When it unveiled the Volkswagen BUDD-e Concept Minivan — the latest in a long line of Microbus-inspired VW concept cars — at this year’s CES in Las Vegas at the start of the month, Volkswagen took great pains to emphasise the car’s heritage, zero-emission credentials and tech-laden feature list.
Indeed, the car’s debut on stage as part of a keynote by Volkswagen Passenger Cars CEO Dr. Herbert Diess focused almost exclusively on the BUDD-e’s customizable interior, massive touch-screen displays, Internet of Things connectivity, wrap-around seating arrangement and autonomous capabilities. But as we said shortly after its CES debut, the all-new Modular Electric Drive Kit (MEB) on which the BUDD-e is built, along with its twin motor, all-wheel drive capabilities and promised 233-mile range is what really got us excited.
If Volkswagen could bring a vehicle built with the MEB to market with the claimed EPA range, 6.9-second 0-60 mph time and 80 percent quick charge in 30 minutes — the exact specifications VW provided for the BUDD-e — we suggested it could turn the company’s fortunes around, sending the ghosts of dieselgate away for good.
It turns out we weren’t the only ones to think so, as an exclusive post CES review of the BUDD-e concept from UK magazine AutoExpress shows.
Away from the hustle and bustle of the show floor, AutoExpress said it was given an exclusive chance to put the minivan concept through its paces. And while it may have looked like a fancy show car with little real-world functionality, the magazine reports that the car was surprisingly finished and capable.
“The impression is more of a lounge than a car,” writes AutoExpress’ Stefan Grundhoff after getting into the vehicle for the first time. Commenting on what he calls the “most advanced interiors around” complete with button-free digital dashboard, rotating driver and front passenger seats and fully-electric, handle-free doors, Grundhoff paints a picture of a spacious and practical — if funky — interior.
But it’s the driving experience that we’re most interested in. Referencing the MEB construction, which uses a custom-built chassis with a thin high-capacity battery pack sandwiched between front and rear axles much like Tesla’s Model S and Model X chassis, AutoExpress says the BUDD-e has incredibly good handling and a low center of gravity.
With the reasonably tall, high BUDD-e body on top of the MEB, that low center of gravity is essential to good handling, something that AutoExpress reports the BUDD-e concept has plenty of. Noting that the battery in any production vehicle “won’t weigh less than 600kg,” AutoExpress also says that the high-sided concept has well-contained body roll.
But it’s perhaps the drivetrain itself which gains most praise from the publication. As we’ve explained before, Volkswagen’s MEB allows for two electric motors to be used, one for each of the two axles. That’s the exact layout chosen for the BUDD-e concept, with a 125 kilowatt electric motor at the rear and a 100 kW electric motor at the front.
“Press the D-button and step on the right pedal, and the two electric motors initiate movement,” says the magazine. “The availability of torque comes as a pleasant surprise, as the car ushers you along at a decent pace. Plus, the AWD adds an unexpected sporty feel,” it continues, noting the car’s unusually quick 0-60 mph time for a minivan.
While Volkswagen is unlikely to bring the BUDD-e to market as a production car with the same level of technology as this year’s concept car, it appears that the MEB platform, as we suspected, is ready and willing to help Volkswagen transition itself away from dieselgate towards something more sustainable. Furthermore, it’s worth noting we expect the MEB toolkit to underpin at least three brand-new vehicles from the Volkswagen group in the next few years. While Volkswagen has yet to confirm any of the following, we think the platform shown in Las Vegas ties in nicely with each of the vehicles below
The first is the all-new 2018 Audi SUV that we saw unveiled at the 2015 Frankfurt Auto Show as the Audi e-tron quattro concept. Likely to enter production as the 2018 Audi Q6 e-tron, the all-electric crossover has a predicted range and performance that seems to match that offered by the MEB. The second is the Porsche Mission E, a high-performance, all-wheel drive sports car which uses a similar motor and battery pack layout to the one offered by Volkswagen’s MEB.
The third? That, if we had to guess would be the upcoming (if delayed) Volkswagen Phaeton sedan, a car that Volkswagen had originally planned to bring to market before 2018 but which has been delayed at least for a while due to financial constraints at a post-dieselgate VW.
As we and others have noted however, there’s a big difference between developing a new drivetrain and producing it on a mass-market scale. And if VW really does want to leave its past behind it, that’s exactly what will be required.
Only time will tell if Volkswagen can pull that off.
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