Volkswagen ID.3 review

Volkswagen's 'electric car for the masses' is here at last. Does it have what it takes to truly revolutionise the family-car market?

Volkswagen ID.3
£40,000
Electric

Pros

  • Great to drive
  • Clean, stylish looks
  • Good range and power

Cons

  • Weak regenerative braking
  • Interior quality disappointing
  • Some software features delayed
Car type Official range Wallbox charge time Rapid charge time
Electric 261 miles* 9hrs 15mins (0-100%, 7.4kW)* 30mins (10-80%, 100kW)*

*Figures for ID.3 1ST Plus model

It has been coming for a long time, but the much-anticipated first model from Volkswagen's dedicated ID. electric sub-brand is finally here. This is the ID.3: it's a VW Golf-sized hatchback that builds on lessons learned from designing and selling the e-up! and e-Golf, and Volkswagen hopes it'll bring electric motoring to the masses.

In the past 18 months or so, we've visited the ID.3 factory in Germany and driven a prototype version of the car. But this is the real deal – the final production version that customers will start receiving in September. Even more importantly, the mechanical platform this car is built on (known as 'MEB') will underpin dozens of new electric models from Volkswagen and its sister brands Skoda, Audi, SEAT and Cupra in the coming years.

The ID.3 will be offered in a wide range of variants, with lower-range, entry-level versions rivalling the Nissan Leaf and Renault ZOE, while the more expensive, longer-range models could even tread on the Tesla Model 3 and Tesla Model Y's toes. First deliveries in the UK will be of the 1ST Plus model, priced at around £40,000; a basic, sub-£25,000 model is expected in due course.

Volkswagen ID.3 performance and electric motor

While there's a distinct possibility of more powerful ID.3 variants down the line, potentially using a twin-motor setup like the 'Performance' versions of Teslas, at launch the car is available with a single 201bhp motor. Three battery sizes will eventually be offered: 45, 58 or 77kWh, with the smallest offering a driving range of 205 miles and the largest taking the car just over 340 miles before needing a charge. The ID.3 1ST launch edition gets the mid-range 58kWh battery, with an official range of 261 miles.

Just like Volkswagen's iconic Beetle, the ID.3 is rear-wheel drive and has its motor in the back. There's 310Nm of torque on offer, so it's not surprising to discover it feels more like a hot-hatch when you hit the accelerator. The ID.3 will comfortably out-accelerate a Nissan Leaf or Renault ZOE, while good traction control means it never seems frantic or out of control; acceleration up to motorway speeds is smooth and steady.

Top speed is limited to 99mph – this is one area where electric cars seem destined to fall short of their internal-combustion-engined counterparts, as manufacturers keep a lid on max speed to preserve range. But it's an irrelevant point for UK buyers, and indeed anyone who doesn't frequent Germany's unrestricted autobahns on a regular basis.

Of more interest for everyday driving is the car's regenerative braking system. Perhaps in recognition of the fact that the ID.3 is intended to appeal to mainstream motorists and not just 'early adopter' electric-car enthusiasts, the braking feels more conventional than in other electric cars. In the default mode, it's little different from just lifting and coasting in a petrol-engined car, and even the stronger 'B' mode doesn't give you the same sharp deceleration when you lift off the throttle that characterises the Nissan Leaf's clever 'e-Pedal' setup.

Handling

The obvious basis for comparison here is the petrol and diesel-engined Golf, given the ID.3 is being positioned as an electric counterpart to that car. The ID.3 is taller than its stablemate and also 33% heavier, but that's offset by the fact that its centre of gravity is lower, due to the battery packs sitting flat in the floor and the electric motor being much smaller than a conventional engine.

When you combine that with the power and torque of the electric motor, you get a car that actually feels lighter and more agile than a typical mid-range Golf. It can't completely disguise its weight, however; you do notice it leaning a bit more to the side when taking corners at speed than a Golf would.

Away from the open road and in a congested city centre, through, the ID.3 really comes into its own. With no engine in the usual place, Volkswagen's engineers were left with space to give the car a tight, London taxi-like turning circle, which is a real boon in cramped car parks and narrow streets.

Volkswagen ID.3

Interior, equipment and technology

Much has been made of the latest Golf's 'fully digital' interior, but the ID.3 takes things even further, with even fewer physical buttons and even more prominent dashboard screens. The digital instruments are displayed on a tablet-like screen behind the steering wheel, while there's a 'floating' touchscreen for the navigation, climate control, audio and other functions in the middle of the centre console. There's also a small drive mode select lever similar to the one you’d find in a BMW i3.

A standout feature of the ID.3's interior is the 'ID. Light' bar that runs along the bottom of the windscreen. This changes colour to 'talk' to the driver, flickering white when you're giving a voice-activation command, blue when giving sat-nav directions, green when a phone call is incoming, and red when the driver-assistance technology is warning of a possible hazard. Some may see it as a gimmick, but the red for warnings at least is useful extra emphasis.

There have been reports of software problems being partly responsible for delays in the ID.3 going on sale, and at launch some of the touted on-board technology – such as the head-up display and automated parking function – won't be available. Volkswagen hopes to resolve this with software updates down the line, initially by visiting the dealer, but eventually 'over the air', in similar fashion to Teslas – as well as the upcoming Ford Mustang MACH-E.

Standard equipment on the ID.3 1ST Plus trim level that initial UK buyers will receive includes sat nav, digital radio, dual-zone climate control, seat and steering wheel heating, front armrests, 100kW rapid-charging capability, a rear-view camera system, keyless access and starting, extra USB ports in the rear, a silver exterior styling package, LED tail-lights and 19-inch alloy wheels.

Once you get past all the high-tech features and actually examine the physical structure of the ID.3's interior, though, there's no getting away from the fact that the material quality doesn't compare well with the high standard established by recent generations of the Golf. Volkswagen had to save money somewhere to keep the ID.3's list price down to the desired level, and this is the most obvious evidence of that. Could it be enough to put some buyers off entirely, or will the ID's futuristic appeal win out? Time will tell.

Volkswagen ID.3

Practicality and boot space

Designed as an electric car from the ground up, the ID.3 takes full advantage of extra space freed up by the absence of a large internal-combustion engine. It's 20mm shorter than the latest Golf, but its wheelbase (the distance between the front and rear axles) is 130mm longer, which translates to more legroom for both front and rear passengers. In short, it feels more like a Passat than a Golf inside.

The lack of a bulky centre console also contributes to the general feeling of spaciousness, while in the boot, there's actually five extra litres of luggage space compared with the Golf: 385 versus 380. That's perhaps why Volkswagen hasn't felt the need to offer more storage space up front with a Tesla-style 'frunk'.

Verdict

Overall, the Volkswagen ID.3 is a very impressive package. There's lots of up-to-date technology crammed in, it drives very nicely, looks smart and the price isn't too steep. It has all the elements necessary to fulfil the 'electric Golf' brief. It probably won't generate the same excitement as a Tesla, while the software delays and below-par interior quality are disappointing from Volkswagen, but there's enough here to appeal to a wide range of buyers who may not have considered going fully electric until now.