Volkswagen's EV Mainstream Potential: the ID.4
Volkswagen isn’t new to electric cars. In fact, as far back as 2014, the German brand was selling an electric Golf in Europe, with the E-Golf launching in North America in 2017. But, given that car’s relatively limited range, and the fact that it was a car when most new-vehicle buyers want an SUV, the E-Golf has always been a niche player in the lineup: perfect for urban dwellers (and delivery services), a small taste of the potential that an all-electric VW would offer.
The ID.4 fulfills that potential – and a whole lot more. A five-seat SUV priced in the low-forties before incentives, it’s aimed directly at the heart of one of the biggest and most competitive segments in the market. It has dozens of potential competitors in both electric and gasoline form, from both mainstream and premium brands; there will be no hiding from any of these players if it isn’t good.
Fortunately, the ID.4 is very competitive indeed – and also really showcases the advantages of going electric, not just in terms of its efficiency and electric driving experience, but also in terms of its space, versatility, and technology.
Volkswagen ID.4: High Tech and Safety
Indeed, full-electric drive is just one of the impressive technologies the ID.4 comes with. A complete set of driver assistance features comes standard, including adaptive cruise control that maintains a safe distance from the car in front; blind spot monitoring; rear traffic alert for improved safety when backing up; and front assist, which watches for pedestrians and can bring the car to a stop if it senses obstacles. These are all features that normally cost hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, as options on similar SUVs, and other than the rear traffic alert being overly sensitive, they all work seamlessly and don’t impinge on the driving experience.
Like all electric vehicles, the ID.4 fast, smooth, and quiet. While the 0-60 mph time isn’t, on paper, that impressive at just under six seconds, the way it dashes away from traffic lights and zips past slower traffic is more than enough, and way more responsive than any gasoline SUV. Because there’s no transmission, no gears to shift, acceleration and cruising is totally seamless, and there’s no engine revving, buzzing, and grunting – this is the most relaxing VW to drive by some margin. Kudos as well to VW for how well the brakes are calibrated: under normal circumstances, regenerative braking is light; and feels more natural for those coming from gasoline vehicles; a more aggressive mode is available with a simple twist of the shift knob, giving one-pedal driving ability.
For a midsize SUV, range is actually quite impressive. Most drivers will opt for the 82-kWh all-wheel drive version, which, by the EPA’s estimates, will deliver 263 miles; the lighter, simpler rear-wheel drive version gives you 191 miles. During a very cold few days in February, I saw range estimates closer to 240 miles with all electrical systems running, seat heater on, and the heat turned up – which not far off what I get from my Golf GTI in similar weather. Owners will mostly charge overnight from a level 2 wall box, meaning they’ll leave home every morning with a full “tank” of electrons.
For longer trips, the ID.4 offers 125-kW fast charging, meaning 5-80% on the right kind of DC fast charger will take about 40 minutes. Every new ID.4 also comes with three years’ worth of 30-minute free charging sessions on the Electrify America network, one of the nation’s fastest and most comprehensive, with over 9,500 chargers nationwide. (Of course, there are more than 50,000 charging stations of all types nationwide; you can look them up here.)
Technology at Your Fingertips
The ID.4’s infotainment system is all touch, all the time. A touch screen perched on top of the low-set dashboard unifies controls for setting up the car, the climate control system, navigation, smartphone integration, and driver assistance systems. None of the “buttons” – on the dash and on the steering wheel – are actual buttons anymore; instead, they’re shiny capacitive sensors that are fingerprint magnets, and require you to actually look at them while driving.
Spend enough time with it, and things start to feel more intuitive, but as a fan of old-school VW interiors with solid switchgear, going forwards felt to me like a step backwards – particularly the window switches, which require you to tap a capacitive switch on the door panel to use the two “front” window switches to operate the rear windows, and the volume control, which is not a knob, but a non-backlit swipey thing. (On the upside, enough time spent with all the setup options can leave you with a car that feels pretty special, and tailored specifically for you, with your preferred shade of interior lighting; doors that unlock when you walk up to them; and customized displays.)
There’s a lot to love inside the ID.4, starting with the space. Being built on a dedicated electric platform, with a totally flat floor, no transmission hump, and tiny electric motors instead of an engine requiring a “room” for itself, means that the interior feels almost Atlas-sized, despite the car’s footprint being similar to a Tiguan’s. Room for legs, heads, and shoulders is superb for a vehicle this size, and the seats themselves are awesome – perfectly shaped, supportive around corners, but easy to get in and out of. The rears fold easily, expanding the already-generous cargo space, though they don’t create a flat floor. The console bin has a huge amount of usable space in it. And while the consolidated touch screens may take some getting used to from an ergonomic perspective, there’s no question they help create a superbly calm, uncluttered interior.
A Tipping Point For Volkswagen
From an affordability standpoint, the ID.4 makes a strong case for itself. Base price for an ID.4 Pro is $38,995, $43,995 for the Pro, with $47,495 getting you the dual-motor all-wheel drive version. Factor in the $7,500 you could get back from the federal government in rebates and you're looking at about $40,000 for the all-wheel drive version – about the same as you’d pay for a loaded-up SEL R Line Tiguan (which albeit has a leather interior and power front seats). Factor in the rising cost of fuel, and going all-electric means you’ll actually save over the long run – your savings improving the more you drive. Plus, the ID.4 offers more sophisticated technology, a more modern interior with more room, and lower maintenance costs over time, with no oil changes to do.
The ID.4 feels like a real tipping point for the Volkswagen brand, and given its capabilities and range, feels almost like the no-brainer alternative if you’re considering a Tiguan, and can set yourself up with charging at your home or office. Volkswagen’s only issue at the moment seems to be not being able to get enough of them to meet the demand that’s already building – no wonder, given how intelligent a buy it is.
300-Miles in the Volkswagen ID.4
Designed from the ground-up to be electric, the ID.4 is much sleeker and more aerodynamic than most SUVs of this size; it looks special and high-tech. That feeling continues inside the spacious, uncluttered interior, which has very few physical controls.
When I pick up the ID.4 from Volkswagen of Newmarket, it has about a half charge. Finding a DC fast charger is easy with the built-in navigation system. On a 50-kW charger, it takes about an hour to top up the battery; the ID.4 can actually ingest electrons more than twice that fast.
While the ID.4 has a very simple looking interior, the central touch screen hides a huge depth of setup options. It takes some time to wade through all of them, but the upside is that you can have the car behave exactly the way you want. My favorite setting is the one that triggers the seat and steering wheel heaters automatically if the outside temperature drops below a set figure. Also fun? Dozens of ambient lighting options and customizable drive modes.
The ID.4’s roominess really demonstrates how much more space an all-electric platform can give you compared to a gasoline vehicle. With no big “room” required to hold the engine, and a flat battery under the floor instead of a giant fuel tank, the ID.4 feels way more spacious than you’d expect of a vehicle this size. Because the electric motors are so compact, the turning circle is amazing too.