2021 Volkswagen ID.4 First Drive - The Future Comes in Baby Steps

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey
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2021 volkswagen id 4 first drive the future comes in baby steps

The electric-vehicle revolution keeps chugging along, one small crossover at a time.

Last month, the Ford Mustang Mach-E graced my garage. This week, I got about 48 hours, give or take, in the 2021 Volkswagen ID.4.

The two aren’t really the same, but they are similar – both are crossovers, both are EVs, and both are key early, if not first, steps taken by their respective manufacturers into the world of mass-market EVs.

Ford’s Mach-E trades on the Mustang name and advertises itself as a seriously sporty crossover, while it seems like VW is presenting the ID.4 as more of a common commuter compact.

Like the Mach-E, and just about every EV ever, the ID.4 offers instant torque, because that’s what electric motors do. It doesn’t feel quite as swift as the (larger but lighter, at least with RWD) Mach-E, for the obvious reason that it doesn’t make as much power, but comparisons aside, there’s plenty of punch for merging and passing. I know we all love V8 soundtracks, but the rapid rate of acceleration on hand here has me a bit excited for EV motoring.

That motor, in this case, is a single electric motor located in the rear, drawing juice from a lithium-ion battery pack. The battery has 82 kWh capacity. A single-speed automatic transmission gets the power (201 horsepower/229 lb-ft of torque) to the rear wheels

ID.4’s freeway ride is acceptably compliant, and it doesn’t come with a sacrifice in terms of handling. The ID.4 was mostly a delight on my favorite stretch of local road, with rapid transitions and quick turn-in to go along with acceptably well-weighted and accurate steering that didn’t feel too artificial. Body roll was the one downside.

I couldn’t help but wonder if the rear-wheel-drive chassis helped, in terms of sporting character. The four-wheel independent suspension surely doesn’t hurt. It’s strut-type upfront, with lower control arms, telescopic dampers, coil springs, and an anti-roll bar. In the rear, it’s multi-link with coil springs, telescopic dampers, and an anti-roll bar. Some suspension parts are aluminum, in a bid to shed pounds.

I left the ID.4 in Sport mode, which is the default, for most of my drive, though a Comfort mode relaxes things on the highway, and there’s also an Eco mode. Drivers can also customize a drive mode.

Other than slightly soft-feeling brakes, I found few nits to pick with the ID.4’s on-road behavior. My critiques fall around the margins, in areas that have little or nothing to do with what kind of powertrain is underhood.

My biggest over-arching complaint is that the ID.4, like many EVs, adopts a design ethos of “weird for the sake of weird.” For example, the shifter is a twist knob on the side of the instrument panel. It’s easy to operate, so no complaint there, but other than aesthetics, why not just use a conventional setup for putting the vehicle into gear?

I also had issues with the haptic-touch buttons on the steering wheel – they didn’t always perform the assigned command, or at least, not quickly. Especially when asking the infotainment system to skip songs. The sliding tiles on the infotainment system worked better and were easy to use, though still a tad slow. If your smartphone has ever experienced a half-second delay opening an app, you’ll understand what I mean.

“Weird for the sake of weird” may just be how the designers envision the future. On the one hand, I wonder if EV adoption would speed up if some of the controls that drivers use that have nothing to do with EV operation were more familiar. On the other hand, it does bring attention to the vehicle, and maybe some of these ideas are an improvement.

Regardless, maybe VW’s interior designers simply foresee the disappearance of buttons. Just about every control is haptic touch, though most worked better than the ones on the steering wheel.

There’s definitely a bit of a learning curve at play here, though I suspect the average owner will get used to the controls soon enough, and one can always use voice controls to command some functions. Next time I get an ID.4 loan, it will likely be for a full week, and I can spend more time diving through the various functions and menus.

I do have reservations about the ability of the white interior trim – including the white steering wheel – to remain clean over the long term. The white steering wheel is only installed in 1st Edition trims.

Other nits included the heavy use of hard plastics, especially in the rear. Speaking of the rear, it looked cramped at first glance, but my six-one frame fit comfortably, beer gut and all.

As far as charging goes, I saw more max range than I did with the Mach-E – somewhere in the neighborhood of 240, which is close to the car’s EPA-estimated max of 250 – but the weather was also much warmer. VW promises a full charge in about seven and a half hours from the 11 kW onboard charger or a level 2 public charger. I assume they are talking about a dedicated home charger – it took me around 12 hours to get a fraction of that while plugged into my building’s 110-volt outlets. Which didn’t surprise me.

VW also claims a five-percent to 80-percent jump in about 38 minutes if you can locate a DC fast charger with 125 kW. The battery itself consists of 288 cells in 12 modules and VW has installed a system that is meant to keep the battery at around 77 degrees Fahrenheit at all times. That would help with output, charging, and battery life.

