New electric vehicles are beginning to roll out with increasing regularity and Volkswagen, the company that brought us Dieselgate, is pushing aggressively into the EV space. Under the guidance of CEO Herbert Diess, VW has launched a formidable electrification strategy, and at its heart is an entire lineup of cars dubbed ID. The first is the ID.3, so named because VW says it's the company's "third big idea." The first was the original Beetle, and the second was the Golf. Those are some big footsteps to follow.
We just spent a day behind the wheel of the ID.3. The ID.3 is a compact hatchback that will be followed by the crossover ID.4. The United States will get an ID.4 imported from Germany in 2021, but production will shift to VW's plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 2022. The ID.3 is the first of the EVs, and it likely provides a good preview of what the ID.4 will be like, as both share the new MEB platform. Other Volkswagen Group brands such as Audi, Seat, and Skoda will get their own spinoffs, and there will even be an MEB-based Ford. In Germany, the ID.3 starting price is about $42,000, but less expensive versions are coming.
The ID.3 comes with a motor mounted just ahead of the rear axle and a single-speed transmission. The only versions available at launch make 201 horsepower and 229 pound-feet of torque; a downgraded version of the same motor with 143 horsepower is coming soon. A battery with 58 kWh of usable energy is standard, and a 77-kWh battery is optional. The larger battery offers considerably more range, of course, but its additional weight dampens acceleration. Fitted with the 58-kWh battery, the ID.3 weighs a claimed 3814 pounds and can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in roughly 7.2 seconds. The larger battery bumps the weight to more than 4000 pounds, and we estimate the sprint to 60 mph will take 7.6 seconds. Both versions top out at a governed and unimpressive-to-a-German 99 mph, even though we're told theoretical top speed would be closer to 120.
Acceleration is brisk right up to the ID.3's terminal velocity. Passing maneuvers are quick and effortless affairs that require little planning. It is fun to drive the ID.3 quickly, and the damping is on the stiffer side compared to similarly sized EVs. But it won't be confused with a GTI. There is still quite a bit of body roll around fast corners, the brake pedal has a lot of travel, and while the steering is precise, the ID.3 is no go-kart. What's more, the electric power steering can be clearly heard during quick maneuvers. Overdo it, and the non-defeatable stability-control system kicks in.
The single-speed transmission has a normal mode, which allows the car coast a bit, and a B mode that uses the motor to slow the car more aggressively when lifting off the accelerator. The difference between the modes could be larger, but we like the fact the car offers the adjustability.
U.S. EPA range has yet to be determined, but in Europe the official range is 264 miles with the smaller battery and 341 miles with the larger one. Those figures, of course, are unrealistic and nowhere near actual on-road performance. We estimate U.S. range figures would come in just under 200 miles for the smaller-battery variant and about 250 with the larger pack. VW is quick to add that the optimistic numbers, in this case, are the EU's business. European regulators force carmakers to use an extremely favorable cycle for EVs to help their range appear similar to conventionally powered cars.
Visually, we think VW got it right. ID.3 is clean and contemporary, not cutesy or overdone but quite industrial-design-like. It's not an intimidating or aggressive look but manages to appear serious and sporty. The drag coefficient is 0.27, which isn't great for a purpose-built EV but not too bad for a short hatchback. And the car makes the most of the electric platform, with a spacious passenger cabin that offers nearly the interior space of a VW Passat, even though it is only 167.8 inches long, or about the length of a Golf.
We drove a well-equipped version with a panoramic roof. Thus equipped, the interior is airy and flooded with light. The materials are attractive and of high quality. The center console isn't very useful, however, as it has little purpose except for housing the cupholders. There are few color and trim choices as VW is taking a page from U.S. and Asian carmakers and limiting choice to simplify production. The ID.3 comes with bundled packages and very few à-la-carte choices beyond that.
There's a slim dashboard with a smaller screen in front of the driver with basic information and a larger one in the vehicle's center. Some versions feature a large head-up display that seems to project directional arrows overlaid onto the actual road. This option, however, is not fully functional yet, and neither is Apple CarPlay or Android Auto functionality. VW blames the pandemic for the delay, but we suspect that the sheer workload of simultaneous development of the ID.3 and the eighth-gen Golf could also be to blame. Whatever the reason, the issue should be rectified before any MEB model comes stateside.
Like a Tesla, the ID.3 requires no turn of a key or push of a button before putting it into gear and taking off, but for those who like to turn their cars on and off, there is a start-stop button that causes a few lights in the instrument cluster to appear and disappear. It doesn't actually do anything aside from illuminating those lights. Either way, if you have the key and put your foot on the brake, you can put the car in gear and drive away. When you're through, put it in park, get out, simply walk away, and it will shut down.
With its acoustically decoupled chassis and body, the ID.3 is extraordinarily quiet even at highway speeds. Wind rush and tire noise are kept low. City driving is a joy, thanks to the small turning circle of 33.5 feet. Fun to drive, agile, handsome, and impeccably built, it portends good things for VW's herd of coming EVs.
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