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Decidedly Average Electric Power to the People

Look, the reality is, you’re not going to do your daily commute in your Caterham—especially now that you finally got that race-ported three-rotor Wankel swap to idle every now and then. No, you’re going to need something that actually works. And excited though you may not be about the looming inevitability of electric cars, it’s undeniable that they’re starting to make sense, even for enthusiasts.

Across the board, carmakers are working feverishly to increase efficiency regardless of your propulsion choice, and progress comes at the expense of road feel. So your daily driver may as well be as combustion-less as it is gearless, and it may as well tick as many of the other boxes as possible. Something that’s efficient and comfy, but doesn’t cost too much and offers a great deal of utility—and hey, if after all that it doesn’t have the inexplicably frumpy look of neoclassic electric mobility, all the better. 

Volkswagen

Volkswagen will be the first to tell you it isn’t trying to change the game with its first all-electric SUV, the 2021 ID.4 crossover. Instead, the company is channeling the mission statement upon which it was first built: bring mobility to the masses. This time, that mobility happens to be electric. Like the Beetle, there’s a lot that’s just right about the ID.4, as I found out during an impressive test drive of what VW called a pre-pre-production prototype. 

The 2021 Volkswagen ID.4, By the Numbers

  • Base Price: $41,190
  • Powertrain: Rear-mounted AC permanent-magnet synchronous motor | 82 kWh lithium-ion battery
  • Horsepower: 201 hp
  • Torque: 228 lb-ft
  • EPA Range: 250 miles
  • Fast Charging Time: 38 minutes (5 percent to 80 percent at 125 kW) 
  • Cargo Capacity: 30.3 cubic feet | 64.2 cubic feet with the rear seats folded
  • Quick Take: VW’s electric mobility revolution is off to a solid start.

Taking No Chances, But Still Having Fun

The design is smooth and inoffensive, but as derivative as they come, showing hints of everything from Tesla’s bulbous Model Y to Mazda’s striking CX-5 and just about everything in-between. And that’s probably a good thing—the ID.4 is as sure a bet as electric vehicles come at a time when Volkswagen can’t possibly be interested in taking any big risks. The generic styling offers a low drag coefficient of .28, which is what really matters when efficiency is the game.

The “1st Edition” tester you see here essentially includes the optional “Statement” and “Gradient” packages (minus lighted “VW” logo and grille), giving it 20-inch wheels, adaptive LED headlights, power-folding mirrors, and a black roof with silver roof rails. 

Volkswagen

Volkswagen

Despite the anonymous exterior, the ID.4 manages a uniquely light-hearted playfulness inside, particularly in the 1st Edition that I’m driving. Here, the brake and gas pedals have “pause” and “play” symbols, and touch surfaces like the steering wheel and column, radio bezel and door island are washed in “Electric White,” which contrasts with the other surfaces inside. They seem to hover independently of one another in the ID.4 cockpit, rather than the industry-standard single sweep that wraps dash and doors. 

Even the fact that there’s a little pocket for smartphones at the top rear of each front seat is a touch that adds charm. Not every brand could get away with the insertion of such a specific personality.

Volkswagen

Volkswagen

Minimalist, functional, and fun, the interior feels airy, particularly considering the CUV’s small size. It’s easy to get in and sit down, regardless of which door you’ve opened. My tester includes a panoramic fixed-glass roof, which like that of Tesla’s Model Y actually adds headroom. The roof is a part of the “Statement Package,” which includes 12-way power seats with massage lumbar and memory, 30-color ambient lighting (versus 8), a 12-inch infotainment screen, and grey or black leatherette seats.

The Future Won’t Have Buttons

Interestingly, the ID.4 uses an entirely new multimedia system that isn’t found anywhere in Volkswagen’s internally-combusted portfolio. It’s totally intuitive, don’t get me wrong; it’s just different. I did at times experience some lag while swiping through the menus, but the big 12-inch screen of the 1st Edition is a nice touch (even base models get 10-inch screens). As is en vogue, the system will respond with a “Hey” call (“Hello ID”) and it’ll tell you jokes. The humor is German.

