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Volkswagen ID.3 1st Edition review: A whole new identity

(Pocket-lint) – Volkswagen has a lot riding on its first standalone all-electric car. After ‘dieselgate’, the brand has held onto some of that reputational tarnish. The ID.3 represents the brand anew; a kind of EV rebirth, if you will, as there’s plenty more to come in the ID range over the coming years.

VW is not holding back, either, as it said back in May 2019 upon revealing the car’s name: the ‘3’ represents what the German marque considers as its third most important launch ever, following the Beetle and the Golf.

Indeed, the ID3 – sorry, marketing department, we just can’t cope with that unwarranted break in the name – is the all-electric lure to make you ponder whether your next car actually shouldn’t be yet another Golf. And on the basis of living with the ID3 at home over a long weekend, there’s some strength to that point of view.

All-new platform

There’s no escaping that the ID3 looks like a Volkswagen. But far from being generic, it embraces some of the attributes that being an EV offers: the face is more upright because there’s no engine beneath it, which gives a soft (and maybe a little jowly) yet distinctive look. You know it’s a VW, but you know it’s somehow different.

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That soft front-on look changes as you navigate around the vehicle. The rear has a much stronger angular design language with more aggressive rear lights; the side is more sporty and poised, giving a real complete balance to the overall visual aesthetic. The dotted wrap on the rear pillars? That’s a 1st Edition special, whether you love it or not, adding a lick of extra standout eye-candy.

The ID3 is a five-door hatchback, built on the all-new MEB platform, which you’ll be seeing a lot more from: VW’s ID Crozz (SUV), Vizzion (luxe saloon), Roomzz (larger SUV) all allude to the importance of this platform in the future, as more models move out of concept stage to real-world production cars. Not only that, it’s what the Audi Q4, Skoda Enyaq, and Seat el Born are all built upon too.

Airy interior

Being a new all-electric platform means an all-roomy interior too. Fling the ID3’s door open and you’re met with this wide-open expanse of space, which feels particularly airy given the absence of any leg-collaring centre tunnel.

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There’s also no gear stick to the centre, instead there’s a trough of useful cup holders and phone chargers and storage bins. The auto box is instead controlled by twisting the end of a stem to the upper right-hand side of the steering wheel. Which at first feels very alien indeed, but is about the only aspect about the ID3 that feels like it’ll make people say “what the?”. It’s not exactly new, though, as you’ll find much the same in the BMW i3 (which, believe it or not, is some seven years old now).

While there’s some palpable BMW inspiration to be found inside, the ID3 still cuts its own path. Whether that’s the shimmering almost metallic seat covers, the out-there colour schemes – the white of this review model won’t make you blink, the orange panelled one will though (based on the press shots that we’ve seen) – or the very comfortable adjustable arm rests for the front passengers (there’s no electrically adjustable seats, though, to our surprise).

It’s not all roses though, as, at this price, the ID3 isn’t always perfectly on point. Some of the interior panels feel a little plasticky, lacking the kind of plushness that you can find in even the latest VW Golf. Really it should be the other way around: allure potential buyers to this EV with every possible aspect.

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But the ID3 does have space in abundance, especially if you want to cart around a number of fully grown adults. This isn’t a squeeze-in-and-cross-your-fingers rear passenger experience by any means, it’s positively comfortable in the back. That’s one of the big appeals of EV’s potential. Even the boot is rather large for a hatchback.

Tech quirks and perks

Volkswagen is cutting its own path on the tech front too. There are two main screens in the ID3: the Active Info Display, which is the driver’s display beyond the steering wheel; and the main 10-inch touchscreen, almost floating to the centre of the dashboard, which acts as the hub of most controls.

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There’s a mix of good and bad here though. For all its modern look, keeping it up to speed with the competition, that centre screen’s software is slow to load. We’ve been left thumb-twiddling while waiting for it to get up to speed, despite being ready to get on the road.

There’s also no Android Auto or Apple CarPlay compatibility at launch stage – it will be coming, though, as confirmed to Pocket-lint –  which is a bit of a shame for such a future-facing car. Sure, the in-built satnav is fine – VW’s setup is far better than some other systems we’ve used – but it’s not fully polished based on the system we’ve used, with every destination we sought out being considered ‘offroad’ (despite not being so).

