Volkswagen ID.3 hatchback review
"The Volkswagen ID.3 is essentially a futuristic, electric version of the the Golf, and VW hopes it will prove just as popular"
- Range and fast-charging
- Interior space and tech
- Plastic interior trim
- No one-pedal driving
- Software delays
The Volkswagen ID.3 has arrived, marking the start of a new era for the German brand. It's the first model based on VW’s multi-billion pound MEB electric car building blocks and is Golf-sized, making it the Nissan Leaf's biggest rival for domination of the mass electric car market.
It certainly looks different to the Volkswagen Golf, ushering in a new design language specifically for the ID electric car sub-brand. The lines are smart, helped by a contrasting roof and LED lights, but it doesn’t look overly radical; despite looking modern it seems familiar too. Designers have taken full advantage of the low position of the battery and compact rear-mounted electric motor: it has a short bonnet and the wheels are pushed out to each corner, giving the ID.3 interior space on a par with the bigger Volkswagen Passat.
Inside, the use of digital technology makes even the Mk8 Golf look conservative, with buttons eradicated almost entirely. Instead there's a floating centre screen and a tablet-style instrument pod, so it's almost as minimal as the Tesla Model 3. Glowing ambient lighting responds to voice commands and flashes to offer directions and alerts for incoming calls or hazards. A gear selector for drive and reverse takes the form of a rocker switch behind the steering wheel, freeing up storage space between the front passengers. It's Volkswagen's most radical change to the human-machine interface in a generation, but if you ignore the bells and whistles, you’ll notice quality seems to have suffered; there are less soft-touch materials, replaced in most instances by hard grey plastic.
Three battery options will be offered for the ID.3, allowing drivers to pick one that suits their daily routine and budget. With a 45, 58 or 77kWh capacity, they span a driving range from 205 miles to 341 miles, so even the entry-level model can go further than a Hyundai Ioniq Electric. At first, power is 201bhp using a single rear motor, powering the back wheels, but dual-motor, four-wheel-drive versions are expected later, along with a cheaper, less powerful model. All 1st Edition cars, which are now sold out, get the 58kWh battery and a 260-mile range, and this battery size is likely to be the most popular in the line-up.
Acceleration is impressively brisk, thanks to an instant response and 310Nm of torque, putting the Leaf and Renault ZOE in the shade. Around town and away from traffic lights, not much will keep up. Charging is similarly speedy, with 100kW fast-charging filling the battery pack to 80% in around half an hour. Despite weighing more than a Golf, the ID.3's low centre of gravity also makes it remarkably agile, beating the petrol or diesel hatchback in this regard. A tight turning circle is also an unexpected bonus of the extra space under the bonnet, giving the ID.3 an advantage in city streets and car parks.
Our 1st Edition test car may have had big, 19-inch alloy wheels, but on the vast majority of roads, ride comfort is commendable. It’s generally quiet on the move too, which is handy as the lack of an engine increases your awareness of other sounds.
The long-awaited ID.3 appears very impressive on first acquaintance, with strong performance, a decent electric range and sharp styling. It will cater to a slightly different market than the Tesla Model 3, instead feeling rather like the Golf of the future. It's a shame the interior quality is slightly underwhelming but the ID.3 should appeal to a broad range of buyers.
MPG, running costs & CO2
Buyers will be able to choose the ID.3 with three different battery sizes to suit their needs and budget. These measure 45kWh, 58kWh and 77kWh and the resulting effect on range means the entry-level model can manage around 205 miles, the 58kWh model will do around 260 miles and the range-topper can travel up to 341 miles.
While more range is clearly better, even the smallest (the 45kWh) in the ID.3 surpasses the Hyundai Ioniq Electric and standard Nissan Leaf, so shouldn't be sniffed at. If you plan on charging your ID.3 fairly regularly at home and don't often take long trips around the country, it’s likely to be adequate. The cheapest Tesla Model 3 offers 254 miles of range.
When you do head further afield, the ID.3 accepts 100kW fast-charging, so the battery can be topped up to 80% in the time it takes to eat a snack and drink a coffee. Check out our guide to the best chargepoint providers here.
The car costs nothing in VED (tax) saving you £150 a year, while recharging at home costs a fraction of filling a fuel tank - although how much cheaper it works out depends on your electricity tariff.
Engines, drive & performance
At launch, Volkswagen is offering a simplified range, offering just a 201bhp rear-mounted electric motor powering the rear wheels. Eventually there will also be versions of the ID.3 with an extra front-mounted motor, giving the ID.3 four-wheel drive. With instantaneous torque, the ID.3 feels genuinely quick away from the lights, not only outpacing the Leaf and ZOE, but even making for an interesting comparison with a conventionally powered Golf GTI. The ID.3 races from 0-37mph in just 3.5 seconds, aided by uncanny traction and the absence of gearchanges.
