09 Jan 2017 | 04.28 pm
VW Unveils 21st Century Camper Van
ID Buzz is a concept, but may be a case of back to the future
09 Jan 2017 | 04.28 pm
The Volkswagen Microbus is one of those iconic 1960s-era vehicles which turned up everywhere and in many guises, the best-loved of which was the camper van with its ‘pop-top’, the accordion-pleated sleeping extension which popped out of the roof and allowed you to stand up to shave, brew coffee, or put on your wetsuit.
Now the carmaker, which hasn’t sold a Microbus in the US since 2003 and shut the last production line in Brazil in 2013, has unveiled a battery-powered version of the hippie-era Microbus. It’s just a concept at present but VW says the ID Buzz is pointing the way to the future and it fully intends to scale up.
The idea of an updated version isn’t new. The Microbus concept shown at the 2001 Geneva show and the Budd-e shown last year at the Consumer Electronics Show both illustrated what a 21st-century bus might look like.
However, the Buzz takes the heritage-laden design a step ahead by adopting styling such as chromed trim on the belt line that ends in a V on the front fascia, tall quarter windows integrated into the front doors, and air vents cut into the rear roof pillars. The designers stopped short of giving the vehicle a split windshield and round headlights, though the turn signals positioned low on the front hark back to the original model.
The Buzz is powered by two electric motors, front and rear, that provide 369hp to all four wheels. A 111-kWh battery pack integrated into the chassis aims to make range anxiety a thing of the past by providing up to 270 miles. It will charge to 80% in 30 minutes at a fast charger.
The Buzz’s top speed is electronically limited to 159 kph. VW may also have in mind a basic version, powered by a smaller 83-kWh battery pack and a single 268-horsepower motor.
The concept is far from being a camper van, though. The cabin can accommodate eight passengers on its three rows of seats. Rails integrated into the floor and a multi-purpose centre console let users configure the interior in a variety of ways.
For example, the Buzz can either carry eight adults, or four with the console set up as a table, or two passengers and over 260 cubic feet of cargo. The front seats pivot 180 degrees when ‘ID Pilot’ mode is engaged, to create a living-room-like space.
ID Pilot? That’s to do with ‘autonomous driving’ — the steering wheel retracts into the dash at a push of the VW logo, and driving is delegated to laser scanners, various sensors, and cameras that watch the road ahead. The driver joins his or her passengers for coffee and chat.
The Buzz is only a concept as yet, but a modern-day Microbus inspired by it could join the company’s lineup in 2021.
Will camper enthusiasts rejoice or mourn? Hard to say, but not if it develops in the same direction as last year’s Budd-e. Camper van owner and nostalgist Chris Dixon, who has owned no less than five VW camper vans, thinks it won’t work as a substitute.
According to Dixon: “Along with many people, I love the VW vans of the past because they were built on the promise of freedom, self-reliance, adventure, and the wonders of the world beyond the windshield. Models like the Microbus and Vanagon were engineered with particular brilliance and they ere easy to fix. The best models, of course, were the campers that offered rotating seats, a stove, sink, refrigerator and that iconic pop-top bed.”
Referring to the Budd-e, he added: “It’s a disappointment to VW lovers like me who hoped for a simple, functional, iconic people-mover that actually harkened back to VW vans of the past. Back in 2001, VW perfectly captured this retro-future aesthetic when it unveiled an updated Microbus concept. To the disappointment of millions, that van was cancelled.”
Given the way the Buzz builds on the Budd-e’s design, Dixon most likely would not rotate his opinion 180 degrees after a test drive — unlike the Buzz’s front seats.