2021 Volkswagen ID.4 AWD First Drive - Just Add Power

2021 volkswagen id 4 awd first drive just add power

When Volkswagen invited us to test drive the all-wheel-drive version of the ID.4 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, I hesitated.

Fly all the way to Tennessee just for a slightly different version of a car I drove a few months ago? A place that’s been one of the worst COVID hotspots during the Delta variant surge, no less? Is it worth the time out of office, even if COVID wasn’t a thing?

Then it hit me as I blasted some forlorn backroad with Eddie Rabbitt’s “Driving My Life Away” – apt for an automotive journalist – blaring on the radio. I was thinking too old school.

See, as you almost certainly know, adding AWD to a rear-wheel-drive crossover might not make much of a difference for an internal-combustion-powered vehicle. It would no doubt add weight, and maybe change the ride and handling characteristics a bit, depending on the platform and the suspension and the engineering. It’s also possible any dynamic differences would be subtle or even unnoticeable (at least on dry pavement).

But the ID.4 is a bit of a different animal, having an electric motor located at the rear in the “base” non-AWD version. This means making the car all-wheel drive means adding another motor. Thus, also adding power.

That makes enough of a difference that I set aside other work, boarded a plane, and let someone stick a Q-tip up my nose. All so I can serve you, the Best and Brightest, with fresh content.

That Tennessee bourbon won’t drink itself, eh?

(Full Disclosure: Volkswagen flew me to Chattanooga, fed and housed me for a night, and gave me and others a tour of its plant, which will eventually build ID.4s. They also gave me a branded COVID mask – I am getting close to collecting one from all the brands. If there was any other swag, I didn’t see it. The box of snacks left in my room may or may not have been free – I didn’t bother with it.)

What differentiates the all-wheel-drive ID.4 from the rear-wheel-drive version is, obviously and as mentioned above, the addition of another electric motor, placed at the front axle. This one has a maximum output of 107 horsepower and 119 lb-ft of torque.

That gives the all-wheel-drive version of the ID.4 295 horsepower and 339 lb-ft of torque, over the rear-drive car’s 201/229 (if you’re wondering why the numbers don’t add up to 308 and 348, there’s a variety of reasons why total system power doesn’t match the total outputs of individual motors added together when it comes to multi-motor EVs, as well as gas-electric hybrids).

Unlike most AWD setups, there’s no mechanical link between the two axles. Instead, each motor connects to the front or rear wheels via a differential and single-speed gearbox.

Like many AWD setups, the ID.4 does spend most of its time in rear-drive mode, only engaging the front motor when necessary, or when in Sport mode. There is a slight range cost – Pro trims are listed at 249 miles (11 fewer than the RWD Pro) and 240 for the Pro S, which is a decrease of 10 from the RWD Pro S. EPA-estimated MPGe 102/90/97 for the Pro AWD and 98/88/93 for the Pro S.

Volkswagen estimates a 0-60 time of 5.4 seconds and says the ID.4 AWD can tow up to 2,700 pounds.

The battery pack is 82 kWh and consists of 12 modules with a total of 288 pouch cells. A floor plate with built-in water channels helps keep it cool. The battery pack is set up in the underbody, between the axles, in an attempt to get a 50/50 weight distribution and to keep the center of gravity low.

Charge times are about seven and half hours from a Level II station using the onboard 11 kW charger, and a DC fast-charging station with 125 kW charging can take the car from five percent charged to 80 percent charged in around 40 minutes. Buyers get three years of free charging at Electrify America stations. That includes DC fast charging.

Speaking of fast, or quick, to be grammatically correct, the ID.4 offers up quite the acceleration. Like any other EV, torque is available instantaneously, and the ID.4 can shove you back into its seat and shrink the distance between corners. This ability is quite useful when merging or trying to get past slow-moving semis on the freeway.

Straight-line speed isn’t the only hallmark of fun, though. A truly sporting vehicle, whether EV or not, whether a crossover or not, will also ride and handle in a way that gives the driver the grins.

This is where the ID.4 AWD experience is a mixed bag. On the way up and over Signal Mountain, I was driving at what I call a “relaxed hustle” – faster than the average speed of traffic, and faster than the speed limit, but not pushing hard enough to really stress the chassis or get the tires singing. On the way back, I pushed the speed a bit, and the difference in how the ID.4 reacted is revealing.

