Autumn 2021

VW ID.Life 

Volkswagen's ID series continues apace with the ID.Life ‑ a compact concept with sharp detailing, chunky proportions and a multi-modal interior

In the last five years, Volkswagen has been laser-focused on the roll-out of full-electric ID production models based on its long-previewed concept family. At the IAA Mobility event in Munich, September 2021 the ID.5 GTX was also shown in what VW called “test-mule camouflage” and following that near-production concept formula, in this case as a Coupé version of the ID.4 SUV. But more interesting in its approach – and also because it was not previewed before the show itself – was VW’s ID.Life concept. It looks a little less pre-production than some of its ID forebears but still, according to official VW pronouncements, prefaces a full-electric production small car (and large cargo variant) intended to launch in 2025 from €20,000.

Separated from other cars on the IAA Munich stage it was hard to gauge the ID.Life’s actual size. A few social media naysayers from afar were quick to point out a resemblance to the 2019 Fiat Centoventi concept – perhaps partly due to a similar monochromatic exterior colour scheme and basic silhouette – but once official dimensions are compared it’s clear the ID.Life is a very different vehicle. For a start it’s much bigger than the Centoventi in every way – 411mm longer, 105mm wider, 72mm higher and with a 220mm longer wheelbase – and within the VW range sits between the Polo and T-Cross in length. But many of its conceptual ideas are different too. There are some striking exterior ideas in particular, in the distinctive zip-able waterproof fabric bonnet and roof featuring air-filled quilted pouches which have a major impact on the interior. And as we learn – after bumping into the enigmatic head of VW design, Jozef Kaban, on the Munich exhibition stand – the ID.Life’s cabin has been optimised for static downtime, as much as driving too.

“The main thing was to make a break with the typical conventions of looking at a car,” Kaban tells Interior Motives as we discuss the concept ‘mask-to-mask’, if not quite face to face. “We wanted to see how the horizon can be opened. For example, the roof and bonnet is made of an air-filled material which gives it a special look. The idea was that you could open it, but also sit on it. We wanted to explore different materials and keep it playful. We also wanted a more timeless design, because you can’t be serious about sustainability when cars are too short-living. The car is getting smart, and updatable with software and components, so it’s important that its look stays fresh too.”

"The front seats can fold flat and you can sit in the back and watch this big screen. Or you can make a full bed for two people to sleep in."

To that end, the design has a simple silhouette, sharp detailing and unusually chunky exterior dimensions. At 4091mm, the ID.Life is almost the same length as a T-Cross supermini SUV but its 1845mm width is greater than a Tiguan mid-size SUV segment, two segments above. So the ID.Life’s ‘shorter-but-broader’ stance, along with a longish 2650mm wheelbase, creates a decent interior space to showcase its proposed multi-functional purpose. “The second story about this concept is its use,” Kaban continues. “Today maybe you drive a car for a few hours, sometimes more, sometimes less, but often it stands alone on the street [doing nothing]. So we thought there could be a chance to share time when not driving with what’s happening in the street. Kids could jump out or sit inside and ‘game’. Lighting could project graphics. It could become a ‘play-box’ or a playhouse. These types of experience are becoming for us, more important. People want deeper moments.”

In this conceptual regard it shares ideas with the recent Heatherwick Studio-designed IM Airo concept, which also focused on the car as an extra roadside room and is set for production within a few years. But the ID.Life does so within a much smaller footprint and stated price point (4m long from €20,000 vs. 5m long and €30,000 upwards). To that end, the ID.Life won’t be aiming for as many complex and costly transformations, like for instance, the IM Airo’s steering wheel disappearing into the dashboard. “The point is not to overdo it with technology,” says Kaban. “Keep it simple. The front seats can fold flat and you can sit in the back and watch this big screen. Or you can make a full bed for two people to sleep in. Nothing is over-designed. It’s about a balance between an experience and being efficient.”

