Test drive Volkswagen ID.3

[Click here for the Italian version]

As it turns out, I was among the first five people in Italy to pre-book a Volkswagen ID.3 when it was launched, and that distinction (of which I was totally unaware) earned me a ticket to fly to Dresden on dec 12th, courtesy of Volkswagen, to be in the about 100 people from all over Europe who were the first to test-drive the much-awaited all-electric C segment car.

You will not see much in terms of images in this article, due to some restrictions imposed by our hosts; moreover, a couple of pro videomakers were also invited, so there is going to be more visual materials coming under the #weloveid3 hashtag (if I got it right…).

EDIT 16/9: here is the video by Andrea Galeazzi

Hospitality was perfect and Dresden (one of the few German cities I had never visited before) worthy of a weekend, even though much of what you see has been rebuilt after the dramatic firestorm bombing of WWII.

Trabant car and trailer at DRS

The day started quite early, we checked in at Die Glaeserne Manufaktur (the glass factory) where the assembly lines are in full display and a big silo hosts the cars ready for delivery. Everything there speaks “electric” and “transparency” so to me it sounds like a german-style effort to cut clean with some shady practices of the past. As I learned in my years as a marketeer, Germans know how to use one voice when they make up their mind, and this is an egregious example.

The Klettwitz test track

Immediately after receiving our badges, we were whisked about 65km north of Dresden to the Dekra test track in Klettwitz. Weather was cold, but no rain nor snow: after more coffee and pastrie, we were divided in groups (the morning contingent numbered about 50 people) to take turn in test driving the 4 street-legal ID.3.

OUTSIDE – The test cars were all dark grey, almost black, with black and grey interiors which we were not allowed to photograph, phones were locked away on entry; the reason for the secrecy is that “they are not final” although I doubt that the hardware can change at this stage, so the final touches must be all software; in particular, the circa 10″ screen was all taped over, so I suspect this is the bit which is being finalized.

Panels in these cars were MUCH better aligned than in the one I had seen in Milano and the doors slam with a satisfying full “thump” which reassures. Could not find any painting imperfections, despite being rather fastidious; I am being told that the base version does not have a cargo shelf which seems unbelievably sloppy in a VW, so I decided not to believe this.

INSIDE the ID.3 hits an interesting and pleasant middle ground between the buttons galore of my Kona and the monk-cell minimalism of a Tesla; the car has obviously automatic transmission, controlled by neither the familiar stick, nor the flat buttons of the Kona, but rather perched on a side stalk jutting out from the front dashboard, a setting which took me a while to get used to.

Regen braking is essentially decided by the car, which therefore does not allow nearly as much control as the Kona does.

The car welcomes you with a narrow LED “expression strip” sitting at the bottom of the windshield and you’re ready to go. Dashboard and commands are all intuitive and well-placed and the not perfectly round steering wheel is rather small and fat (which I like) but more importantly responsive and precise (more later).

THE TEST DRIVE itself consisted in exactly two laps of the test track to allow you to test acceleration, handling, turn radius and not much else. ADAS and electronics were deferred to an e-Golf driving round which followed later in the morning. In total, I spent perhaps 15 minutes in the ID.3 trying to think fast of what I wanted to test.

While a lot of the testers were surprised by the acceleration (nought to a hundred in 7,5″) I and the other 3 people who already drive an electric were hardly so: these specs match the Kona’s, although I appreciated better traction due to the rear-axle drive. I could not find different drive modes (if they exist, they must be buried under layer of menus), but I did stomp my right foot as hard as I could and the wheels did not spin (perfectly dry tarmac and good tires probably helped) as they do in Sports Mode in the Kona: despite almost identical timings, I suspect I would lose to this car in a drag race.

Then we got to the slalom section: the first time our chaperon did not explain much, so I went among the tight cones at grandma-in-the-passenger-seat speed; I realized however that the steering is so precise and the car so well balanced I got a bit bolder in the second lap entering the section at the highest speed I could muster, well-prepared (almost expecting) to lose my tail at some point, which did not happen.

My fellow tester sitting in the back did comment rather unflatteringly my driving, but fact to the matter is, the car never once lost its poise and balance making me think I so wish I could drive it in wet or snow.

