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Volkswagen's electric hatchback receives mid-life updates to styling and that much-criticised interior

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Here are a few key dates for you: 1938, 1974, and 2020. It’s a chronological sequence that Volkswagen dearly hopes will look right and natural when we gaze back on events in decades to come. 

That’s how important the cartoon-faced electric Volkswagen ID 3 was to the German car maker when it launched back in 2020. 

The ID 3’s rear-mounted motor and gearbox weigh just 90kg - small enough to fit into a gym bag, VW says

And despite the software glitches that delayed the ID 3’s launch last year, it’s not going so badly. It’s since gone on to become the second best-selling car in Volkswagen’s electric arsenal, behind the combined sales of the larger ID 4 and ID 5.

But the firm is in a sticky situation as of late, and it’s hoping that this new, facelifted version of its electric hatch is at least the start of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that nothing has changed, and most drivers most likely won’t notice the model’s exterior design changes. But take a closer look and you’ll see that the ID 3 now features a much tidier design.

The bonnet is cleaner with a sportier look, and new intakes have been added at the front and rear for improved cooling. Volkswagen has also removed the previous car’s rear decals and the ID badge from the front wheel arches, all of which contribute to a more mature look, if subtle. 

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The key changes come inside the car. VW has taken flack for the interiors of its electric cars, which earned a reputation as a hub for scratchy plastics and cheap-looking vinyls. By its own admission, in fact, its interiors were “frustrating”. 

To make amends, VW has added plusher materials including a new door trim, now a soft fabric consisting of 71% recycled materials. Soft-touch plastics are also abundant, but glossier items do remain.

The ID 3’s infotainment system is also due an upgrade with a larger touch screen and back-lit temperature sliders, but frustratingly neither of these features will be introduced until next year. 

It’s now powered by Volkswagen’s 3.5 software version, but our short time with the system still brought up some technical glitches, plus latency and loading issues as seen in the previous model. But all is not lost though, as the system will again receive continuous improvements through over-the-air updates. 

The ID 3 range at a glance

The previous version of the ID 3 offered three specifications, but just two will be offered for the facelift. The previous entry point, a 45kWh battery, is no more.

The range now opens with a 58kWh unit (net capacity) with a 201bhp electric motor and 266 miles of range. The ID 3 Pro S features a larger 77kWh battery with the same motor, but with an increased 347 miles of range. 

While there were six trim levels before, there are just two this time around: S and Pro S. Prices start from £37,115 in the UK, rising to £42,870 for the range-topping Pro S. 

DESIGN & STYLING

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Manufacturers have, by and large, been transitioning into the electric realm cautiously, with modified versions of existing ICE platforms. However, the scale of VW’s ambition led it to invest heavily in bespoke hardware from the outset.

The Volkswagen ID 3 sits on the firm's MEB architecture. Being adjustable for wheelbase and track width, it's shared widely across the VW Group and will underpin Ford’s new generation of electric cars. It’s the second ground-up EV platform in the VW Group, after the J1 introduced for the Porsche Taycan, also now serving the Audi E-tron GT.

Largely sealed, ‘faired-in’ look of front end is different from that of the Tesla Model 3, but is little less awkward. The dimpled, cartoonish grin of the lower intake didn’t endear the car to our test jury as VW might have hoped.

The claim is that with the packaging elegance an electric powertrain allows, the MEB can offer the interior space you’d expect to find in the class above the ID 3’s official C-segment. Elsewhere, the ability to receive Tesla-style over-the-air software updates is baked in, and the MEB’s aluminium truss-design battery tray can also house three sizes of water-cooled lithium ion packs for the ID 3 – 77kWh for 336 miles of claimed range, 58kWh for 263 miles and, in due course, an entry-level 48kWh for about 200 miles. However, it’s worth noting that even the medium-sized pack weighs 495kg.

The ID 3’s powertrain layout reverses decades of the hatchback status quo and reverts to the rear-engined, rear-driven format favoured by the original Beetle. The drive unit nestled just above and slightly forward of the rear axle is a 16,000rpm permanently excited AC synchronous motor and drives through a single-speed transmission and an open differential, albeit one aided by VW’s brake-based XDS torque vectoring system. 

