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Road test: Volkswagen ID.3

Nick Francis

07 Dec 2020

Volkswagen’s mission statement with the ID.3 is to create the everyman electric car – but has it pulled it off?

The pressure on the Volkswagen ID.3 to take a trick can’t be overstated: it’s the first earnest effort of VW’s assault on the electric car market, kicking off the ID range which will soon be chock full of EVs in various shapes, sizes and flavours. In fact it’s VW itself which is heaping the pressure on this hatchback, declaring the ID.3 one of its most important cars of all time, a class shared only by the Beetle and the Golf. That’s what the ‘3’ denotes – the third most significant car in the brand’s history. Wow.

We’re used to such hype surrounding long-awaited supercars, or the return of legendary nameplates like the Alpine A110. But the ID.3’s mission statement is a little more prosaic: it needs to be the everyman EV, in the same way the Golf is the everyman hatchback.

Comparisons to the Golf come easily. The ID.3 is a hatchback. It’s affordable. It will carry a family of five but wouldn’t be an excessive car for a single 20-something year old or pensioner. But of course in many ways it’s very different to the Golf, not least because it has no combustion engine. Its electric motor is on the back axle too, which makes handling dynamics rather different. And it doesn’t look much like a Golf.

At launch the ID.3 was available with just one battery size, but very soon you’ll be able to choose an entry level 48kWh battery which is good for 205 miles (WLTP figures) and comes with a 148bhp motor. Right now you can also opt for the range-topping 77kWh battery with a range of 342 miles and a 201bhp motor. We’ve driven the middle option, which comes with a 58kWh battery which still feeds the 201bhp motor but has a range of 260 miles.

Step into the ID.3 and comparisons with the Golf aren’t so easy. While it’s lifted the infotainment screen from its petrol-drinking cousin, it feels altogether more futuristic and, well, EV-like. There’s a calming ambient glow and everything is super-minimal, with no drive selector other than a rotary switch behind the steering wheel via which you can select go, reverse and dial up the regenerative braking. Behind that sits a 5.3-inch digital driver display which is clear and easy to read. The main complaint concerns the seats which have little side support, using fold down armrests instead of built-in structure, which is almost certainly done in the name of weight saving but feels cheap.

Many people won’t like the over-use of haptic feedback buttons, and I would be inclined to agree with them. They can be infuriatingly sensitive, especially the temperature controls, and more than once I managed to deafen myself by turning the radio up way too loud. And too many functions are controlled via the infotainment system to be safe. There is such a thing as being too minimalist.

The 10-inch infotainment system looks good though, with plenty of interactive graphics to play with. It responds quickly to inputs and never frustrates with illogical functions. Is it as good as that found in the Tesla Model 3, the ID.3’s natural rival? No. It’s not. But it certainly has more to say for itself than the systems found in the Nissan Leaf and Renault Zoe.

Like most small EVs the ID.3 creates the illusion of speed thanks to the fact all of its shove is available from the get-go, but the 0-62mph time is actually a relatively mild 7.3 seconds. Like I say, it feels faster, and the power doesn’t wane any time before the 70mph mark so it’s got more than enough guts for motorway driving. Once again though, when compared to its Tesla rival it doesn’t fare well: the Model 3 is considerably faster, even in entry-level guise.

The ID.3 acquits itself best in the urban environment. The steering is incredibly light which makes it a breeze to dart around congested roads and chocka car parks. That light steering becomes a bit of an annoyance at higher speeds, although selecting Sport mode adds some weight, but this is never a car which makes you feel connected to the road. Will ID.3 buyers care a jot? I doubt it. This is supposed to be an easy to drive and accessible EV for all, and it hits those notes perfectly.

You could criticise the ID.3 for the way it deals with bumpy ground, but with a heavy battery in the belly I think that would be slightly unfair. It’s not a refined as a Golf over potholes, but at the same time it’s not awful, and in every other way the driving experience is calm and composed, with a serene feeling in the cabin which really does somehow have the power to relax your shoulders and make you feel a bit more zen.

Grip is very good when pushing it a bit harder, and you’re definitely aware of the fact this is a rear wheel drive car - despite the light steering it obeys your directional commands to the letter. The one thing I struggle to understand is the lack of braking regeneration. As I mentioned earlier there is the option of dialling it up, but it’s still very vague and it doesn’t come close to being a one pedal car, like the BMW i3 or Nissan Leaf. I would love to know the thought process behind this decision.

With the government’s low-emission car grant the car I drove would cost you £34,650, and that feels like decent value for money. When the entry level ID.3 arrives you’re looking at sub-£30K prices, but it comes at the cost of range and performance. I don’t think Volkswagen has done itself any favours heaping pressure on its own EV hatchback: the ID.3 is a fine car but to place it on the same pedestal as the Golf and Beetle before it even hit the showroom floor is setting it up for failure. And the Tesla Model 3 has it beaten in so many key areas.

I’m going to end this review with a rant. I drove the ID.3 on a 140 mile round trip, when I set off it had 170 miles of range so I knew I would need to charge it before heading home. At my destination I could see a few charging points via Zap Map and decided to use the local supermarket. When I got there the chargers were in use. So I went to the next location and found the same. Getting slightly nervous and wondering when I would get home for my dinner, I resorted to phoning the local VW dealership which was Motorline Volkswagen near Gatwick. Those guys were great, they told to me to whip the car around to them and they let me use their charger and all was well. The customer service was exemplary.

My question is: why should it ever get to the point where I am looking for a VW dealership to find a charger not in use? The government is quite simply not doing enough to make EVs a viable option for all yet. Where is the incentive to make the switch? Unless thousands and thousands more charging stations are built cars like the ID.3 will remain an indulgence viable only for those lucky and loaded enough to have a private driveway and wall box installed.

As much as I enjoyed the ID.3 I simply couldn’t own one as I am not confident I would be able to charge it enough for how much I use a car. And until the government meets its end of the bargain by building the charging infrastructure the UK needs, sales of EVs will have to remain a fraction of the overall numbers.

Model tested: Volkswagen ID.3 Family Pro Performance 58 kWh

Price: £37,650 before £3,000 PiGG 

Battery: 58kWh

Power/torque: 201bhp/310Nm 

0-62mph: 7.3 seconds

Top speed: 100mph 

Range: 265 miles (WLTP)

CO2 emissions: Zero

Nick Francis

07 Dec 2020