VW offers an app that can help you monitor charging status or adjust the climate while the car is parked, and while that functionality is nice, I found the FordPass app to be more comprehensive in terms of available information and functions.

The ID.4 looks spartan inside, but fret not, it has plenty of features. Those features include 20-inch wheels, adaptive LED headlights, LED DRLs, and LED taillights, lights for poor weather, illuminated front light bar, rain-sensing wipers, fixed panoramic glass roof with sunshade, trailer hitch (2,200-lb capacity), 1st Edition badging, roof rails, dual-zone climate controls with second-row vents, heated steering wheel with haptic-touch controls, heated front seats, leatherette seats, 1st Edition trim and white seats/steering wheel, USB ports, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, ambient lighting, wireless cell-phone charger, play and pause symbols on the pedals, digital gauges, navigation, satellite radio, keyless entry, and hands-free power liftgate with remote control.

Driver-assist features include traffic-sign recognition, rearview camera, adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, front and rear park-distance control, forward-collision warning and autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, emergency assist, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic assist.

There were no options, so with the $1,195 destination fee, the $43,995 price totals out at $45,190.

MPGe is listed at 104 city/89 highway/97 combined. Three years of free fast charging is provided via Electrify America, but one can still choose to pay for charging from other providers, if so inclined.

The ID.4 isn’t getting the kind of buzz that the Mach-E is, probably because it hasn’t attached itself to a model name with iconic history. Still, at least one dude thumbs-upped me on the highway (he was driving a Chrysler 300, so chew on that). I suspect it wasn’t my devastating good looks that got his attention, and I hadn’t made any maneuvers that would get me a sarcastic gesture.

Buzz or not, the ID.4 is another piece of the puzzle as we build toward a greater market share for EVs. It still faces the same big challenges most EVs do – short range as compared to a gas engine, lack of charging infrastructure, and a high sticker price – but for buyers willing to deal with those obstacles, it’s a pleasantly competent, if quirky, package.

Minor nitpicks annoy, but the on-road dynamics delight. That sentence could apply to many VW models.

In this case, it applies to a Volkswagen that shows a glimpse of an electric future.

A future that is getting here in fits and starts.

[Images © 2021 Tim Healey/TTAC]

Tim Healey
Tim Healey

Tim Healey grew up around the auto-parts business and has always had a love for cars — his parents joke his first word was “‘Vette”. Despite this, he wanted to pursue a career in sports writing but he ended up falling semi-accidentally into the automotive-journalism industry, first at Consumer Guide Automotive and later at Web2Carz.com. He also worked as an industry analyst at Mintel Group and freelanced for About.com, CarFax, Vehix.com, High Gear Media, Torque News, FutureCar.com, Cars.com, among others, and of course Vertical Scope sites such as AutoGuide.com, Off-Road.com, and HybridCars.com. He’s an urbanite and as such, doesn’t need a daily driver, but if he had one, it would be compact, sporty, and have a manual transmission.

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3 of 75 comments
  • Jeff S Jeff S on Mar 13, 2021

    We will see ICE vehicles for decades even after EVs become dominant. People in rural areas will still be driving ICE trucks and cars and collectors will still have them. Most of us will be in the ground before ICE become completely extinct.

    • N8iveVA N8iveVA on Mar 15, 2021

      Thanks for the reality check. So many people with knee-jerk reactions. All these manufacturers saying they will be all electric by 2025 or 2035 I suspect will not make those targets because the market just isn't there yet for various reasons. They'll get there when battery technology has improved enough, but more importantly when the infrastructure is there. And infrastructure won't happen before 2035.

  • NewCar.Technology NewCar.Technology on Mar 16, 2021

    Some really interesting design decisions here. Not sure if they are in the right direction or not, but will reserve judgement until I can drive one.

  • Sayahh Did hybrids have problems when they first came out? Or is it because they had smaller/fewer batteries?
  • Voyager Truthfully, Musk has never been much of a fan of free speech. He’s fired employees who spoke out, both at Twitter and SpaceX. A blogger who mildly criticized Tesla found his car order cancelled. When our friends at the Center for Investigative Reporting dug into how Tesla was failing to report serious injuries at its factory, Musk called them “extremist” and a bunch of “rich kids in Berkeley”.
  • Kosmo Maybe, just to drive people insane!
  • Sobhuza Trooper I won't buy one.I can't buy one.But it's not about me.And, damn, I'm glad it exists.
  • Marty S Corey, thanks for your comment. Mercedes has many different models, and will survive. Jaguar is planning on only offering electric models and will be in trouble. They should continue their ICE models as long as possible, but have discontinued the F-Type already and will probably be discontinuing everything else. We purchased the current XF this year, which is a nice car, but would have been splendid if they had just continued the supercharged V-6 in it.By the way, I have really enjoyed your Continental and Eldorado series. Was just showing it to my barber, who owned several 1954-56 Eldorado convertibles.