Whatever the state of tune, the motor can also generate 0.3g in deceleration while feeding recuperated electrical energy back into the battery.

In broader chassis terms, VW claims almost perfect 50:50 weight distribution for the car, and while the standard ID 3 is equipped with passive dampers for suspension (MacPherson struts up front, multi-link at rear, as with the Volkswagen Golf), a Sport Plus package adds fully adaptive dampers and ‘progressive’ steering.

INTERIOR

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Despite being roomy and very on-trend with its minimalist design and layout, the Volkswagen ID 3’s cabin didn't previously live up to the high standards of perceived material quality for which VW has become a byword over the past 25 years.

Surprisingly hard- and plain-feeling plastics were employed on the dashtop and the doors, almost all of which were finished in various shades of grey in our test car. Save for a few flashes of glossy black plastic on the centre console and a bit of fabric upholstery on the doors, the test car’s cabin was not only slightly dull to look at but also relatively uninviting to touch. By its own admission, in fact, its interiors were “frustrating”. 

It’s now powered by Volkswagen’s 3.5 software version, but our short time with the infotainment still brought up some technical glitches

For the new ID 3, though, VW has added plusher materials including a new door trim, now a soft fabric consisting of 71% recycled materials. Soft-touch plastics are also abundant, but glossier items do remain. It’s impressively refined and quiet as well, which in combination with the much more welcoming interior (in our car’s case lifted by the optional interior pack) means the ID 3 is now somewhere you wouldn’t mind spending time.

From a functionality point of view, the ID 3 is considerably more impressive. There’s a real sense of airiness in the front half of the cabin, aided largely by a low-set and entirely clutter-free centre console. There’s no gear selector or manual handbrake lever taking up room here. Instead, it houses a couple of large storage cubbies and cupholders, with plenty of room for phones, wallets, keys and anything else you might care to rid your pockets of. The transmission selector is grafted on to the side of the instrument display, like in a BMW i3.

With a wheelbase longer than that of a Volkswagen Golf and a Kia e-Niro, second-row space is very good, too. Our tape measured typical rear legroom at a very impressive 760mm – 10mm more than you get from the Kia, and only 10mm less than you’ll find in a BMW 3 Series Touring. Headspace isn’t quite as abundant, at 940mm, but average-sized adults will be able to get comfortable easily even when sat behind a taller driver.

Boot space is 385 litres with the rear seats up, which puts it on par with the Golf but behind the Kia, which has a 451-litre load bay. The boot floor is flat, although there’s a fairly sizable loading lip to negotiate.

VW ID 3 infotainment and sat-nav

Even entry-level models come with Volkswagen’s 10.0in Discover Pro Navigation infotainment system as standard. 

This infotainment system was due for an upgrade, with a larger touch screen and back-lit temperature sliders, but frustratingly neither of these features will be introduced until next year. 

It’s now powered by Volkswagen’s 3.5 software version, but our short time with the system still brought up some technical glitches, plus latency and loading issues as seen in the previous model. But all is not lost though, as the system will again receive continuous improvements through over-the-air updates.

Generally, it works well and is graphically rich. It takes practice to learn how best to navigate and operate it, though, and getting familiar is best done with the car parked. Also, the same reservations we had with the Mk8 Golf in terms of usability (lack of control backlighting, lack of shortcut buttons) apply here, too.

You get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard, both of which can be accessed by either USB or Bluetooth connection. You can pair up to two mobile devices to the system wirelessly.

The system will also respond to voice commands, albeit not as consistently as we would like. It will retune the radio well enough when you ask it to, thanks to recognition of ‘natural’ commands. However, asking it to input an address into the nav system was almost impossible in our test car, and depended on just the right order of ‘town/street/number’ input. This needs improving.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

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You'll have almost the same experience driving the new ID 3 as the previous car, and that's no bad thing.

