mainstream electric cars is in danger of becoming an amorphous blob; plainly, the Buzz avoids that trap. And sure, some of its differences speak to the underlying ‘van’ in its DNA – but, much like its inspiration, that isn’t necessarily a problem. Were it more refined or better riding or fancier, some of the cheery idiosyncrasy would be lost. And that, one hopes, is the wellspring of all the looking and pointing. Car of the year? Not in a million years. Yet its maker deserves some credit for seeing the offbeat concept through to production. Expect those on the appreciative side of the fence to provide it.
Specification | 2023 VW ID Buzz Style SWB 77kWh Pro
Engine: Electric motor; 77kWh battery
Transmission: Direct drive single-speed gearbox, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 204
Torque (lb ft): 229
0-62mph: 10.2 seconds
Top speed: 90mph
Weight: 2,502kg (unladen)
MPG: 255 miles range (WLTP)
Price: £61,915 (as tested, £65,465)
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