On the way up the mountain, in Sport mode, the ID.4 felt perfectly pleasant, even surprising. Body roll was present but no worse than expected from a crossover, the steering felt nicely weighted and allowed me to place the wheels accurately, and the car cruised through each corner on my preferred line with ease, shooting out on exit due to the instantly available power.

On the way back, with the effort dial cranked up, things were different. Understeer reared its head, at some points making turn-in difficult and slowing me down something fierce. The down-mountain route required more of the brakes, and they got a tad mushy at times. The tires also lost a little grip under heavy braking at one point. Oh, and all that hard driving predictably sapped battery range quickly.

I quickly found the ID.4 to be one of those vehicles that’s pleasantly engaging during spirited driving, but only up to a point. Past that point, it’s more stress and mess than fun.

Which, to be fair, is fine. The ID.4 isn’t meant to be a performance EV, unlike Ford’s Mustang Mach-E. Think of it as a family-oriented crossover with some sportiness and you’ll keep your expectations in line with its abilities.

Indeed, during gentle urban and suburban driving, the ID.4 acquitted itself nicely, especially when I took it out of the more high-strung Sport mode and dropped it into Comfort. The ride is a nice balance of stiff and smooth, with little to object to. A short freeway stint was nice and relaxed.

The all-wheel-drive car has the same suspension: Front strut-type with lower control arms, telescopic dampers, coil springs, and an anti-roll bar; and a multi-link rear with coil springs, telescopic dampers, and an anti-roll bar. The ride height is raised by 0.6 inches and the springs and dampers are firmer while the anti-roll bars are thicker than on the RWD car. Like with the RWD ID.4, some suspension bits are aluminum in order to keep weight down.

Inside, VW has bestowed the car with a lot of haptic-touch controls and focused the cabin around the infotainment screen. The infotainment system here worked fine, though there was occasional lag when switching menus, but other controls annoyed me. The haptic-touch controls on the steering wheel and under the infotainment screen worked well, but I had trouble with the mirror and window controls on the door – they just aren’t intuitive. To be fair, owners will likely get used to the setup.

Then again, owners won’t get locked in the back seat while shooting pics because they first turned on the child lock, then somehow still managed to lock the door after turning that off. Nor would they find themselves locked out of the front seat after managing to unlock the rear door, because now the front door was locked. This happened with the key in the vehicle and caused me some consternation.

The shifter also confused me – I nearly drove forward into a general store at our break stop instead of backing out of the parking spot because to me, flicking up for drive and down for reverse on the shifter (located on the side of the steering column) made more sense. Luckily, I caught myself in time. It’s one thing to stuff a test car down a mountainside – imagine the shame if I’d tagged a building at 1.5 mph. I had no issue with it the last time I drove an ID.4, but I suspect it is still novel enough that I am not used to it.

Perhaps the biggest beef I had with the cabin was the lack of radio and tuning knobs. Haptic touch is one thing, going knobless in the face of overwhelming evidence that it’s a bad idea is another.

The voice-recognition system seemed to work well early but later wouldn’t turn on when I said the magic words. I did dig the dashboard light that activates when you’re using the factory nav and approaching a turn – it’s useful. Also useful is the easy-to-read digital gauge screen.

I found the front seat roomy enough, and it wasn’t hard to get the driving position right. Rear-seat space was acceptable for my large frame, and the cargo area seems able to swallow groceries well enough. It’s listed at 30.3 cubic feet with the rear seats up. The seats were comfortable throughout my drive, and cabin materials seemed class-appropriate, if not remarkably nice.

The cabin is quiet, keeping outside noises out. Of course, there’s no exhaust note to contend with – just a whoosh and whir that you hear when you dig into the throttle. Tire noise was unremarkable.

Standard features available at the $43,675 base price include LED lighting all around, 19-inch wheels, keyless entry and starting, rain-sensing wipers, automatic headlights, heated steering wheel, cloth seats, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, voice-activated assistant, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, wireless phone charging, IQ.DRIVE suite of driver-aid systems, trailer-hitch, and road-sign display.