Throttle response is keen but still feels natural enough, and acceleration from low speeds is as smooth as it is immediate. There’s very little mechanical noise to be heard even when you bury the accelerator.

Steering is light and accurate and quickens off-centre, which makes the ID 3 feel nimble in urban use and easy to place. The car accelerates smoothly from low speeds, too.

The ID 3 shines in and around town, with light but direct steering, aided by excellent grip and a nicely damped chassis. Its handling does suffer slightly at higher speeds, which is to be expected as it tips the scales at 1933kg. 

On faster roads, the ID 3 cruises along effortlessly. Its power delivery is still as strong and reliable as ever, and a 0-62mph time of 7.9sec is brisk enough for accomplished everyday driving. Energy recuperation, meanwhile, is smooth. 

Once you reach open road speeds, the gusto with which the car initially accrued pace begins to gradually taper off. It’s all very predictable and, as such, it proves that VW has no ambition to present the electric car driving experience any differently from so many of its rivals.

Examine the finer details of the ID 3’s motive character and you might begin to appreciate it better. For instance, thanks to its rear-motor, rear-wheel-drive layout, it’s far better at getting its power down than some of the front-driven EVs.

Unlike in the Kia e-Niro, and the Hyundai Kona Electric in particular, suddenly stepping on the ID 3’s throttle doesn’t result in a snatch of wheelspin, as the front tyres scrabble for purchase before they’re reined in by electronic governance. And so what results is a more consistent level of straight-line performance and better low-speed drivability than some EVs offer, even when the conditions are less than perfect.

In near-freezing temperatures on a drying mile straight, the VW covered 0-60mph in 7.0sec with no traction-related issues whatsoever. That’s 0.2sec quicker than the torquier e-Niro managed on a dry circuit, and only 0.3sec slower than the Hyundai’s time at the height of summer. Roll-on acceleration is perhaps less strong but still good: the car required 6.5sec to accelerate from 30mph to 70mph, compared with 5.8sec for the Kona and 6.2sec for the e-Niro.

However, one area where the ID 3 differs from its Korean EV rivals is the level of configurability afforded by its regenerative braking system. There are only two settings – regular ‘D’ mode and the slightly more forceful ‘B’ setting – and neither really allows for genuine single-pedal driving.

Nevertheless, the brake-pedal feel is decent, as is stopping performance. The ID 3 was able to slow from 70mph to a standstill in 46.5m, only fractionally behind the Kia’s 45.3m effort and well ahead of the Hyundai’s 49.9m. In the test conditions, that’s to be applauded.

RIDE & HANDLING

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The VW ID 3 clearly succeeds in making its mechanical make-up work for it in terms of the way it accelerates. On handling, you might expect to unearth a bit more evidence of the car’s rear-engined, rear-wheel-drive layout, but the funny thing is you won’t.

That’s partly a deliberate dynamic tuning decision on VW’s part, which we’ll expand on shortly. But it’s also because, in any EV, the location of the electric motor is much less significant as a ‘major mass’ than that of the battery; and, being carried evenly between the axles, the ID 3’s drive battery actually gave the car a near-perfect 50:50 weight distribution on the Millbrook scales.

The electronic management of the ID 3’s handling is really sophisticated, but it’s also permanent: there’s no dialling back or switching off the ESC. Would it be more fun if you could? I doubt it.

This car handles very much like a normal hatchback, then. It may be rear-wheel drive, but it doesn’t really use that to its dynamic advantage, and nor does it seek to. A rear-engined, rear-wheel-drive layout would, in fact, be more likely than anything to introduce handling compromise to a slightly short, high-sided hatchback like the ID 3, but it doesn’t in this case.

The ID 3 has well-rounded and predictable, although slightly anodyne, handling. Despite running on ‘Eco’-labelled tyres, it hangs on gamely enough when you rush it through a series of bends, resisting steady-state understeer quite well and controlling its body neatly on smoother surfaces. There’s a slightly busy feel to the car’s back-road ride that you wouldn’t call severe or bothersome, but it’s just noticeable enough to betray the car’s weight, and the lateral stiffness that its suspension needs to keep tabs on it.