After that section we got to a tiny roundabout where you test a turn radius which made my jaw drop: this car – despite a wheelbase longer than a Golf’s – almost turns on itself! It must be absolute bliss to park in cities.

ADAS TESTING and wet-slalom challenge were performed in the e-Golf (hence my suspicion it is still being finalized for the ID.3) and much talked about and presented when we got back to Dresden: while it did not reveal any significant key unique features, they do offer some subtle improvements worthy of a mention.

To start, they are considered safety equipment and are standard in all trims, treated (rightly so) as ABS, ESP or ASR are (or should be) in most modern cars.

As Hyundai does, VW personnel are keen in telling you that these systems are not “Autonomous Driving” but simple driving aids with bits of improvement here and there: in the ACC (Adaptive Cruise Control) for example, you get to select how far you stay from the car ahead of you, and this distance is expressed in seconds (from 1 to 3.6 sec) rather than meters, therefore adapting automatically for speed (even though our VW tester confessed that 1sec is not legal in Germany). ACC is also not only “adaptive” but also “predictive”: we could not test it, but it’s so useful it deserves a bit of explanation.

Say you’re driving on a 90kph road: you set the ACC for that speed but the car slows down to match the speed of the one in front, say 70 kph. On entering a roundabout, the car in front disappears from the radar cone: your “normal” ACC would therefore try to restore the 90 kph speed you had set: in other words, instead of slowing in approaching the roundabout, you find yourself accelerating towards it. A “predictive” ACC instead knows (from checking the map) that a roundabout is coming and correctly slows you down.

AEB (Autonomous Emergency Braking) works pretty much the same as in any other car: visual warning, audible alarm and a sudden short brake; if you’re still not responsive it stops the car, turns on the emergency lights and issues a rescue call (the last part being standard on all new models approved for sale in the EU after march 2019)

Also, LKA (Lane Keep Assist) reportedly “learns” whether you like to travel closer to the left or right side of your lane and behaves accordingly.

Back to Dresden

Finally a word on the navi system (which we could not test): unlike those I used so far, it is connected to a server through a car-dedicated SIM and gets real-time information such as traffic, much in the same way GMaps or Waze do; it also takes advantage of HUD technology to project on the windscreen (not on a puny pop-up screen) turn-by-turn instructions, although this last features will only be available on top trim configurations.

A venerable 1974 electric Golf: ahead of its time

PRICES – being this an audience of clients, people were really keen on knowing “how much” but the final-final numbers were not disclosed yet. Informally, however we were told that we could expect targets would not be “scraped”: i.e the base configuration promised at “below €30.000” is more likely to cost €28.000 than €29.900 and so forth. The top model long range version, not available for delivery before 2021 is expected to be priced close to €50.000, not far from the most expensive Kona, but with significantly more value.

MY QUESTIONS – during the final section of the day, the program had promised a Q&A session for which I had prepared a number of things I’d like to discuss. Those were to be written on paper and handed over to the personnel which would then take them to the speakers for addressing; unfortunately, timing was a bit long and the session left my questions unanswered, so I figured I could repeat them here, you never know how deep VW’s social media searching goes…

  1. A lot of attention was dedicated to explaining that VW aims to be carbon-neutral by 2050; I’d like to know what it is doing to address the ethical issues linked to rare earth/metal mining, with specific reference to Cobalt?
  2. Perhaps linked to the above, but also from a technological viewpoint, when does VW expect to switch from Li-Ion to other, newer battery chemistries?
  3. VW will offer a WeCharge service which allows you to charge your car on nearly every charging station via the same card/token; will it be available also for charging non-VW cars (e.g. in case someone has two EVs in the same household, perhaps not common today, but much more so in the future)?
  4. Will VW issue charging / behavioural recommendations to minimize battery degradation over time / cycles?

A great opportunity and a great demonstration of how much is at stake for VW’s future on this platform: thank you Volkswagen!

Post scriptum – will I confirm my pre-booking? Actually, I am not sure: the 1st edition (which is all VW will deliver in 2020) will only have the 58kWh battery for a range that’s marginally shorter than my Kona. All in all, I am more likely to wait a bit more to get a full spec 77kWh Long Range model…


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