I Thought VW's Electric Dune Buggy Was Silly, but Then I Drove It
The ID Buggy is seriously fun and could portend a new era in coachbuilding.
If you were one of the many who thought the ID Buggy, Volkswagen's latter-day dune-buggy concept, fell somehow shy of the mark, join the club. But if, from that population, you are one of the lucky few who have now actually driven a running, driving ID Buggy prototype along Pebble Beach's 17 Mile Drive—where it majestically overlooks the Pacific, no less—you've probably left that club. That's because now you can see where the Buggy has real merit: as a statement of intent, as a fun car, as an expression of modern technology and the new paradigm of limited production, bespoke car-building made possible by electric skateboard architectures.
As you will have read, the ID Buggy uses the MEB electric platform slated to underpin as many as 27 new Volkswagen models (and possibly some Fords), including what is arguably the kickiest VW shoutout to history, the long-awaited Microbus tribute ID Buzz coming in 2022. VW has purportedly entered into an agreement with a German startup, e.Go Mobile, to use this platform to assemble the Buggy in low (5,000 to 10,000 a year) volumes, with target consumers in America including the denizens of southern California and tonier East Coast beach communities. First up for the U.S.A., though, is the ID Crozz, a crossover VW hopes to shift in serious numbers. Sadly—foolishly, I would add—the ID 3 Golf-style EV will not be coming this way.
The first thing that strikes you after climbing aboard the ID Buggy is how simple and unadorned it is. There's a speedometer and a turn signal, a battery-level indicator, two pedals, and, er, that's about it, save airbags, which hopefully you will never see. The simplicity reminds us of the original Meyers Manx dune buggy, which serves as the unashamed inspiration for the ID Buggy, hinting, too, at the old-school Volkswagen Beetles upon which that and almost all dune buggies ever built were based. A square-ish steering wheel is amusing to look at, though neither its advantages nor disadvantages were clear in the relatively short drive we had.
The long-lived father of the whole dune-buggy movement the Manx unleashed, Bruce Meyers, was not wrong when he told us at the New York auto show in April that the new electric car is not as cute as the original because it's bigger. Small is cute, he said, and right he is. Volkswagen even had a running example of an original-style Manx on hand to underscore the connection, and it was indeed cuter than the ID Buggy, though not necessarily more fun to drive. The Manx was pristine, but noisy, smelly, and plenty farty with a hot cam and big carbs making driving at low revs a bit of a chore. Not that it wasn't enjoyable.
Again, the lack of separation between occupants and the world around them is, under the right circumstances, a massive and instant upgrade from whatever you were just driving. Certainly one of these circumstances is when you're looking out from your buggy—old or new—admiring the Pacific coast that spreads out before your eyes. Gasping for air inside the Lincoln Tunnel or sitting in traffic at the interchange of Routes 17 and 4 in Paramus, New Jersey, maybe not so much.
But whatever you make of its lines, as Meyers observed, the new ID Buggy is fun as all get out. And say what you will, until you're in a virtually no-noise electric car with no roof and no doors, you're missing out.