The ID 3 steers lightly but with decent precision, starting low on pace but quickening off-centre for easy urban manoeuvring. It’s a fairly intuitive car to place and retains decent high-speed stability when you need it, but it isn’t particularly engaging for the driver.

VW ID 3 comfort and isolation

Those seeking reassurance from an electric car will be pleased to find plenty of the maturity and refinement that you might expect from VW about the ID 3’s driving experience. The ride is quiet and there’s a dampening sense of isolation to it. Aside from the ever-so-slightly firm edge to out-of-town cross-country progress, which we’ve already described, both wind and road noise are kept low at motorway speeds. Given that some EVs have the economy tyres needed to eke out electric range, and suffer with a noisier ride as a result, that’s good news.

The front seats of our test car were quite small and simple, rather than large or enveloping, but comfortable enough. There is little need, at any rate, for better lateral support in this car than they already afford; their cushion angle supports longer legs well; and although other options for adjustment are missing, the car’s driving position is sound.

VW ID 3 assisted driving notes

The ID 3 offers quite a lot of the latest driver assistance and ‘semi- autonomous’ technology in its richer trim levels. Opt for Tech trim or above and you’ll get VW’s advanced lane-keeping and traffic-jam easing ‘travel assist’ and ‘side assist’ systems as standard, as well as an ‘augmented reality’ head-up display that actually projects navigation tulips and assisted driving information onto the inside surface of the windscreen.

Being a lower trim level, our ID 3 went without, but it did have ‘Car- to-X’ networked safety systems. Like most modern VWs, it also had a lane- keeping system that defaulted to on each time the car was started. VW doesn’t give you a physical button to deactivate it, so this can be trying for those who don’t like such systems.

It’s not the most intrusive system, however. The car’s standard-fit crash avoidance and mitigation systems, meanwhile, weren’t triggered unnecessarily during our testing and can also be deactivated.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

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Those waiting for a breakthrough on usable range before jumping into EV ownership probably won’t jump too hard at the Volkswagen ID 3, but it does represent progress.

Our test car, with a id 58kWh battery, returned real- world touring-test energy economy of 3.4mpkWh so would put a whisker under 200 miles between charges at a UK-typical 60-70mph cruise. If the 77kWh version got within 10% of the same efficiency, you could expect just under 250 miles at motorway speed, rising no doubt to nearer 300 at a slower cruise. Not bad – especially considering the chilly temperatures in which we tested the car during our road test.

The ID 3 performs well against the Kia e-Niro and Peugeot e-2008 for forecasted residual values. Very impressive.

The major fly in the ointment for the ID 3 is the price. Whereas the previous car started at £31,670 at launch, the new car is on sale now from £37,115. The range-topping Pro S, meanwhile, will set you back £42,870. 

In fairness, equipment levels are high across the board – even for the basic ID 3, but the cost quickly adds up when you add any of the optional extras seen on our test car. For example, our Pro S tester, with all the bells and whistles attached, came in at an eye-watering £50,245 - that’s £17,750 more than a top-spec MG 4, which is arguably a more exciting proposition.

All models are capable of CCS rapid charging at 125kW (175kW for Pro S models). For home charging, VW offers either its 7.2kW ID Charger Pro or Pod Point’s equivalent.

VERDICT

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Despite the price, Volkswagen has done a really thorough, objectively commendable job on this its updated ID 3. 

It’s capable of transporting adult passengers in the rear, and of putting in over 350 miles between charges in the right circumstances.

Bland, but with the substance to further the zero-emissions push

That may not sound like emphatic progress for the volume-selling hatchback in a wider sense, but for those ready to step into an electric car of just the right size and with just the right usability credentials, the qualities mentioned above ought to give the VW ID 3 deserved consideration. The car’s slightly unlovely cabin quality and its competent but anodyne driving experience may be barriers to its success at higher price points.

Even so, its eerily slick and slightly clinical dynamic flavouring aside, this Volkswagen should hopefully give the firm all it needs to improve its electric car range from here on out. 

Volkswagen ID 3 First drives