DRIVEN | All-electric Volkswagen ID.3 has landed in SA, but won't go on sale locally

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• Volkswagen SA invited Wheels24 to sample its all-new, all-electric ID.3 compact hatchback in Gauteng.

• The cars were left-hand drive (still running German number plates), so we couldn't take them on the road.

• VWSA boss explained that the company will not rush to launch its EVs to market. A fleet of ID.4 vehicles will arrive in 2022.

• For motoring news, got to Wheels24

Our ID.3 test drive opportunity forms parts of Volkswagen's structured electric vehicle roll-out programme for South Africa. Last year, the company imported several e-Golfs that VW dealers are still using to enable customers to experience electric vehicle test drives.

Next year, they will bring a fleet of ID.4 vehicles to SA for additional testing, market evaluation and media test drive opportunities. 

According to VWSA's boss, Steffen Knapp, the company is not going to dive into the electric car game without doing thorough research on South Africa's appetite for EVs, as well as how electric vehicles perform in South African conditions (not just climatic, but also how load shedding and charging capacity availability affects EV usability).

Steffen Knapp
Steffen Knapp is the head of Volkswagen South Africa.

A growing interest in electric cars in South Africa

We were driving electric cars when loadshedding returned, and the day before the petrol price shot up to almost R20/litre. The debates at the event amongst journos in attendance were fierce. While we all agreed that EVs would take some time to change driving habits, the government will, arguably, make the transition more manageable if the cost of petrol and diesel increases further.

Of course, rising electricity prices could be a challenge too. At the moment, "filling up" an ID.3 would cost about R120 depending on where you lived. Fill up a Golf 8 GTI, and you will pay close to R1 000 per tank.

READ: How to care for your electric car in the long term and get the best battery life from it

Volkswagen's Knapp expounded in detail that dealers are receiving tremendous interest in buying electric vehicles already; however, the company does not want to rush: "We are confident that as we develop new models, such as the ID.4 GTX and the ID.Buzz and the ID.Life, we can look at various models for official introduction and sale in South Africa. We are not looking to become a boutique supplier of electrified cars in South Africa. We aim to become the number one player in the EV space in SA, and we want to do that by offering a range of cars that are suited to the needs of South African motorists."

Knapp explained that interest in Volkswagen electric vehicles is massive. Particularly in markets such as China and the USA, VW electric vehicles are selling like proverbial hotcakes.

Knapp said that EV adoption wouldn't be as rapid as it is in developed markets; however, the market will evolve, and more local customers will switch to EV as vehicle prices improve and perceived range anxiety fears are put to rest. "We are working together with the automotive industry bodies and government to look at incentives for buying EV, as well as to agree on import tariffs that will allow car makers to price electric cars more affordably in SA," he added.

Volkswagen Group's electric vehicle delivery in 2021

From January to September 2021, globally, the VW Group delivered:

• 72 700 Volkswagen ID.4 cars
• 52 700 Volkswagen ID.3 cars
• 36 100 Audi e-tron cars (including the Sportback)
• 28 600 Porsche Taycan cars
• 28 200 Skoda Enyaq iV cars

If we gave you a blank cheque, which electric car would you love to buy and why? Drop a comment in the comments section, or please send us an email.

Volkswagen ID3
Volkswagen ID.3 on track at Zwartkops in Gauteng.

Driving the VW ID.3 in South Africa

After an in-depth presentation on the EV market and the ID.3, we made our way down to the pit area of Zwartkops Raceway, where the vehicles awaited us. 

From a styling perspective, it is an eye-catching piece of design. There's some Golf in the rear C pillar area, but you can tell that this is a new model thanks to its short overhangs and extended wheelbase. The ID.3 measures 4 261mm in length, 1 809mm in width, and it stands 1 552mm tall. Its wheelbase measures in at a whopping 2 765mm. Typically, this sort of wheelbase is reserved for D-segment sedans. In fact, in the ID.3, you get as much space as a Passat, but you will take it a "Golf" size on the outside.

READ: LETTER | Are we in trouble? Electric vehicle torpedo heading the way of SA automakers

As mentioned, these cars were left-hand drives, and it took a little while to get used to sitting on the left of the vehicle as a driver. I set off gently from the pit lane and immediately felt comfortable in the seat. The light and direct steering also made turning a breeze, and in fact, the ID.3 has a better turning circle than a Polo. It proved so easy to handle as it warmed up.

Volkswagen ID3
Volkswagen ID.3 on track at Zwartkops in Gauteng.

Once the ID.3 warmed up, I tried to pick up the pace on track to see if it offered sporty dynamics that we have become used to in the venerable Golf. The ID.3 is rear-wheel drive, so immediately, there's a different sensation when you apply throttle out of a corner. Volkswagen advised us not to fiddle around with the driving modes or traction control systems, so we obliged and carried on driving.

By the end of my second lap, I could tell that something was wrong with the car. It produced loads of understeer, and even under braking, it would struggle for grip. The vehicle cut power and torque to the drive wheels if you tried to power out of any bend around the Z. It was like the nanny system was on hyper-alert mode.

READ: Is solar and electric technology really going to save the world?

We put a few more laps in and then called it, as the car was producing more and more understeer. I pulled into the pit and had a look at the tyres. It was there where the major challenge with the ID.3 we had been driving was discovered. It was still running its mud and snow winter tyres from Germany. The Zwartkops track was at least 30 degrees Celcius when we got onto it, and as you can imagine, winter tyres and a race track that's been baked by the African sun don't go well together.

Nevertheless, the driving experience highlighted several standout points about the ID.3. The vehicle offers decent regenerative braking, and it feels quick to drive as long as the traction control is not stepping in. We thoroughly enjoyed the significant glasshouse effect and the very modern interior. It will take some time to get used to not having physical buttons on the centre console, but the capacitive touch systems in the test cars worked well and did not produce any latency through the touch input.

Volkswagen ID3
Volkswagen ID.3 on track at Zwartkops in Gauteng.

Is the VW ID.3 a worthwhile EV contender?

Absolutely. With a 77kWh battery pack in our car, we would be able to travel up to 550 kilometres on a full charge if we could leave the venue and hit the open road. That's a decent amount of kilometres as far as claimed range goes, and even if you get less than that, you can comfortably travel from Johannesburg to Durban in a day with the ID.3 while stopping for charging top-ups one or two times.

In terms of power, you get 160kW and 310Nm to play with, and because these ponies are electric, you feel a nice rush when pulling away if you enjoy quick getaways. The ID.3 proved to be a great contender in our brief time with it, and we'd love to explore more of its cruising ability in the coming months once VW gets permission for the media to evaluate these units on the road.

The ID.3 proved to be a fun car to drive. Driving with proper summer tyres would have given us a better reflection of its ride and handling, but I am sure VWSA will put these vehicles on summer tyres soon before sending them out for evaluation. We look forward to spending some time with the ID.3 and the ID.4 in 2022 when that fleet arrives for testing.

Don't forget to subscribe to our newsletter LET'S DRIVE for the latest electric car news.

Volkswagen ID3
Volkswagen ID.3 on track at Zwartkops in Gauteng.
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