What it's like to drive a concept car


When an automaker says its concept vehicle is powered by unicorn farts, emits only cotton candy, and can accelerate from 0-60 mph in two shakes of a lamb's tail, don't believe them. What they are actually saying is, "If we ever develop the technology to build this thing, that's what it could do."

The purpose of a concept car is twofold. First, an automaker wants to put out a design and see how the public reacts to it. If the feedback is positive, that vehicle or that design language could make it to market.

Second, a concept car is a showcase for the technology a manufacturer is working on. It looks forward to a new era, be it in powertrains, connectivity, autonomy, interior motifs, or any other type of technology. By definition that means the technology doesn't exist at the present time.

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Volkswagen trotted out its I.D. Buzz Concept at the 2016 Detroit auto show. Another in a string of concept vehicles hinting at a return of the Microbus, this one has great retro lines, but what is more important is the powertrain technology.

Volkswagen I.D. Buzz Concept

Volkswagen I.D. Buzz Concept

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Volkswagen I.D. Buzz Concept

Volkswagen I.D. Buzz Concept

Enlarge Photo
Volkswagen I.D. Buzz Concept

Volkswagen I.D. Buzz Concept

Enlarge Photo

VW says the I.D. Buzz is based on a new all-electric MEB architecture that places the 110-kwh battery pack under the floor and features compact electric motors at the front and rear axles to enable all-wheel drive. Total output is quoted at 369 horsepower with a driving range of 270 miles on the European cycle.

VW also says the I.D. Buzz can drive autonomously. The steering wheel retracts into the dash while the car drives itself, and at this point the driver's seat can be turned around so the driver can interact with people in the vehicle's rear lounge space.

All of that sounds great, and the electric range and power aren't outlandish claims. In fact, Tesla can meet or beat those numbers now. However, VW doesn't have the architecture, battery pack, motors, or autonomous driving technology ready to build such a vehicle, at least not yet.

Volkswagen I.D. Buzz Concept

Volkswagen I.D. Buzz Concept

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Cobbled together

At the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, Volkswagen announced that it will indeed turn the I.D. Buzz into a production vehicle with a 2022 release date. VW was also kind enough to let me drive its one and only concept vehicle. It was an opportunity I couldn't pass up, and it was the first time I got to drive a concept car after 16 years in the industry.

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Without all those pieces to build the I.D. Buzz the way it wants to, VW had to cobble the concept car together. That meant a one-off structure, the powertrain from the e-Golf, and a set of prototype gray Hankook tires.

The hand-built concept car only needs to drive under its own power and look good. It doesn't need to meet federal safety standards. It doesn't need to be well integrated to make customers happy with the driving experience. It doesn't need to perform well at highway speeds. And it doesn't need to impress with its speed, power, or handling prowess.

Good thing because it does none of that.


 
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