Opt for the Pro S that I drove ($48,175) and you add LED adaptive projector headlamps, a light bar for the VW logo/grille, fixed-glass panoramic roof, power-fold side mirrors, a hands-free power liftgate, leatherette seats, and ambient lighting.

A Gradient Package adds $1,500 and 20-inch wheels, a black roof with silver roof rails and accents, and silver accents for both bumpers. Destination is $1,195. Volkswagen will also remind you, repeatedly, that the ID.4 qualifies for the $7,500 federal tax credit.

The AWD ID.4 is much like the rear-drive ID.4 – a well-rounded EV package for the commuter and/or family set, with a pinch of sport thrown in. Along with edgy design for the sake of it, ergonomics be damned. It’s just that this version is quicker and costs more, with a slight range penalty.

If the rear-drive ID.4 tickled your fancy but you yearned for more power, you’ve got your wish, provided you’ll spend a little more cheddar (about $4K more) for it.

It’s not a luxury EV crossover like the Tesla Model Y. It’s not a performer like the Mach-E. The ID.4 is instead a competent, if ergonomically flawed, package for the EV buyer who is looking for a mainstream ride with a side of sport. If you can get past the quirks, you’ll find that it, well, works.

[Images © 2021 Tim Healey/TTAC]

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  • Jmo2 Jmo2 on Sep 17, 2021

    I’d be interested in learning why the default is RWD - are there any VW engineer contacts the PR department could hook you up with? Off the top of my head I’d say cars went to FWD mainly for packaging efficiency reasons. Further down the list was foul weather performance when so much of the vehicles weight was the front mounted engine. But the AWD take rate will be so high in the snow belt that it won’t matter. And for those not opting for AWD the far better weight distribution negates a lot of the benefits of FWD.

    • Tim Healey Tim Healey on Sep 17, 2021

      Ny guess is that there's a big size difference. An electric motor on the axle takes up a lot less space than an engine, right? So instead of putting an ICE transverse, you can just place the motor at the axle (or wheels), and free up some space. Though not too much -- the battery pack also takes up space. In this case, under the center of the car.

  • Astigmatism Astigmatism on Sep 17, 2021

    I'm entirely bummed that VW didn't see fit to bring the ID.4 GTX model stateside: if you're already bringing the dual-motor architecture, why not bring over the rest of the go-fast bits to make for an engaging ride? That would have been the leader in the clubhouse for our next family hauler, but without it on the table, I'm just waiting for my Kia EV6 reservation to come up.

  • FreedMike Back in the '70s, the one thing keeping consumers from buying more Datsuns was styling - these guys were bringing over some of the ugliest product imaginable. Remember the F10? As hard as I try to blot that rolling aberration from my memory, it comes back. So the name change to Nissan made sense, and happened right as they started bringing over good-looking product (like the Maxima that will be featured in this series). They made a pretty clean break.
  • Flowerplough Liability - Autonomous vehicles must be programmed to make life-ending decisions, and who wants to risk that? Hit the moose or dive into the steep grassy ditch? Ram the sudden pile up that is occurring mere feet in front of the bumper or scan the oncoming lane and swing left? Ram the rogue machine that suddenly swung into my lane, head on, or hop up onto the sidewalk and maybe bump a pedestrian? With no driver involved, Ford/Volkswagen or GM or whomever will bear full responsibility and, in America, be ambulance-chaser sued into bankruptcy and extinction in well under a decade. Or maybe the yuge corporations will get special, good-faith, immunity laws, nation-wide? Yeah, that's the ticket.
  • FreedMike It's not that consumers wouldn't want this tech in theory - I think they would. Honestly, the idea of a car that can take over the truly tedious driving stuff that drives me bonkers - like sitting in traffic - appeals to me. But there's no way I'd put my property and my life in the hands of tech that's clearly not ready for prime time, and neither would the majority of other drivers. If they want this tech to sell, they need to get it right.
  • TitaniumZ Of course they are starting to "sour" on the idea. That's what happens when cars start to drive better than people. Humanpilots mostly suck and make bad decisions.
  • Inside Looking Out Why not buy Bronco and call it Defender? Who will notice?
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