Forget small, today’s Volkswagen is all about the electrons.
The 2021 Volkswagen ID.4 is the most important car the German brand has launched since the original Beetle. That's not some mere declaration on our part – they're the words of the automaker itself, a company that's leaned hard into electrification following a wide-reaching diesel emissions scandal.
That importance resonates through every decision Volkswagen made with its first all-electric crossover. You sense it by looking at the new and very attractive design language, see it by playing with the clean-sheet approach to in-cabin technology, and feel it in the uber-comfortable cabin. Like Ferdinand Porsche's ground-breaking People's Car, the ID.4 is a new approach that's perfectly tailored to today's drivers.
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Like A Beetle
We're going to be clear: the ID.4 is not a typically “fun” car to drive (at least not yet). But as we predicted in our first drive of the prototype, it is pleasurable in the way that the best mainstream, non-enthusiast-oriented cars can be, by focusing on usable performance and relaxed on-road manners.
That starts with its modest output. Despite the decades that separate them, the ID.4 is technically a rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive vehicle like the original Beetle – but, you know, with a single electric motor driving the back axle instead of an air-cooled flat-four. The ID.4 is far from what we'd call powerful. Just 200 horsepower and 228 pound-feet of torque are on tap, which isn't a lot for our 4,665-pound 1st Edition tester to work with. Put another way, a Chevrolet Bolt EUV weighs half a ton less, but has the same horsepower and more torque.
We're going to be clear: the ID.4 is not a typically “fun” car to drive.
Banish any aspirations of challenging Tesla Model Y drivers to a drag race (frankly, Bolt owners would prove hard to dispatch), but don't overlook what the ID.4 has at its disposal. Over the course of two laps of an 80-mile mixed test route, the ID.4's limited performance was only an issue while attempting a pass on a two-lane road, where the sustained effort of wide-open throttle caused the CUV to run out of steam. In terms of deploying small, sudden bursts of speed, though, the ID.4 is an improvement on most gas-powered alternatives; even if it's far from fast or fun, this CUV is serviceable in everyday driving.
This lack of breathtaking pace also means, for better or worse, a lack of drama. The ID.4 scoots along silently above 20 miles per hour – you can easily hear the Star Trek impulse-drive sound that serves as a pedestrian warning cut out once you hit the big two-oh.
In terms of deploying small, sudden bursts of speed, the ID.4 is an improvement on most gas-powered alternatives.
Credit is due to the well-tuned chassis, too. The strut-type front/multi-link rear provides a smooth and stable ride, but despite a modest center of gravity and pleasantly low hip point, the ID.4 isn't so big on handling. There's plenty of well-mannered body roll and, paired with the light, numb steering, this VW proves better in commuting than in corners. With its detached behavior in mind, the ID.4's rear-drive nature feels somewhat out of place, though. We typically think of back-wheel drive as the realm of sporty offerings, but the ID.4 is anything but.
A Crossover First
What the ID.4 lacks in sporting chops, it makes up for with the kind of all-around competence crossover consumers crave. The cabin is open and comfortable, with a supportive and cosseting pair of front seats that ease the burden of everyday driving. The second row is a roomy place, the soft bench pairing with ample legroom – the 37.6 inches of legroom in the ID.4 is up 1.1 inches on the Volkswagen Tiguan.
The spacious interior pairs with a fresh, airy design. A low center console divides the front seats, while a high dash stands out with a tablet-style touchscreen, spanning 10.0 inches as standard or up to 12.0 inches as an option. Atop the steering column is a smaller 5.3-inch display and the twist-knob gear selector. Our 1st Edition tester features a beige finish for these bits, but were it our money, we'd go for the darker look featured in the gallery – the lighter plastics and leather were already showing small signs of wear with only 400 miles on the clock.
One of the more innovative touches that helps the ID.4 stand out from other Volkswagen products is the dash-spanning ID Light, which serves up visual cues for the driver.
With the navigation engaged, light flows from one side to the other to indicate upcoming turns. Call for the car's virtual assistant by saying “Hey ID,” and a horizontal cursor-like band of white light pops up in front of the driver – that assistant responds to native language and uses the ID Light to communicate with the driver. The strip also comes into play while charging, shining green from left to right to indicate the charge status. Is this all a bit gimmicky? Sure, but gimmicks can be fun, and that's the case here.
Less fun is the virtual assistant itself, which lacks the sophistication of similar systems from Mercedes-Benz and BMW. While you can say “I'm cold” instead of “increase cabin temperature to 72 degrees,” the VW is slower to respond. As is the case with other voice-activated tech, we'd rather just do things ourselves.
The cabin is open and comfortable, with a supportive and cosseting pair of front seats that ease the burden of everyday driving.
Making those changes without the voice assistant means interacting with the center touchscreen. The graphics are beautiful, with fun colors and crisp effects. The screen responds well to inputs, too, but the layout of the infotainment itself is cumbersome. Finding a simple list of satellite radio stations, for example, is a headache of swiping and tapping. Fortunately, wireless Apple CarPlay is on hand, and it worked very well in our testing.
What we can't abide, though, is the difficulty in setting a schedule for home charging sessions. Rather than having a dedicated tile on the home page, you need to tap the Vehicle icon, set a charging location, and then input a schedule for departure times. With big savings coming in off-peak charging, this is the sort of thing that automakers need to put front and center.
