Getting to know the MEB-platform
Like it or not, Volkswagen’s ID.3 is a very, very significant car.
So we had to buy one just as quickly as we could. Because, before long, there’ll be a whole range of all-electric IDs on our roads built off this same ‘MEB’ platform. It’s time for us enthusiasts to get used the idea of what our motoring future is going to look like.
A lot of you have asked. So here are our first thoughts. And overall, there’s plenty to be positive about.
It’s an interesting-looking car in real life. It’s neither pretty, nor sporty, that’s for sure. But it’s modern, and unlike anything else on the road. It’s bigger and more slabby than it looks in pictures – halfway between a Golf and Tiguan in height and width. This tall design packages the battery downstairs under the floor, with the passengers sitting above. The wheelbase is long and the overhangs short; because the motor sits out back driving the rear wheels, that stubby front doesn’t have to accommodate any oily mechanicals.
Up on our ramp, it’s very clear that this MEB is a totally new, bespoke electric car-only platform. It’s a completely flat floor, front to back. The battery pack is the size of the full cabin above it, forming most of the flat floor underneath. Out back, shielded by smooth plastic guards sits the motor and its rear driveshafts.
Up front, you can’t help noticing the large void hidden by more plastic, plus the blanked off driveshaft holes in the front hubs. No question, the ID.3 is ready and waiting for a twin-motor setup. Speaking with the top dogs at Volkswagen's R division recently, this is where an ‘ID3 R’, VW’s first electric hot hatch, will surely fit in.
Speaking with the top dogs at Volkswagen's R division this is where an ‘ID3 R’, VW’s first electric hot hatch, will surely fit in.
But for now we have to make do with this one. Our car uses a 58kWh battery, driving just that rear-mounted electric motor providing a reasonable 201bhp and 184lb ft. Let’s not forget, that’s more than you got from a Mk5 Golf GTI.
We’ve run the ID.3 on our dyno, and it made precisely the factory number time after time. Nothing more spooky than the silence of 200hp and instant torque, with nothing other than the noise of the tyres to give a clue to its speed.
It costs around £35k GBP here in the UK after our government-funded £3k grant – which is an almost identical price to our brand-new Golf 8 GTI. Coincidence?
Walk up to the ID.3, open the door and the keyless ignition wakes up automatically; no button, no key, it’s just ‘on’. Drive is engaged via a selector up high that sprouts from the instrument display connected to the steering column. Twist forward for Drive or Brake mode, or backward for reverse, push to park.
The drive modes, Eco, Comfort and Sport honestly don’t seem to make much difference, unlike in a Golf GTI where throttle response, gear changes, suspension response, engine noise all change.
So with no start-up procedure other than selecting drive, you’re instantly ready to go. Of course, it’s silent, seamless, and smooth when it sets off. Despite having no engine noise to cover things up, there aren’t any unwanted suspension clonks and wind noise is very well supressed. Combine this refinement with the soft, comfortable ride and high-profile skinny tyres, and the ID.3 has Audi A8 levels of comfort.
Even us petrolheads will get a little thrill from the silent surge of power delivery every time off the line.
Even us petrolheads will get a little thrill from the silent of the power delivery off the line. If you’ve not driven EVs before, the instantaneous power is addictive. 0-62mph in 7.3 seconds and 99mph flat out don’t look exciting, but for your usual 0-30mph traffic light drag race is pretty good. You can’t help but giggle the first few times you silently launch it.
Get up to higher speeds, on a motorway or down a county lane it always feels brisk enough. It’s no Tesla but never feels slow. That 99mph top speed is electronically limited to protect motor speed, but it gets there quickly enough when (private!) road conditions allow.
Braking-wise, the ID.3 has discs up front, but in a surprise throwback to the ‘80s, drums on the rear. Of course the logic is that the braking system only ever activates after the regen has harvested every bit of energy it can. So even in regular driving, the ID3 is doing its darndest to be efficient and just needs less in the way of braking hardware than we’re all used to.
We need to talk about the 1,700kg weight. Whilst that sounds shockingly chunky for a small hatchback, the incredibly low centre of gravity with the underfloor battery does a surprisingly good job of disguising the effect of all that mass and stops it ever feeling top-heavy. The steering feels good, and even on the slim, eco tyres it feels naturally well-balanced and fun.
The ID.3’s rear motor and drive ‘feels’ rear-wheel drive; certainly not a normal Volkswagen trait as it pushes out of a roundabout, the car squats down and you sense it’s being propelled from the rear. Which is surprisingly good fun. It’s not about smoky drifts of course, but feels good all the same.
It’s not about chasing smoky drifts of course, but rear-wheel drive feels pretty good all the same.
Of course, it’s no GTI or R, but then it’s not pretending to be. Because the ID.3 is so easy to place on the road and with the responsiveness of the motor, it’s a surprisingly good car around the town. Another benefit of the RWD set up is its tight steering lock – which can rival a London taxi for turning circle.
The range seems true to the indication, normally getting a comfortable 200 miles from a full charge with a bit of safety margin to spare. Even having a bit of a spirted drive doesn’t seem to affect the range in the way doing that in a Golf R would. In the recent colder weather, the indicated range has dropped a little to 185 miles.
We’re getting the hang of just using it like a normal car but forcing ourselves to remember to plug it in every stop.
Charging is pleasingly inexpensive. Based off a smart meter overnight reading, between 7pm – 7:30am on a 13 Amp plug plugged in at home bumped the daily bill by about £3. That’s really not bad for 200 mile charge. Although we’re yet to take our chances with the public charger network, but hoping the fast charge is well...fast.
You sit high in the ID.3, with that battery pack underneath you. The big-windowed cabin does a good job of feeling light, airy and thoroughly 21st century. Volkswagen claim that it has the interior space of a Passat, although the car’s exterior is Golf-sized. Seems about right.
The steering wheel and infotainment screen are carried across from the latest Golf 8. Great for the minimalist look. But if you read our first drive review of our new GTI, we’re going to risk sounding like a broken record here.
It just takes too many presses for menu choices and way, way too much time taking your eyes off the road.
Just about all of the car’s many functions have to be controlled through this screen. Once again, it just takes too many presses and menu choices to get to where you want in the system, and way, way too much time taking your eyes off the road. And don’t even try making adjustments on a bumpy road. Unbelievably, the temperature and volume buttons under this screen aren't illuminated.
The lack of Apple car play is annoying, but apparently coming in the next update from Volkswagen, but for now the Bluetooth works fine.
What’s arguably more impressive than our ID.3 itself is what it represents for our futures. The engineering behind the MEB platform is clearly tooled up for huge volumes of production across multiple ID models. These cars will be everywhere. With a few little clues like the ready-made space they’ve left for the twin motor AWD versions of the future, there’s hope for us enthusiasts that the MEB has a lot more to give....
There’s clearly signals for hope for us enthusiasts that the MEB has a lot more to give in future.