The ID.Life’s material screen deploys in a roller-blind style from under a flap marked ‘Game On’ in the dashboard top and is pulled upward to clip into place at the top of the A-pillar loop to allow TV, movies or video games to be back-projected. Other simple – and manual rather than electronic – transformations include the aforementioned waterproof quilted fabric roof which, unlike a heavy and complicated electric sunroof, can be unzipped by human hand and stowed away, targa-style, to create a truly open-air driving experience while leaving the A-, B- and C-pillar loops intact to provide structural integrity and roll-over safety. The bonnet utilises the same fabric as the roof, made from 100% recycled PET bottles and whose form was partly inspired by the Allianz Arena, Bayern Munich Football Club’s stadium, designed by architects Herzog & de Meuron. “You can step on the bonnet or unzip it and sit in it or stand up and look out with your back to the windscreen,” says Kaban. “Or put your jacket in there, whatever. The zip could be locked too, like you do with personal luggage. The point is to create a car which is not saying ‘you should do this or that,’ or is only for driving. We wanted to think about what this car would look like even when it was scratched. Like on a skateboard, a scratch could make it more cool (as long as it’s not too damaged). Take aluminium metal Rimowa luggage for example, which you often see knocked and scratched. It shows you have stories to tell.”

To make that space a pleasant place to hang out as well as drive, the A-pillars are clad in a bent wood loop which continues under the steering wheel and over the top of the windscreen to create an upmarket, domestic furniture feel, akin to the shell of an Eames lounger or an Arne Jacobsen Series 7 chair. Elsewhere, the seat upholstery looks like Alcantara faux suede, although Kaban confirms it is actually a special recycled material. All of which suggests a high quality cabin that will likely cost much more than the base model’s projected €20,000, and so more likely to bought for gaming youngsters than by them. “Young people like fewer things but not cheap things,” Kaban says. “Cheap things are not helping the planet, as you always have to exchange them, so it’s better to get something proper that will last longer. This should be the opposite of cheap. We don’t want the experience of a room in your house to be compromised when you’re in your car.”

When the ID.Life is actually used as transport, a head-up display (HUD) can provide more driver information than usual too. Says Kaban: “We have no exterior mirrors but have cameras in front of the HUD unit instead. On this concept you can watch the HUD and see what is behind you too. We want driving to be easy, not stressful, you don’t need to be a racing car expert.” Additional convenient but simple features enable the design to be unusually pared back, including hidden speakers, a slit in each door card to securely stow portable tablets or smartphones and a large magnetic dashboard area “so you can put your phone wherever you want and it will recharge” adds Kaban.

"What we are showing is one possible story for a compact car. It’s not about speed or being quicker than another...overall, it’s about charm."

Physical switches and knobs are non-existent. Instead, touch-sensitive controls are located within the hexagonal screen, which replaces a conventional hub within the U-shaped steering wheel, while ‘shy-tech’ buttons embedded beneath the surface of the horizontal wood part of the dashboard provide more functional controls. Indirect purple lighting and a flecked shag pile carpet add to the domestic interior-like ambience.

Taking the ID.Life concept’s interior at face value, as mentioned earlier, it looks too expensive to make for a €20,000 sticker price, but if the simplicity of the basic forms and functions can be retained within a wide range of lower- and higher-grade options – like the Fiat 500 does so well – VW could have a very characterful and versatile small EV to offer by 2025. As Kaban concludes: “Volkswagen has often been a little ‘out of the box’, with things like the ID.Buzz, Beetle and Golf. They’re all a bit different and build stories across the generations. What we are showing is one possible story for a compact car. It’s not about speed or being quicker than another. You might even relax! This car can do a lot, but overall, it’s about charm.”

Head of VW Group design: Klaus Zyciora
Head of VW design: Jozef Kaban
Head of VW interior design: Tomasz Bachorski
Project started / completed: March 2021 / Summer 2021
Dimensions (mm):
Length: 4091 
Width: 1845
Height: 1599
Wheelbase: 2650