Fortunately, charging itself was a breeze. Our Grizzl-E Classic charger topped off the ID.4 overnight at a 40-amp rate – according to Volkswagen, a 50-amp Level 2 charger will do the job in 7.5 hours, but our solution was more than powerful enough to recharge overnight. Having a home charger also makes preconditioning an option, which is important because the ID.4 has no heat pump.
EV enthusiasts might knock the VW for this missing item, which can warm the cabin more efficiently, but Volkswagen seems convinced it made the right decision, despite the item being standard on Canadian-market ID.4s and optional on European models.
Our Grizzl-E Classic charger topped off the overnight ID.4 at a 40-amp rate.
VW Spokesman Mark Gillies told Motor1.com, “We basically took the decision that we didn't think [the heat pump] offered that much benefit if you were preconditioning. We also wanted to make this a value, and it was quite a pricey piece. We didn't see the benefit in terms of range for the price of the car."
The ID.4 isn’t alone in missing a heat pump – the Ford Mustang Mach-E doesn't have one – although the Tesla Model Y, Hyundai Kona EV, and Kia Niro EV all include one as standard.
After two days of testing, we're inclined to agree with VW's logic. We ran two loops of our roughly 80-mile test route with a preconditioned interior on two separate days, and while we didn't hitting the 250-mile EPA range estimate, we have little reason to doubt it.
Running in Eco and with temperatures around freezing, the ID.4 indicated we covered 2.6 miles per kilowatt-hour of charge and ate up 43 percent of our battery. The next day, temperatures climbed to the high 40s and we ran the same route in Comfort, yielding an indicated 2.9 miles per kilowatt-hour and using just 38 percent of our charge. Preconditioning was key to these adequate results, as indicated when we cranked the heat to HI and saw our estimated range drop almost 50 miles.
For better or worse, using the drive modes wasn't crucial to maximizing range.
In terms of road-trip charging, the ID.4 comes with three years of unlimited fast charging at Electrify America stations, where it can suck down electrons at a rate of 125 kilowatts. That’s not the speediest around – a Mach-E will charge at 150 kW and Tesla’s Supercharger network can replenish a Model Y at 250 kW. Still, the ID.4 will go from five to 80 percent in about 40 minutes.
For better or worse, using the drive modes wasn't crucial to maximizing range. In fact, we struggled to feel any of the changes we expect when switching a car from Eco to Sport or from Sport to Comfort. In a Mustang Mach-E, for example, switching from its most relaxed drive mode to its most aggressive almost sends a shock through the car – you can feel everything tighten up, from the steering to the accelerator pedal's responsiveness. That sensation was absent in the more relaxed Volkswagen.
In hard-braking situations, there's no easily identifiable moment when the friction brakes take over for the motor.
That also meant there was little in the way of adjustable regen, although we do have to salute Volkswagen's innovative approach to one-pedal driving. Rather than hiding the setting for max regen in the infotainment system or using some paddle-operated approach like corporate counterpart Audi, drivers activate one-pedal driving via the gear selector. When setting off, one twist forward selects D, so the ID.4 will coast like a gas-powered car. A second twist switches to the one-pedal B setting. Twist a third time to go back to D. That's it. No gimmicks, no monkey business, just easy to operate one-pedal fun.
Max regen when lifting off the accelerator is a modest 0.13 g, and the ID.4 won't recover energy to a standstill. At the same time, using the physical brake pedal uses the car's motor to mimic braking up to 0.25 g. In hard-braking situations, there's no easily identifiable moment when the friction brakes take over for the motor, which is a welcome sign that should keep rookie EV drivers from freaking out.
Prices for the 2021 ID.4 start at $41,190 (including a $1,195 destination charge) for the base rear-drive Pro, while our sold-out 1st Edition demands $45,190. Following the Apple-like naming convention, the range-topping model is the Pro S, which carries a $45,690 starting price. A dual-motor all-wheel-drive model will hit dealerships this summer, adding $3,860 to the Pro and Pro S prices. And of course, the ID.4 is eligible in the US for a full $7,500 federal income-tax credit, of which Volkswagen has enough to cover several years of ID.4 sales.
With the income-tax credit in mind, the ID.4 feels like a solid value. Its range matches the Chevrolet Bolt EUV, but it's a far more spacious and comfortable overall package. Where the VW may struggle, though, is among EV shoppers looking for the explosive performance that comes with switching to electric.
The Ford Mustang Mach-E starts in rear-drive form at $43,995, and although it's down on range at an EPA-estimated 230 miles, you'll get much punchier performance and the option of an extended-range battery or available-now dual-motor all-wheel drive. And then there's the Tesla Model Y, which pairs a 326-mile range with standard all-wheel drive and a starting price of $48,990. It's the most expensive of this burgeoning market segment, but the Tesla's bonafides are hard to argue against.
The ID.4 package is inherently likable, though. This VW is not a breathtaking performer, but it's so good at simply being a crossover that consumers shouldn't care. To the ordinary person, the spacious cabin, comfortable ride, approachable price tag, and growing, no-cost charging network should surpass epic performance. The ID.4 is the most important car Volkswagen has launched since the Beetle, and if our first drive is any indication, it will have no problem filling that legend's shoes.
ID.4 Competitor Reviews:
Correction: A previous version of this review stated that the Audi E-Tron did not have a heat pump. This was incorrect. All Audi plug-in/EV models sold in the US come standard with a heat pump. The post has been updated and we regret the error.
Gallery: 2021 Volkswagen ID.4: First Drive
2021 Volkswagen ID.4 1st Edition RWD