Just before the Frankfurt International Motor Show begins tomorrow, Volkswagen revealed the final production version of what is likely their most significant car in decades, the ID.3. You can think of the ID.3 as a Golf translated into an electric vehicle via Volkswagen’s new MEB modular electric platform. It’s not a Golf reworked to run on electrons instead of dead dinosaurs, it’s an electric car that’s designed from the same core beliefs as the Golf; as such, it’s not so much an EV Golf as it is an EV that’s filling the same role as the Golf.
And that role is an important one, as the Golf has been Volkswagen’s do-anything-and-everything car since the Golf/Rabbit replaced the Beetle as VW’s entry-level everyperson’s car in the mid-1970s.
It’s not an SUV; it’s something far more rational, a true hatchback, a useful volume of space with an opening at the rear that’s set at a ride height that’s just fine. Of course, this means the we won’t be getting such a rational vehicle here in America, but instead will get one jacked up high on big tires and called a “crossover” because we have some lingering national brain problems.
But, for now, let’s look at some of the interesting design decisions VW made here. What’s most interesting about this EV, which should compete fairly directly with the Tesla Model 3 and the Chevy Bolt on price and range, is that it manages to split the difference between the stylish and appealing Model 3 and the practical but frumpy Bolt.
Design and status clearly sell cars—the Model 3 has proven to be something people want far more than a Chevy Bolt—and with price and range being similar, it’s clear that the intangible factors of status and looks are very important. Volkswagen has done a good job with the ID.3 when it comes to these elusive qualities, giving it detailing that clearly suggests that it is an electric vehicle, which people who buy EVs tend to want advertised.
It’s a practical hatchback design, but it feels futuristic and sleek, and is not likely to be mistaken for a combustion car, something you can’t say about the Bolt.
While the fundamental design is based on the Golf, the realities of the MEB platform allow for a lot more packaging options. True to VW’s ancient air-cooled roots, the ID.3 has a motor mounted at the rear, driving the rear wheels. The batteries are set into the floor, and while it doesn’t feature a front cargo area like the Tesla, the electronics, HVAC and other equipment that’s packaged up front are smaller than a conventional FWD drivetrain, so the front hood area can be compressed, with more space given to passenger and cargo volume.
For the same general size, the ID.3 has a longer wheelbase than a Golf and more interior volume. The windshield extends quite far forward, necessitating a large triangular window between the A-pillar and the door, which should make the interior feel quite open and airy.
The basic exterior front-end design I think actually seems to take more cues from the VW Up! platform than the Golf, which is an interesting choice. Here, look:
The headlight shape, the stripe standing in for the grille, the prominent centrally-placed badge, the main air intakes being below the bumper line—in a lot of ways, the ID.3 looks maybe more like an enlarged Up! than a Golf, at least from the front end.
I think the Golf heritage is most clearly seen in profile, where what is arguably the most iconic Golf design element, the angled C-pillar, is further emphasized here with the graphic Ben-Day dots/hexagon surface design graphic, which echoes the cast-in texture motif used on the lower part of the front end, just above the air intake area.
I like graphics like these on cars; I feel like auto designers have been too timid about applying surface graphic effects to production cars, and I think in this context it’s a reminder that this is an EV and feels suitably futuristic.
There’s a lot of other interesting details, so let’s make a little chart here:
Overall, it’s a striking, handsome car. The bold design continues into the interior, which, in at least one trim, has some wonderfully bold color choices:
It’s clean and well-thought out, less aggressively minimalistic than the Model 3, but equally modern-feeling. I love the white and orange, and I think the driver’s instrument binnacle is a really attractive design. There’s hardly any physical controls on the car at all, which, like it or not, appears to be the way everyone is going.
The play/pause markings on the pedals have shown up on cars before from a number of manufacturers, but I like seeing it here. It’s playful and fun, so why the hell not?
The door card design with the angled parallel lines that suggest fabric folds I think is very strong, and I like how it’s echoed in the speaker grille design and in the detail on the side of the center console.
I guess VW is serious about this ‘no bottom touch W’ logo.
In more conventional grayscale coloring, the interior is much less striking, but is still handsome.
I like the new ID.3. I hope whatever on-stilts/big-booted version we get in America doesn’t muck the basic design up too much, because I think VW has managed to hit a sweet spot between Tesla stylishness and workhorse Golf practicality.