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Driving $2 million prototypes on public roads is risky, so rather than increase the count of gray hair on their heads, Volkswagen's public relations team invited us up to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca to spend some time in its all-electric E-Bugster Concept. But don't think the German automaker handed us the keys and set us free on the famed racing circuit – our drive was on the near-empty perimeter roads and our top speed was limited to less than 20 mph.
Our first glimpse of the Volkswagen E-Bugster Concept came just before the 2012 Detroit Auto Show when Volkswagen released a slew of pictures for our first post and a gallery. The next day, we aimed our lenses at its glistening paint and fixed hard roof live from the show floor. Three months later, the automaker rolled it out again – sans top – at the Beijing Motor Show.
The E-Bugster Concept is an early look at the next-generation Beetle convertible.
The E-Bugster Concept is an all-electric vehicle (EV). Hidden beneath its meticulously painted skin (in person – and it seems only in direct sunlight – one can make out blue metallic flakes over the pearl white paint) is a powertrain adapted from the automaker's e-Golf. Like that five-door, the E-Bugster features an 85 kW electric motor (114 horsepower and 199 pound-feet of torque) driving the front wheels through a single-speed transmission. Energy comes from a 695-pound lithium-ion battery with an energy capacity of 28.3 kWh (note it has slightly higher capacity than the 26.5 kilowatt-hours of electrical energy storage in the e-Golf).
Volkswagen boasts that the central electric module weighs just 80 kg (about 176 pounds), and that helps to keep overall vehicle weight down. The engineers on site wouldn't give us a curb weight, but they did say that the E-Bugster came in lighter than the e-Golf (so we figure it has a curb weight of about 3,300 pounds). That power-to-weight ratio translates to a 0-60 sprint in just over 10 seconds and affords a range of at least 180 km (about 110 miles) in a city cycle.
Its power-to-weight ratio translates to a 0-60 sprint in just over 10 seconds and a range of at least 110 miles.
As mentioned, Volkswagen allowed us to cruise its expensive one-off E-Bugster concept – sans fixed top – around Laguna Seca at very slow speeds (the wheels are made by hand, thus explaining their apprehension). The German engineers had electronically limited the top speed to 30 km/h, or just 18 mph, meaning the combustion-engine chase vehicles were riding their brakes just to keep pace. In addition, the drive-by-wire throttle had been remapped so accelerator inputs were insanely lethargic (the vehicles at Disneyland's Autopia ride have quicker throttle response).
An integrated LG touch-screen tablet replaces the audio/navigation unit.
The start button activates the drive system (Volkswagen calls the complete electric drive unit "Blue-e-Motion"), which simultaneously powers everything up and starts the light show – yes, the light show. The interior is first immersed in a white light, followed by a blue light. The pulse, for lack of a better description, emanates with a small dash on the instrument cluster. It eventually works its way around the cabin as a thin (one millimeter wide) beam at shoulder height moving across the dashboard and door panels. Although it was nearly impossible to see in stark daylight, it was visible while we filmed our Short Cut video.
Unlike most prototypes, the E-Bugster drove very well on the asphalt roadway.
Nevertheless, we enjoyed silently cruising around the grounds in the concept. Unlike most prototypes, which are quite rickety as they only need to resemble something cool under show lights, the E-Bugster drove very well on the asphalt roadway. The steering was solid, the tires never rubbed the bodywork even in tight turns and the chassis didn't squeak. The multi-piston brakes (stolen from an Audi TT-RS) even had a chance to demonstrate their strength when we exceeded the 30 km/h speed coasting down the long hill – we took a scolding from our Volkswagen passenger in the process.
Is there room in the Volkswagen lineup for a sharply sculpted Beetle speedster?