ID.3: The car that Volkswagen’s future depends on

VW starts selling its first real electric car. But developers are still struggling with problems with the ID.3. Does the Tesla competitor stand a chance? A first test drive in the production model.

The first impression: the shape ground smooth, the rear window blackened and without a frame – the VW ID.3 looks new and different, its special position is immediately recognizable. And yet it doesn’t look as futuristic as the BMW i3 in 2013. In view of the rather conservative VW customers, that’s definitely not a problem.

This is what the manufacturer says: Ralf Brandstätter, new VW brand boss and successor to Herbert Diess, speaks of the “big plan” that is finally taking shape. “Now it’s getting serious.”

In fact, the ID.3 Volkswagen is the first electric car to be fully designed as such. The compact car is intended to lead the company into a future without an internal combustion engine. “Just like the Beetle and the Golf once, it will shape the company and an entire era,” Brandstätter predicts. To achieve this, Volkswagen has developed a modular electric car kit for the ID.3 and three dozen other battery models, the MEB. Volkswagen is investing at least 30 billion euros in the core brand as well as Audi, Seat and Skoda. By the end of the decade, the kit is expected to produce 20 million electric cars.

The Lower Saxony are in a hurry. This year, for the first time in Europe the CO2 limit of 95 grams per kilometer is the average for a manufacturer’s vehicles sold. Electric cars count towards zero grams, which is why every day of sale of the ID.3 counts for Volkswagen. To make sure it was enough in the end, Brandstätter, despite hardly having a problem in the new job, started selling. As of Wednesday (June 17th), registered interested parties will first convert their reservation into a sales contract, and four weeks later, new interested parties will come into play. From the beginning of September, the cars will be delivered that VW has already produced in the Zwickau plant by the thousands.

A handful of functions are not available at the start, they will be activated later, admits Silke Bagschik, who is responsible for the sales of electric cars at VW. This includes the remote area of ​​the head-up display as well as smartphone integration with Apple Car Play and Android Auto. In conversation with developers, it is learned that the automatic parking system is also initially missing and – particularly painful – the module that installs the updates via a mobile phone connection. At least one more time, the “first movers”, as VW flattering their first customers, have to drive to the workshop in the same way with their ID.3. In return, VW waives the first three leasing installments for them.

It is obviously a vengeance that VW ID.3 bundles all vehicle functions in two central computers for the first time and no longer installs dozens of control units as in the Golf. This transition is not going as smoothly as hoped. The model is Tesla, the Californians only need one computer. Tesla drivers are used to taking over a car that is not fully functional. “Even a year after its market launch, there is still no Model 3 that can read traffic signs and interpret them correctly,” says scene expert Stefan Moeller from Nextmove, the electric car rental company. However, updates are available from Tesla without a workshop visit.

We noticed that: New and yet familiar – this also applies to the driving experience in the ID.3. On the one hand, it offers the silence typical of electric cars. It takes off so quickly that you hardly know it from the Golf GTI. For this, VW limits the speed at 160 km / h, taking into account the range. At the same time, the car does not turn its drive to the outside, so that even novice electric cars should quickly feel in good hands. Neither the greater weight is uncomfortable nor the sitting position raised by the batteries in the floor. Unlike electric cars like the Nissan Leaf or the DS3, the driving experience is not synthetic: in the ID3, the driver feels exactly what is happening between the wheel and the road and has a direct steering feel.

In order to make it easier for drivers to switch to a battery-powered car, however, the engineers have hardly used a nice ability of electric cars: driving only with the power pedal. Other models decelerate to a standstill if you just lift your foot. Then the electric motor becomes a generator and recovers electricity. On the other hand, the ID.3 rolls out in standard mode as in idle mode. Even those who switch from “D” to “B” (ie in “braking” mode) can only come to a stop in time with a lot of foresight, without applying the brakes.

The ID.3, however, fully exploits an electrical advantage. Because there is no engine in the front, the wheels turn more strongly than in the VW Golf – the car gets around the corner more easily. On the other hand, even a VW Polo feels almost bulky when maneuvering.

The biggest difference to the classic models can be seen in the interior. The electrical engineering is housed in the floor of the car in such a space-saving manner and the axles are moved so far out that passengers have significantly more legroom. Backbenchers sit even better than in the VW Passat.

In addition, VW frees the cockpit even more thoroughly than in the current Golf from switches. Instruments shrink to a small display that stands freely behind the steering wheel. The gear selector lever protrudes from the side, as with the BMW i3. The light bar under the windscreen is brand new. The car uses them to communicate with people. During the voice input, it flickers white, blue illuminated dots help with navigation, red stands for warning messages, green for incoming calls.

You have to know that: The vehicles delivered first (“First Edition”) cost just under 40,000 euros. Thanks to the government purchase premium, which has just increased, customers end up paying around 31,000 euros – and electricity is free for a year.

The engine – which has been installed in the rear of a VW for the first time since the Beetle – has an output of 150 kW. The battery of the first series stores 58 kWh, which is officially enough for 420 kilometers. This will be followed by a version with 77 kWh for up to 550 kilometers and a 45 kWh model designed for 330 kilometers, with which the basic price should drop below 30,000 euros. Less the funding, the ID.3 ends up at the base price of the Golf, which VW sells from 19,995 euros.

With the de facto battle price for the ID.3, VW also starts the hunt for Tesla. For the Wolfsburg-based company, the first step is to finally get the same high number of electric cars as the Americans. They should succeed – at the latest with the next models from the electrical kit. In a direct model comparison, Model 3 is clearly ahead. But it is also more expensive, bigger and more powerful and simply drives in another segment. VW is only looking for a direct comparison with Tesla shortly before the end of the year. Then the company contrasts the Model Y with the ID.4 – the first SUV from the MEB.

The ID.3 competes more on the road with electric cars like the Nissan Leaf and the Renault Zoe as well as somewhat smaller electric cars like the Opel Corsa e and its group siblings DS3 E-Tense. The Peugeot e-208, the Honda E and the electric Mini also fall roughly in the league of the VW hopefuls.

We will not forget that: Solid, user-friendly and, thanks to state aid, very cheap – the ID.3 is a typical VW in many ways. What doesn’t fit the VW brand are “look” and “feel” – especially with such an important model. For a manufacturer that was celebrated in the compact class for silicon-damped handles and gas pressure dampers for the bonnet, the plastics in the ID.3 seem almost shamefully cheap – especially in the lower half of the dashboard and in the rear. The hard, plainly colored surfaces are far from the piano lacquer ambience with which golf customers have been enticed.

That is not better at Tesla, but it shows the difficult situation in which VW is: continue with all-round comfort? Then, like any VW, the ID.3 becomes too expensive. Or consistently dare something new so that the wagon makes mass like a beetle or golf. The VW managers go this way. If you are bothered by it, you may have thought, you can buy an Audi.

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