The ID 4 isn't Volkswagen's first electric vehicle, but it's far and away the most significant -- in the US, at least. With its spacious interior, generous suite of tech, 250-mile range and roughly $40,000 starting price, the ID 4 is aimed right in the heart of the EV market. Volkswagen even thinks it might be just the thing to convince would-be conventional crossover shoppers to make the jump to EV life.
There is a lot to discuss about the VW ID 4, and Antuan Goodwin explains a lot of the finer points in his first look article from the EV's debut in September. Meanwhile, my time with the ID 4 is limited to just an hour of driving around Los Angeles County's South Bay cities, and Volkswagen wouldn't even let me take photos of its EV in the real world because of... reasons? I guess? Anyway.
2021 Volkswagen ID 4 aims to electrify America later this yearSee all photos
The ID 4 uses familiar architecture. It's built on the same scalable MEB electric vehicle platform that underpins a range of Volkswagen Group EVs, with an 82-kilowatt-hour battery pack beneath the floor. The first round of ID 4s will have a single motor mounted on the rear axle, delivering 201 horsepower and 228 pound-feet of torque. Sometime next year, a dual-motor, all-wheel-drive ID 4 will join the lineup, with 302 hp.
Despite this rear-wheel-drive layout, the ID 4 doesn't feel especially tail-happy. It isn't all that quick, either. Sure, the instant electric torque is great, and all 228 lb.-ft. are available the moment you hit the throttle. But if you're charmed by the thrill of launching a Tesla, you won't be able to repeat that experience in an ID 4.
Instead, the VW feels a lot more... normal. For better or worse. It pulls away from stoplights with confidence, but the throttle is far easier to modulate than in something super twitchy like a Tesla. The ID 4's throttle feels more like that of a turbocharged, gas-powered CUV -- a Tiguan, perhaps. If you've only ever driven SUVs with internal combustion engines, getting into an ID 4 won't be too jarring of an experience. You never get the sense that there's a wealth of torque under your right foot. (Also, I love the Play and Pause icons on the pedals.)
Relaxed as it is, the ID 4 is still pretty fun to drive. The EV turns in quickly and there's a great weight to the wheel itself. The ID 4 also boasts a 33.5-foot turning radius and 3.5 turns lock to lock, meaning it's easy to whip U-turns on the fly or at intersections. What I like most about the ID 4 is the ride quality -- it corners flat, thanks to its low center of gravity, but it's not choppy or stiff on the freeway, even on these big, 20-inch wheels and low-profile tires. It's comfortable and easy to drive, just like a compact crossover should be.
The ID 4 uses front disc and rear drum brakes. And while the latter might seem a bit old-fashioned for a vehicle so forward-thinking, Volkswagen notes that drum brakes are actually better for long-term use in an EV, since the regenerative braking and front discs can do the heavy lifting most of the time. That said, there isn't strong enough regen to allow for the kind of one-pedal EV driving that I -- and other EV enthusiasts -- have come to enjoy. In its standard drive mode, lifting off the throttle will let the ID 4 coast like a gas-powered car, though if you shift from D to B on the gear selector, more regen is dialed into the experience. Select Sport mode and the ID 4 not only gets a little more pep in its step, but has stronger off-pedal regen. And since Sport doesn't stiffen the suspension, I actually prefer this setting to the others. An Eco mode, meanwhile, has the reverse effect, slowing everything down for the sake of maximum efficiency.
From the driver's seat, the ID 4 feels like any other Volkswagen crossover. The low beltline curves up to a relatively high cowl, and I find myself having to raise the seat to comfortably see down the hood. There's a big center console between the two front seats, with plenty of room for drinks and a wireless phone charger. Headroom and shoulder room are ample, as well, and while the ID 4 is smaller than a Tiguan on the outside, the two have similar interior dimensions. With its white surfaces and expansive windshield, the EV simply feels roomier.
It's easy to get in and out of the ID 4's back seats and there are a pair of USB Type-C outlets for rear passengers. Open the hatchback and there's a relatively low load floor with a reconfigurable divider. The back seats fold flat, too, making the ID 4 pretty functional. There's an ample 30.3 cubic feet of space behind the second row, and a maximum of 64.2 cubic feet with the seats folded.
Even in this early, preproduction test car, the ID 4 has a sense of quality and premium-ness that's been missing from a lot of recent Volkswagen products. It looks and feels like a real luxury car, with high-quality materials, soft surfaces and a huge roster of in-car tech.
The 5.3-inch digital gauge cluster is easy to read, nestled behind the steering wheel with a BMW i3-like gear shifter off to the right. The standard infotainment setup uses a 10-inch screen in the center of the dashboard, but higher-end models get a 12-inch display running Volkswagen's new Discover Pro Max software. It features voice commands, gesture controls and incorporates the new ID Light feature, which can either affirm a driver's actions or even provide directional support for navigation. I'm super-excited to spend more time checking this out.
As it stands, my limited time with the ID 4 means I've only got a few impressions of the infotainment system. It's easy to navigate through the menu structure and inputs are met with immediate responses. I like the colorful displays and the home screen widgets, and happily, wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard.
A whole mess of driver-assistance systems are packed into the ID 4, with forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist standard, all bundled into what VW calls the IQ Drive suite. Traffic sign recognition, park distance control and automatic high beams come on every ID 4, too.
The first ID 4s will be hitting the road later this year, and I'm sure we'll have a more thorough test (with photos) before 2020 comes to a close. VW's new EV will cost $39,995 before factoring in a still-unknown destination charge as well as federal and local incentives. My test car -- a fully loaded First Edition -- costs $43,995, and all of these models are spoken for. As a bonus, ID 4 owners will have access to three years of free fast-charging at the growing Electrify America network, and it can charge from 0% to 80% in just under 40 minutes.
All told, the ID 4 is a compelling electric crossover. It looks good, the interior is nicely appointed, and its tech game is strong. Will it pull folks out of a Tesla Model Y? Probably not. But it's far and away more luxurious than a Chevrolet Bolt or Kia Niro EV, and offers a less-expensive alternative to something like an Audi E-Tron, albeit without those four prestigious rings on its nose. It's also functional enough to provide real utility for compact crossover shoppers, and Volkswagen's hoping a few would-be Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4 buyers might take notice.
The ID 4 is a really big step for VW's electrification efforts here in the US. Lucky for them, it looks to be an extremely well-rounded EV.