Origami ID.3 may have insufficient identity for the VW brand
As the biggest car company in the world, Volkswagen has a notional responsibility to lead the new car market, opines Iain Robertson, although he is concerned that its paper-folded design stance, while light and airy, is lacking slightly in design direction.
In the years prior to the electronic revolution, children would climb trees, play cowboys and Indians, have tea parties and make toys from paper. The Japanese art of paper-folding, Origami, was a practical proposition indoors, on rainy days. With experience, wing flapping ‘birds’ and blossoming lotus ‘flowers’ were major achievements, mostly aided by parental support. VW’s latest ID.3 reminds me of Origami…or the professional way the books would represent it.
Mind you, since the end of Dr Piech’s reign as the premier of VW Group, it would be fair to suggest that the company has squandered most of its design innovation at the perceived altar of cost reductions. There are more than a few products in the Group that, were you to remove their badges, would struggle from a lack of individual brand identity and you can start with the raft of SUVs produced by the broader operations.
However, something else has happened in the halls of power at Wolfsburg. The ultra-competitive German car industry, which means VW, BMW and Merc, has been at loggerheads with each other for the past couple of decades. As one of them launches a new model, the others follow suit slavishly. Scarcely a market niche remains in which they all indulge their automotive fantasies, without giving a thought for the additional manufacturing costs, apart from a constant need to re-hike retail prices to nonsensical levels. Of course, it could be stated that Volkswagen is the serial offender in this case, as it rushes (as speedily as its grey-suited accounts department can) to recover its worldwide losses, following the ‘Dieselgate’ debacle.
Yet, emerging into the glow of an EV dawn, if not a standout design, at least ID.3 is unthreatening and appears to be user-friendly, even if one passing shower might turn it into papier-mâché. As the culmination of three nudging four decades of VW innovation, as the German company embarked on its attempts to squeeze extra fuel economy from its core vehicles, it has definitely not rushed into the EV melee. Yet, the new ID. model lineage is one that will grow organically, incorporating city cars, MPVs and SUVs in coming years.
Unveiled in early-September, at the biennial Frankfurt Motor Show, the latest VW is a three-model line-up, with a trio of power options and a posted starter price of around Euros30,000. Personally, I believe that this rate is rip-off; even with an anticipated battery pack cost of around £6,000 (reducing with volume), the ‘People’s Car’ manufacturer is no longer appealing to a lower common denominator. The entry-level version provides a 45kWh battery and a fully charged range of around 200 miles. A 58kWh alternative is intended to cover around 250miles, while the 77kWh version should reach around 330 miles. Fast charging will enable a range of around 180 miles, within 30 minutes, from a 100kW charger (cable supplied).
By the way, you should take those WLTP mileage claims with a bit of a pinch of salt, because 160, 200, 285 and 150 miles are much nearer to the actual ranges (respectively) stated above, before the terror of range anxiety overwhelms the driver. To be fair, they are marginally better than the rest of the EV industry’s range statements but they are not so far advanced that VW can afford to be smug. For all of the promised developments, I cannot help but feel that VW has been little more than tentative with its ID.3 line-up and that it should have been braver than it has been.
Anyway, back to Origami and the paper-folder’s art is continued within the cabin, the ID.3 boasting a truly minimalist design, with a small digital display pod ahead of the driver, a model-dependent augmented reality head-up display projected into the windscreen and a large centre touchscreen to control most of the car’s functions. It is a clean sheet approach that provides first-rate cabin space, even if the quality of the mouldings leaves a huge question-mark. Just because it projects an eco-car image does not mean that traditional high-quality VW trim treatments ought to be of a lesser grade. When you buy organic fruit and vegetables, you expect them to be mucky and misshapen. When you buy a VW, you expect better than dull and cold plastics. An intriguing innovation is the LED light bar that provides driver assistance in conjunction with the in-built sat-nav and can even warn of a need to brake and avoid incidents. It will be worth further investigation, when I sample a UK-specification model.
VW’s new modular electric vehicle platform (MEB) stretches the wheels out to the corners, places the battery pack within the floor and creates a well-balanced dynamic envelope that provides safe but engaging handling. With typical VW marketing expertise, the ID.3 1st edition, for which early adopters have paid a non-committal £1,000 deposit since the May pre-launch exercise (with no word on whether it is refundable, if the car does not meet visual expectations), can now be specified at supplying dealers. Its 58kWh battery enables a maximum speed of 100mph and includes sat-nav, DAB+ radio, both seat and steering wheel heating, front armrests and 18.0-inch diameter alloy wheels.
The 1st Plus variant adds a rear-view camera, cruise control, ambient cabin illumination, all-LED external lighting and 19.0-inch alloys, while the 1st Max features the augmented reality HUD, a Beats sound system, panoramic sunroof and 20.0-inch alloys. Apparently, in excess of 30,000 deposits have been placed by interested potential customers and, because it is a Volkswagen, it is sure to sell like hotcakes. My advice, should you feel tempted, is take a close look and decide whether you are truly ready for an EV in your life.
Conclusion: Surprisingly conventional, despite its lofty ambitions for the VW Group, the new ID.3 is an important signpost to VW’s future, which will succeed at making EVs more than a secondary consideration, although prices, not specs, need to reduce somewhat.