Braking feels more natural than in many rivals we've tried. Selecting 'B-Mode' adds some braking effect from the electric motor as it harvests energy, but nowhere near as much as the 'one-pedal driving' offered by the Leaf and Model 3. Press the brake pedal, though, and it will use regeneration to slow the car before the disc brakes take over. The pedals in 1st Edition cars come with ‘play’ and ‘pause’ icons, which is a fun touch.
Despite being taller and almost one third heavier than a Golf, the ID.3 fights back with a lower centre of gravity thanks to its low-slung electric powertrain. And, in an impressive feat of chassis tuning, Volkswagen's engineers have been able to make it feel more agile and lighter on its feet than the Golf. That's with standard suspension too; the DCC-equipped ID.3 with adjustable dampers is still in the works. An ideal balance helps, afforded by being able to position the heavy battery back centrally in the car, while progressive steering sharpens up as you turn the wheel. It doesn’t tend to get unsettled by rough road surfaces either.
With no engine dominating the nose of the car, Volkswagen has also been able to increase the steering angle of the front wheels, giving the ID.3 a smaller turning circle that makes previously unthinkable manoeuvres possible.
Interior & comfort
While the all-digital interior in the Mk8 Volkswagen Golf may have taken a few loyal customers by surprise, the ID.3 will blow their socks off. There are even fewer physical controls, and its digital screens are even more prominent. The touchscreen infotainment takes centre stage, like it does in the Model 3, and appears to float in front of the dashboard.
Meanwhile, the instrument display sits like a tablet behind the steering wheel. Like the BMW i3, the gear selector sprouts from the instrument pod, which may take a bit of getting used to, but is only needed to select drive, reverse and park. A swathe of lighting beneath the windscreen changes colours to interact with the driver, glowing white when 'listening' to voice commands, giving directions in blue, warnings in red and showing an incoming call by turning green.
The futuristic approach is little surprise - this is the car that represents a new era for Volkswagen after all - but the drop in quality is more of a shock. Soft-touch materials are sparse, replaced with lots of grey and scratchy plastic that seems a big backwards step for a brand that made its name on quality. Electric cars are expensive to produce and we can only imagine this has made margins painfully tight.
While the infotainment system looks stylishly futuristic, the move away from physical buttons has made it a little fiddly to use. Everything’s accessed through the touchscreen, and even the climate control functions are now changed through touch-sensitive sliders. The ride may be good but you may well prod in the wrong place while driving.
Only the 1st Edition Plus trim level with a 58kWh battery will be offered initially, with quite a hefty price tag of over £35,000 after the plug-in car grant (PiCG), but lower trims will arrive in due course costing closer to £27,000 - a price similar to a mid-range Golf.
Standard equipment on every ID.3 will include auto LED headlights, all-round parking sensors, adaptive cruise control, sat nav and keyless start, while the 1st Edition Plus adds two-zone climate control, heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, matrix LED headlights, 19-inch alloy wheels and 100kW rapid charging. 1st Edition cars, now sold out, also got 2,000kWh of free charging, which could equate to around 7,000 miles.
Practicality & boot space
The ID.3 is the first model based on the new and hugely expensive MEB all-electric platform, set to spawn countless EVs for Volkswagen, Audi, SEAT and Skoda. This clean-sheet design has allowed VW to reinvent how a car is structured, taking full advantage of compact electric motors, low-slung battery packs and the lack of need for a transmission tunnel. Overall it's 20mm shorter than a Golf, but the distance between its front and rear axles is 13cm bigger, maximising interior space and particularly back seat legroom.
It all adds up to a car that feels like a Polo in town, looks like a Golf from outside and feels like a Passat for passengers. The lack of a central tunnel makes the car feel wider, and despite the rear-mounted motor, the ID.3 still trumps the Golf for boot space, with 385 litres versus 380 litres. As such, Volkswagen didn't see the need to fit a 'frunk' to match Tesla, instead using the space under the bonnet to house the air conditioning system. You’ll be able to order bike racks and transport boxes but the ID.3 isn’t able to tow.
Reliability & safety
As the very first in a new wave of MEB-platform electric cars, the ID.3 is something of a pioneer. Hopefully this won't mean it proves unreliable, but any issues should at least be covered by Volkswagen's three-year warranty. We anticipate that the electric powertrain should be very robust, with the potential to be far more reliable than a combustion-engined car. Teething problems are likely to lie with software and electrics, and we know the ID.3 launch was delayed while Volkswagen battled software bugs.
The ID.3 is a showcase for VW's latest technology, and that extends to its safety kit. Features like autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection are fitted as standard. This earned it a maximum five-star score when it was tested by Euro NCAP in late 2020. Overall, it was awarded 87% and 89% for adult and child occupant protection respectively, a 71% score for protection of vulnerable road users, and 88% for its safety assist systems.
While Volkswagen isn't offering anything to compete with Tesla's Autopilot system just yet, we do know it is working on autonomous driving technology, so this could be introduced for the ID.3 later.