There hasn't been a Volkswagen this significant in almost 50 years. That's not our view, either; that's what VW says about the ID.3. Its place in the annals is deemed equivalent to the original Beetle and Mk1 Golf. That's part of the reason why it's called the ID.3: it represents the third pillar of VW's history in small family cars.
With its toe previously dipped in EV waters with cars like the e-Golf, e-Up and wild ideas like the XL1, the ID.3 is VW's swan dive into the deep end. The bespoke, modular 'MEB' electric architecture that underpins the car will be used for 25 more electric models in the group by 2022. The factory the ID.3 is built in has already produced its last ICE car as production ramps up, and it aims to be Europe's biggest EV factory by next year. £33bn will be invested by VW between now and 2024 in achieving its ambition of being the world leader in e mobility. That's part of an even broader strategy to have a neutral CO2 balance by 2050. A new VW era begins now, whether you want it to or not - a more sustainable, progressive, environmentally aware Volkswagen, and it begins with the ID.3. Perhaps it really is as important as a Beetle.
There are more tangible links to the original people's car than just the potential mobility revolution; this is also another VW with its engine - or rather, its 204hp motor - at the rear wheels which it also drives, and thus another one that doesn't require a prominent grille at the front. VW says it was a "brand born without a grille", no less, so this is a convenient return. There's a Golf link, too, the cutesy headlights linked by a light bar as on the latest Mk8s and the tail lights also redolent of the world's most famous hatchback.
There'll be no blending into the background with an ID.3 as there was with the e-Golf, however. This is very much the concept productionised, with larger (19-inch here) wheels pushed right out to the corners, the long 2,765mm wheelbase almost entirely dominated by a cabin and very small overhangs; without an engine to accommodate up front, a huge amount of the ID's real estate can be dedicated to the passengers. As for the look itself, the details and stance are both recognisably VW while remaing distinctive enough to mark it out as something a bit different. This is meant to be the EV, presumably, for those who see an e-Golf as too subtle and a i3 too bold - and that's exactly how it looks in reality.
That said, nothing shows off the benefits of bespoke electric vehicle architecture (as opposed to adapting combustion-engined platforms) better than inside the ID3. It's enormous, like a Passat in its ability to accommodate people and things while not taking up much more room than a Golf. Without a transmission tunnel there's plenty of stowage up front, six-foot occupants can sit comfortably behind similarly sized front seat passengers, there's headroom and legroom to spare and even the boot - so often a problem for cars stuffed full of batteries - is competitive: 385 litres with the seats up, 1,267 litres with them down. A growing family would suit an ID3 perfectly.
Getting the car underway could hardly be simpler, presumably a ploy to convince those raised on decades of ICE cars that this brave new world isn't as complex or as intimidating as it seems. Once in, the car is primed, drive selected via a column mounted selector and that's it. Auto hold means there's no need to stay on the brake pedal at lights, and once P is pressed at the end of a journey the driver can exit. It'd be harder to use your microwave than a ID.3, and that's meant entirely as compliment. The technology may still be hard to comprehend for those accustomed to changing oil, but the ease of use is impressive. Notable by their absence here are levels of adjustment for the brake regen, or wild dial displays, or much by way of distraction - you just accelerate, brake and steer.
On the road, that sense of familiarity and ease of use continues; anyone with experience of a recent VW product will feel at home. The home will seem a lot larger than usual, with bigger windows and some funky colours for the fixtures and fittings, but you'll know where stuff is and what It does. The driving position is good, the steering light and accurate, the ride pliable enough, with good low-speed refinement - it's rather like a Golf in its entirely inoffensive way of going about things.
Except of course the ID.3 is not really like a Golf, given its layout, and that becomes clear pretty soon after. An 1,800kg Golf would surely drive like a canal boat; the ID just doesn't, a testament surely to getting all that weight - however unimpressive the actual figure is - down low and central. Even on low rolling resistance tyres, the ID.3 feels planted and secure and neutral in a way that its silhouette might convince you otherwise. The steering is obviously uncorrupted by torque and remains accurate even with some eventual understeer; there are even hints at its rear-driven design as well. This is not a 993 reimagined for the EV world - imagine that when it comes - but the ID.3 can be felt powering you out of a corner from behind on occasion. Which is nice. Certainly preferable to the front wheels desperately scrabbling for purchase having been overwhelmed.
Consequently, while a rear-engined, rear-wheel drive electric vehicle the size of a Golf can never truly be like a Golf, the ID's unflustered, all-of-a-piece, seamless drive is redolent of VW's other hatchback of this size. It might not be spectacularly memorable, but the job is done extremely well, even allowing here for a slightly sticky, inconsistent brake pedal.
Ironically given the effect on an EV's range, the ID.3 is fantastic on a motorway. It cruises with real aplomb, quiet and subdued (bar some wind noise) and with the wheels fidgeting at low speed ironed out. Moreover, while performance is strongest below 60mph (which it dashes to in seven seconds), the ID.3 has no trouble with overtakes at motorway speeds. The 260-mile WLTP range of this 58kWh First Edition might take a hit charging up the M40, but you'll not begrudge hours at the wheel of an ID.3 (once the overly intrusive lane assist is off) - it's a really nice motorway car. That is, until you attempt a rapid charge at Cobham Services and can't get any of four Ionity stations to talk to the car. But that was potentially user error. Notably if a 100kw charger can be found (a few are dotted around now), an ID.3 can have around 180 miles of charge restored in 30 minutes. Which certainly feels like a step in the right direction.
And though it feels like damning the ID.3 with faint praise, a step in the right direction is exactly what this car feels like. It doesn't attempt to charm with two-second sprints to 62mph or an aquarium in the infotainment or wildly ambitious range claims; the ID.3 shows what can be great about EVs by just making the transition from petrol or diesel power as seamless as possible. It's just a car, and one that costs about the same as a comparable VW, too; this First Edition might be £35k with the Government grant, and 77kWh models will cost more, but the 45kWH ID.3 is set to be less than £30k. Naturally it isn't a perfect example of the electric car for every person - some of the material quality isn't great, and it really is heavy - but then a Golf is not the perfect petrol car for everyone either. What the Golf is, however, and what the ID.3 seems to be as well, is an ideal compromise for the majority. This electric VW will slot into your life, charging infrastructure notwithstanding, as simply, easily, and satisfactorily, as VW's other hatch has done for more than 40 years. There is no bigger compliment.
SPECIFICATION | VW ID.3
Engine: Electric motor powered by 58kWh battery
Transmission: Direct drive single speed gearbox, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 204
Torque (lb ft): 229
0-62mph: 7.3 seconds
Top speed: 99mph
CO2: 0g/km (driving)
MPG: 3.96 miles/kWh (260 miles WLTP)
Price: £35,745 (on the road, with Government grant)
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