Volkswagen

Like the multimedia system, the switchgear is unique to Volkswagen’s electric portfolio. Volkswagen has really leaned into the touch-sensitive surfaces. Too much so, if you ask me. For instance, the rear windows can’t be rolled down by feel alone. There are only two such switches on the driver’s door; you have to look down, use touch to select the rear windows option, then use the same two switches to roll them up or down.

You’ll take your eyes off the road to adjust the mirrors, too. Similarly, functions on the LCD dashboard are controlled by touch-sensitive surfaces on the heated steering wheel. We found they worked well enough, but sometimes delayed in relaying input to the display, causing us to second guess and have to look at the wheel. Hopefully, these glitches won’t exist in the real production models.

Mobbin’ in the MEB

The ID.4 is built on Volkswagen’s all-new MEB platform, which supports electric vehicles exclusively. At launch, the compact SUV will be powered by a 201 horsepower electric motor (with 228 ft-lb of torque) powering the rear wheels—yes, this is a RWD compact crossover. Volkswagen tells us that the 82 kWh battery is estimated to have a 250-mile range as equipped in $45K 1st Edition trims. Meanwhile, the base version starts at $41,190 and is very well-equipped at that price. (Volkswagen points out that there will likely be a federal tax credit of $7,500, and possibly state credits on top of that, bringing the actual price into the low $30K-range.)

Volkswagen

An all-wheel-drive model is in the pipes for later in 2021, dubbed the ID.4 AWD Pro ($44,870). That model drives all-four wheels with the help of a second motor upfront, bringing total power up to 302hp.

The ID.4 1st Edition can be charged with either AC or DC current. It has an 11kW onboard charger that Volkswagen says can charge to 33 miles of range in about an hour, and to full in about 7.5 hours with a level 2 240v charger. The ID.4 can get from 5- to 80-percent charged in about 38 minutes at a fast-charging station offering 125 kW, says Volkswagen, and on the topic, the company is offering three years of free fast charging at Electrify America stations.

2021 VW ID.4: The Drive

So how does the ID.4 drive? Fine. Yeah, you read that right. Fine. 

It’s a comfy electric CUV that does a great job of being a daily driver. You want to wax poetic about steering feel and oversteer? Take the Caterham. This is a car that anyone can jump right into and drive effortlessly, with a killer turn radius (33.5 feet), room for five and a hatch full of stuff. It is somewhat entertaining, particularly when being tailgated, to switch the “gear selector” into “B,” which maximizes energy recuperation (and thus drag), and drive around town using only the gas pedal. I wish there was a paddle, or other fingertip means of toggling between the two modes, though.

Volkswagen

Volkswagen

In either “D” or “B,” my only gripe might be that the brake feel is a little squishy (think early Prius), especially with judicious application, making it hard to gauge how much torque is being applied to the rotors (and uh, drums, in the back—Volkswagen says they do a better job of keeping the battery charged than would discs). Finally, while the ID.4 is a compact SUV, we wouldn’t encourage any sort of off-roading. For now, the game is rear-wheel drive, with tires that are designed to get that 250-mile range. Still, the 8.2 inches of ground clearance are encouraging.

I wouldn’t normally wouldn’t dwell too long on driver assistance stuff, especially in a prototype, but it’s worth saying it again: Every ID.4 is seriously well-equipped. Forward automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise, lane keep, blind-spot monitoring, Travel Assist (VW’s hands-on driver-assistance mode), automatic high beams, and more are all standard.

The ID.4 can hardly be called a daring bet, but a safe play that ticks all the right boxes for a lot of people might just be exactly the move Volkswagen needs to make. Currently built in Zwickau, production is set to move to the company’s Chattanooga, Tennessee plant in 2022, when a localized ID.4 model would cost around $35k before federal and local incentives. Without question, the Beetle brought mobility to the masses. 

Is the ID.4 the car that’ll bring electric mobility to the masses? It’s certainly got a shot.

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