Our main issue with the touchscreen, however, is that it houses an abundance of controls. Not all of which are quickly accessible. It’s an issue that was immediately apparent with Audi’s software when that marque went touchscreen heavy – but in the ID3 that’s even more pronounced.

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As one example: the ID3’s lane keep assist – which switches on automatically after starting the car again each time (a Euro NCAP requirement for a 5-star rating) – is tucked away behind a button press on a panel beneath the screen, followed by a drop menu to the far corner of the touchscreen, followed by an on/off toggle. A simple switch by all the cruise control settings on the steering wheel would make a lot more sense, because we want it back on for motorway driving.

There are other oddities, too, such as the ‘smart climate’ system having an episode the first time we drove the car, disabling any settings from being adjusted on the touchscreen – until eventually the windscreen steamed up due to a downpour of rain and we were forced to pull over. In the end, ironically, it was the physical buttons on the lighting panel – which is tucked away to the left side of the wheel against the dash panel – that solved that conundrum. The touchscreen’s usability was resolved with a classic ‘switch it off, switch it on’ solution. This was a one-off issue for us, the climate systems worked fine thereafter. 

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We’ve got a lot of good to say about the Active Info Display though. It’s got sign recognition, the digital speedometer is clear as day, while various details – such as range, how much regeneration is being applied upon auto-braking, and so forth – are all easy to see.

Range and drive

What’s less easy to see sometimes, however, is around corners. Because the ID3’s A-pillar positions, being elongated as they are, will see you head-bobbing to get clear line of sight. Although the windscreen expanse is massive and fantastic for highways and forward sight or parking, those pillars aren’t best friends for country road bends. Not that we expect them to be transparent or anything, we’re not that far in the future yet.

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That’s our only real moan about driving though – ok, so the suspension is a little firm – because otherwise the ID3 is a nippy and nimble little number. Being that the ‘engine’ (read that as electric motor) is in the back, driving the rear wheels, this hatchback has a real-wheel driving experience about it. It’s less slippy than, say, the Lexus UX300e, because VW’s positioning of power makes more sense.

There’s plenty more pep to the ID3 than some of the figures might suggest too. Because while its 0-62mph pace of 7.3 seconds isn’t crazy fast, it’s actually very adept at delivering applied power from, say, a set of traffic lights to get you to 30mph in double-quick time. And should you move from a 30mph area to national limit – let’s say when departing a village – then there’s plenty of extra grunt available on demand. It feels accomplished in this regard.

The 1st Edition we drove comes with a 58kWh battery, with a range of around 210 miles per charge (the official WLTP range is 260 miles). That’s really decent for mixed condition driving, whether pushing the car through traffic jams or along motorway skirmishes. There is a smaller battery option, at 48kWh, or a larger 77kWh one, available elsewhere in the range – just not from day one deliveries.

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If you intend to buy an ID3 and recharge it from a standard socket (7.2kW AC) then it’ll take nine-and-a-half hours to refill the battery, which is perfectly fine for overnight charges. If you have a wall charger at home or intend to get one fitted then the ID3 supports up to 50kW DC as standard, which is pretty quick, but you can also get 100kW DC and fill the car from flat to 80 per cent in just half an hour. Now that’s decent – especially for service station stops on longer haul trips (assuming the correct chargers are on site anyway).

Overall the ID3 offers a dependable drive with ample range and enough pep to assert that, really, electric cars are a step ahead of their petrol equivalents.

Verdict

The Volkswagen ID3 really brings a whole new identity to the German marque, delivering a dependable all-electric hatchback with decent range and decent driving dynamics.

Its tech setup is a little slow and over-reliant on touchscreen controls – and lacking in Android Auto and Apple CarPlay at launch (but it’s coming) – while some of the interior panels don’t seem quite befitting of its asking price (here reviewed in 1st Edition, as that’s all you can buy for day one delivery).

But as a place the sit the ID3’s airy interior is a breath of fresh air that can easily accommodate a family in total comfort. Whether that’ll be enough to allure would-be Golf buyers into the world of electrification is a whole other question.

But with EVs becoming ever more prominent, we can see why this is such an important car for VW. It’s a lot more exciting looking than a Nissan Leaf too.

Writing by Mike Lowe.

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