VW took to the stage at the IAA Frankfurt motor show to unveil what is the most important car from the company in recent history. VW is framing it alongside the Beetle and the Golf and that's some serious heritage to carry. 

Of course there's a bigger story here and that's surrounding VW itself as a company. Having fallen into the frame of the dieselgate scandal, the ID programme is as much about re-establishing trust as it is in producing a mass market on-trend car.

It wears a new VW badge - one that's surprisingly retro and simple - reinforcing the message that the world's second largest car manufacturer wants to be seen to be getting back to the most important thing in any multinational company: people. Yes, VW want to bring it back to the volk.

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That's the aim of the ID.3 - to offer an electric car that's accessible to normal people. Companies like Tesla have established an electric car demand and changed the frame of reference for electric vehicles, but the majority have been expensive.

The ID.3 slots into a more affordable wave of new cars, like the Honda e, to make electric motoring a possibility for those who can't afford a £70k luxury SUV or executive saloon. 

Starting from the ground up 

But didn't VW already have electric cars? It did, yes, but those were adapted from ICE (internal combustion engine) models - like the e-Up! and the e-Golf. The new ID.3 sits on VW's MEB platform, designed with modularity in mind that will see a huge number of electric cars appear across the VW group. 

It sits somewhere between the Polo and Golf in terms of positioning at first glance, a compact hatch that will seat five, although the middle rear seat might be a little bit of a squeeze.

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There are design elements that scream VW at you - like the sharp folds running along the sides, some familiar wheel arch shapes and a face that almost reminds us of the new (now retired) Beetle. That's perhaps reinforced by the rake of the windscreen and a shorter nose, which VW will tell you is because there's no need to pack an engine into the front. 

The overall look is friendly and modern, but it also makes a departure from those really established Polo and Golf looks. It will turn heads, but the biggest changes are really in the interior. 

A refreshingly human interior 

VW has taken embraced of the advantage that electric architectures offer - no transmission tunnel or other drivetrain gubbins - to make the cabin as spacious as possible. Yes, there's still the intimacy of a small car here, but things are very different from other VW models. 

The big change is breaking down that centre console, moving the driver display to the top of the steering column and a placing a display, angled towards the driver on the dash. It's a lot more minimalist and modern, with a mixture of materials and textures breaking things up from VW's normal interior which is normally safe soft-touch black.

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Ok, some of those practical elements remain and there is a familiarity to those indicator stalks and light controls, as well as the central cup holders and so on. But one thing that's very different is the drive controller. It's not in the centre of the car, it's not dash mounted, it's on the side of the driver display, as a spring-loaded rotating switch.

As we've not driven the car we can't really say what the experience is like, but as most electric cars just have a park-drive-reverse arrangement, we can't imagine it will cause any problems. It's certainly modern.

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The steering wheel carries a number of controls for immediate driving tasks, but there's a shift to touch controls rather than large clickable buttons. Whether that's a good or bad thing is hard to judge until you're on the road and not in the pre-production software and demo modes of the Frankfurt motor show. 

An explosion of tech

While that driver display is pretty small compared to the 10-inch plus displays we've seen in recent cars, it does help reduce the bulk in the front of the car. For brands like Mini (stick with us here), the solution to having a smaller driver display is offering a head-up display HUD) to carry some of the information you might otherwise miss out on. 

The VW ID.3 will introduce something new and exciting which works along the same lines - but rather than being a narrow HUD, it's going to make a bigger show in the inside of the windscreen moving into the realms of augmented reality (AR). The idea is that the projections will overlay the turning you have to take with arrows, for example, which sounds great.

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We've not seen it live, apart from in VW's demo videos and we assume that for more people it will be an expensive extra. We're wondering how it will work in bright conditions and assume that if you have expensive polaroid glasses you won't be able to see it at all… but it's still pretty exciting. 

But it's not only about AR. VW has a smart interior lighting system called ID.Light, able to reflect things like charging status, or to reinforce directions. There's a line of lighting under the windscreen that will naturally fall into your sight lines - and the idea is that this can flash to suggest changing lanes, acknowledge voice commands just like Alexa does and be a visual element of communication between the driver and car.

As for that central display, it offers a touch infotainment experience, letting you swipe through pages to access information. The demo roll of the show cars at IAA didn't really give a sense of what this experience might be like on the road, but the position from first impressions is great.

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Big sections mean you can tap and move through the different functions and we got the sense of a modern and clean user interface, but of course, what really counts is what happens on the road. Certainly, this is a departure from button-heavy interfaces of the past, but remaining a lot more conventional than something like the Honda e with its spread of displays.

There will be a couple of USB-C ports in the interior for connecting your phone(s) and VW has also confirmed to us that Apple CarPlay and Android Auto will both be supported as standard via Wireless App Connect - although as is often the case, we doubt there would be crossover to the driver display or the AR system.

Of course, some of these features will depend on trim. For the 1st edition there will be 1st, 1st Plus and 1st Max - and it's only when you get to the Max that you get all these features. 

The important driving stats 

VW is going to be offering the ID.3 in a number of different versions. It's starting with a 1st edition (with a price of <€40,000 but without a firm figure yet) and the 1st edition will sit on the middle battery capacity of 58kWh, from which VW says you'll get 186-260 miles. Why the disparity in range? Because it really depends on how you drive. Like all electric cars, stop-start driving will take advantage of regeneration on braking, while fast motorway driving will place bigger demands on the battery. 

The small battery is 45kWh with a range of 140-205 miles while the larger battery is 77kWh offering a range of 240-240 miles. The ID.3 will support 100kW charging, meaning you'll be able to pump in 260 miles in 30 mins. The 100kW charging is pretty standard for new models - it's not the fastest, but the bigger challenge in the UK currently is finding a charger that works at that rate - most are currently 50kW.

Exactly how the ID.3 drives we don't yet know. There's a lot of talk of tight turning circles and that's thanks to the rear wheel drive system, meaning more freedom for the front wheels to turn. That should be great for urban driving, turning in the road and so on.

First Impressions

There's still a lot to learn about the ID.3 which will need some time behind the wheel, but we're taken with the design of this new electric car. It slots into the European urban landscape nicely, right into the heart of where VW sells a lot of cars - the five-door hatch.

The interior is refreshing and it feels like a nice place to be. A choice of ranges adds appeal that some rival models perhaps don't and that potentially means people can buy as much electric car as they need.

Ultimately, the ID.3 will be judged on how much range you really get for your money and how well that battery delivers that range on the road. A new VW then? It's a new direction, for sure - but there's enough in the ID.3 to remind you that this is still VW, doing what VW does.