Democratization of EV Technology
One of the positive consequences of the industry’s move towards electrification is a rapid, and significant, democratization of technology – whether it’s the technology powering the car itself, safety features, or gadgets that keep you informed or entertained when behind the wheel. Performance, features, and luxuries that were once the sole domain of high-end brands are now readily available on mainstream models, so much so that you might find yourself asking whether a premium badge is worth the extra expense.
In the rush to bring more new models to market to satisfy customer demand and legislative requirements, they are increasingly leaning on shared platforms and components to amortize the extremely high development costs of new technologies. While platform sharing has always been a “thing” in the car business, differentiation was easier to create thanks to different drivetrain choices or chassis technologies. The radical simplification and the significant leap in performance offered by even entry-level power packages, combined with new, advanced architectures with great new features built in, have made even the “basest” of EVs staggeringly well-equipped and attractive.
Electric Cousins with Different Personalities
Nowhere is this more evident than in the Volkswagen ID.4 and Audi Q4 e-tron, two new electric SUVs built off the Volkswagen Group’s brand-new “MEB” electric vehicle platform. Both offer competitive power, range, interior space, and features – but they’re priced thousands of dollars apart. The least expensive ID.4 starts at $40,700, with an 201-hp electric motor driving the rear wheels and an 82-kWh battery; it dashes to 60 mph in 7.7 seconds and tops out at 99 mph. For $3,200 more, the least-expensive Q4 e-tron comes with the same motor, the same top speed, and the same battery, but takes 7.9 seconds to reach 60 mph, due to weighing about 100 pounds more. Dimensionally, they’re very close as well, with wheelbases, overall length, and width all being almost the same.
Given the similarity of the technical specs, you have to give both brands’ designers credit for creating two vehicles with very distinct personalities. While their outlines are broadly similar, the ID.4 and Q4 e-tron both strongly express their brands’ visual identities from the outside. The ID.4 features Volkswagen’s new uni-brow, with a strip of LEDs stretching across its front end, and its sleek profile is made sleeker by blacked-out pillars, making its roof look longer and more sweeping. The Q4 e-tron is distinctively Audi thanks to a high-tech update of the brand’s single-frame grille (reinterpreted here with 3D graphical elements instead of radiators), sharper character lines down the side, and body-color pillars that give it a more structured, formal look.
Their interiors are distinctly different, too. The ID.4 is almost radically simple. Its instrument cluster is tiny, just a speedometer and a couple of small indicators sitting on top of the steering column, and a 10-inch central touch screen (with a 12-incher optional) with capacitive sliders handles all other functions from radio to navigation to phone to climate control. Even its window controls are simplified, with just two up-down switches, and a pad that lets you select whether you’re operating the fronts or rears. High-tech fabric is standard, with leatherette on higher trim levels. Standard equipment includes heated seats, customizable ambient lighting, and keyless entry and sit-to-start, making operating the ID.4 as simple as it looks.
The Q4 e-tron gives you more to look at and more to touch. Leatherette upholstery is standard equipment, and the more structured-looking dash features gray-tinted wood or brushed aluminum. While a touch screen is still present – it’s a 10-incher, like the VW’s, and there’s no option for a larger one – it’s backed up with a battery of physical controls, including a dedicated climate control panel. You also get a curious hexagonal-shaped steering wheel, framing Audi’s virtual cockpit instrument cluster, one of the best and most adaptable in the business.
For passenger space, there’s little difference between the two models. The Volkswagen has more front headroom (40.6 inches versus 38.5 inches for the Audi) and more front and rear shoulder room (57.5 inches versus 56.7 inches; 55.9 versus 55.1), but has marginally less rear headroom and legroom thanks to its sloping roof. Cargo capacity for the Volkswagen, however, has a lot more cargo space: 30.3 cubic feet with the seats up (versus 24.8 for the Audi) and 64.2 cubic feet with the seats folded down (53.1 for the Audi).
Premium Priced Audi Q4 e-tron vs VW ID.4
Where things get interesting is in the packaging of features and options. The base ID.4 is actually slightly better-equipped than the base Q4 e-tron, coming with wireless charging, and a heated steering wheel, among other features, as standard, which require an equipment package or a higher trim level on the Audi, which comes standard with power seats and some other goodies that require a trim upgrade on the ID.4.
The reality is that most Audi buyers won’t be buying a base Q4 e-tron; buyers will want the quattro all-wheel drive which bumps power to 295 hp and the price to $49,900; a loaded Prestige trim Q4 e-tron packs standard quattro for $56,200; while a maxed-out ID.4 Pro S with Gradient is $51,365 with the same 295 hp and twin motors.
For roughly equivalent performance and equipment, you’ll always be paying somewhere between $3,000 and $5,000 more for the Audi – a premium that feels like it makes more and more sense as you move up the price spectrum. Faced with spending over $50k, the Audi’s more luxurious, better-trimmed interior is a greater advantage, and it’s likely to command higher values at resale as well; the Volkswagen’s sometimes-compromised minimalist controls are more difficult to accept at $50,000 than they are at $40,000. Keep in mind that, depending on where in the country you live, these prices are significantly sweetened by federal and regional incentives that could save you thousands.
One thing’s certain – either of these vehicles is a viable, forward-looking choice for versatile electric-powered family transportation. Your design tastes, and to a lesser extent, your budget, will determine which fits better with your lifestyle, but the great thing is that whether you choose the ID.4 or the Q4 e-tron, you’re getting the same level of technology, performance, and practicality.