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Volkswagen ID Buggy Review: We Drive the Electric Beach Buggy!

Likely headed for production, the concept channels the past while embracing the future.

Georg KacherWriterIngo BarenscheePhotographer

No roof. No doors. No future?

"Why not? These days, anything is possible," says Klaus Bischoff, Volkswagen's chief designer and mastermind behind the electrified, dune-slaying ID Buggy. "You see, the e-buggy concept fuses a politically correct electric drivetrain with a highly emotional body style, which evokes fond memories of surf, sun, and sand. To me, the buggy concept is as retro as it is modern and contemporary."

We're puttering along in the Buggy on 17-Mile Drive, which skirts the shores of California's Monterey Peninsula. This is the turf of billionaires, but on a hazy Friday morning during the annual Monterey Car Week festivities, our slow-moving greenback attracts more attention than the hordes of Porsches, Lamborghinis, and Ferraris rumbling by. Hand-built for the 2019 Geneva auto show, the concept has since evolved into a runner, but in an effort to save its batteries for a long working day, maximum speed is today restricted to 25 mph. According to the press kit, it can accelerate from zero to 62 mph in 7.2 seconds and on to an electronically limited top speed of 99 mph. Put together in VW's own prototype shop, it feels as solid as just about any pre-production vehicle we've driven lately.

"The torsional flexibility is absolutely spot-on," says a beaming Dzemal Sjenar, the engineer who oversees the development of all VW concept cars. "It demonstrates that this running chassis is fit to accommodate almost any body style—even if it lacks natural reinforcements such as a roof and two doors. Like the beach buggies of the past that were based on chopped Beetles, this platform is a perfect starting point for creative coachbuilders."

During our tour of paradise, the metallic fern green crowd-stopper is mastering rough and smooth like a seasoned crossover—no groans, rattles, or crackles. On sand, you can drift this rear-drive toy like a go-kart. On blacktop, its bespoke 18-inch all-terrain BF Goodrich tires offer plenty of grip and decent ride comfort.

On the boulevard of the vanities, the e-bug keeps triggering the same questions over and over. How much is it? When can I buy one? Is it really exclusively electric? What do I do when it rains? The answer to the latter is, you get wet. Yes, a piece of black tarp attaches to the windscreen frame and the targa bar, but it's little more than a token gesture. Even though you can allegedly clean the cabin with a hose, you'd be wise to seek cover swiftly in the event of inclement weather.

This chassis can be used with any number of body styles, but there's no looking at the electric ID Buggy and not wanting to drive this one.

Tipping the scales at approximately 3,300 pounds, this particular ID Buggy is powered by a single rear-mounted motor good for 201 horsepower and 228 lb-ft of torque. Its 62-kW-hr battery pack allegedly supplies enough juice to deliver a full-charge range in the neighborhood of 130 miles. VW engineers are also experimenting with all-wheel drive by fitting an auxiliary motor rated at 95 hp to the front axle, which they say further enhances off-road traction and shaves more than a second from the car's acceleration time.

The Buggy concept shares its 108.9-inch wheelbase and MEB small car electric vehicle platform with the production model of VW's new ID 3 hatchback (which isn't coming to North America). As a result, the two-seater is absolutely huge inside, sporting enough legroom for basketball giants along with a rear parcel shelf large enough for at least one grown-up suitcase. Neither the rollover protection assembly nor the relatively narrow windscreen impair visibility much. The dashboard is minimalistic to the extreme. Straddling the column of the quartic, multifunctional steering wheel is a small, solitary oblong digital display that indicates speed, gear, lights on, and distance to empty. That's it. No navigation, no full-size monitor, not even a docking station for a smartphone. You select the gear (R-N-D) by twisting the right-hand toggle forward or back. Pushing it engages park. Its counterpart to the left serves double duty as turn signal and two-stage light switch.

Despite the technology, there's a purity that's reminiscent of Bruce Meyers' original creations.

Compared to the electric buggy, the 1967 Manx brought along for the fun of it by Winnie and Bruce Meyers feels like a synthesis of a zero-SPF sunbed and vintage fitness machine. Its indirect, unassisted steering is as vague as a broken Geiger counter, the brakes are well intentioned but badly done, the clutch takes forever to engage, and the smoky engine keeps choking on an overly rich mixture. It's a great American cult car that couldn't be any further away technologically from the 2019 reincarnation, with the latter's intelligent, all-encompassing high-voltage system that supports instant-on brakes and fingertip-easy yet powerpoint-sharp steering.

Likewise, the ID Buggy's single-speed transmission makes the clutch obsolete, its jumpstart torque explosion never ceases to amaze, and the only smell that mixes with the salty sea breeze is an occasional whiff of electricity—Tyco model railway style. That said, the Manx can be filled to the brim with fuel in less than three minutes; the VW for tomorrow's beach boys needs at least half an hour on a hard-to-find 100-kW charger before it's ready for the next journey.

The Wolfsburg rumor mill is churning out all manner of estimates, from between 10,000 and 20,000 units per year with a base price of $30,000.

According to VW, the ID Buggy presents an "opportunity for external manufacturers. It can be built by startups in a wide variety of versions." That's an interesting statement because right now anything is possible and nothing is fixed. One of the external manufacturers VW has in mind is a company called e.Go. Soon after VW Group Chairman Herbert Diess announced VW will make its MEB architecture available to selected third-party customers, e.Go was confirmed as the first cooperation partner. Founded in 2015, e.Go's initial claim to fame was its electric StreetScooter panel van operated by Deutsche Post. In 2017, the firm announced its e.Go Life plug-in city car. Because the production capacity at its Aachen factory is limited to 10,000 units a year, the e-buggy might be too much for an independent entrepreneur without generous corporate backing. Says Diess: "The joint vehicle project in question has yet to be defined."

With a single rear-mounted motor and a 62-kW-hr battery pack, the Volkswagen ID Buggy is about fun rather than extreme performance.

If the board does indeed greenlight the zero-emissions Buggy, about two-and-a-half years are likely to pass before it would be ready for job one. Because the e.Go link is still tentative, the production planners are also evaluating various alternative scenarios, among them a cooperation with Magna, part of a line at VW's Mexican assembly plant in Puebla, one of three possible joint venture factories in China, or the former Karmann works in Osnabrück, Germany. It's still early days, so the projected volume numbers related to the project are accordingly provisional. The Wolfsburg rumor mill is churning out all manner of production estimates, everything from a low-volume, build-to-order scenario up to between 10,000 and 20,000 units per year over a multiyear time frame, with a base price in the neighborhood of $30,000.

"It is obviously more about open-air wafting than outright performance," Bischoff says with a smile. "It is clearly a weekend special and not a daily driver, and if it does get the nod, it will be, in relative terms, about as affordable as the original beach buggy created by Bruce Meyers back in 1964." He ponders his words for a beat before he adds: "This project has the support of our chairman, Herbert Diess, so it may not be just a flash in the pan."