As important as the Beetle? Two days with Volkswagen’s electric ID.4

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ID parade —

It’s a competent but not flashy crossover with a real-world range of 250 miles.

Jonathan M. Gitlin

  • Volkswagen says the ID.4 is as important to the company’s future as the Beetle was to its past.


    Jonathan Gitlin

  • It wants to sell a lot of ID.4s in America, which is why it’s unapologetically a midsize crossover, the segment that accounts for one in four of all new light vehicle sales.


    Volkswagen

  • In time, the ID.4 will have the option for AWD as well as a smaller battery. But for the first few months they’re all RWD models with a 77kWh usable capacity and a range of 250 miles.


    Volkswagen

  • Nightlights at the carwash.


    Jonathan Gitlin

  • There’s a full-length glass roof as standard, with a fabric shade that retracts at the push of a button.


    Jonathan Gitlin

The Volkswagen ID.4 is a big deal for its manufacturer. After getting busted six years ago for fibbing about diesel emissions, VW underwent a corporate transformation, throwing all its chips into electrification. As a big believer in modular architectures that it can use to build a wide range of vehicles from a common set of parts, it got to work on a new architecture just for battery electric vehicles, called MEB (Modularer E-Antriebs-Baukasten or Modular Electrification Toolkit).

Since then, we’ve seen a dizzying array of MEB-based concepts, including that electric bus that everyone wants, and even a bright green buggy. But the ID.4 is no mere concept. It’s the first production MEB vehicle to go on sale here in the US, designed with the crossover-crazy US market firmly in mind. Last September we got our first good look at the ID.4 under studio lights in Brooklyn, and a month later, Ars got to spend 45 minutes on the road with a pre-production ID.4. But now we’ve had two full days in a model year 2021 ID.4 1st Edition, getting to know it on local turf.

Volumetrically, it’s about the same size as a Toyota RAV4 or VW Tiguan: 181 inches (4,585 mm) long, 73 inches wide (1,852 mm), and 64 inches tall (1,637 mm), with a 109-inch (2,766 mm) wheelbase. Depending on the angle, it can be quite a handsome shape. That’s helped by the way the 1st Edition’s aerodynamic 20-inch alloy wheels fill their arches, helping convince the brain that the car is smaller than it actually is, as well as the designer’s trick of making bits disappear by cladding them in glossy black panels.

At a measurement of 0.28, the ID.4’s drag coefficient would be considered very slippery just a few years ago. VW says it could have lowered that figure by making it a fastback (like the Audi e-tron Sportback or MEB-based e-tron Q Sportback), but that would have compromised rear headroom and cargo capacity.

For now, all ID.4s have the same powertrain configuration. A twin-motor, all-wheel-drive option arrives in late summer, but the $43,995 1st edition, the $39,995 ID.4, and the $44,495 ID.4 Pro S are all rear-wheel drive, with a single 150 kW (201 hp), 310 Nm (229 lb-ft) permanent magnet synchronous motor located above the rear axle. (All prices are before applicable federal or local tax credits and incentives, and the 1st Edition is now sold out.)

American-made ID.4s will begin churning out of VW’s Chattanooga factory next year, and sometime after that we should see a ~$35,000 version with a smaller battery pack using locally made cells. Until then, there’s just a single pack option with a useable capacity of 77 kWH (82 kWh total capacity), made of 288 pouch cells split across 12 modules.

Range, efficiency, and charging

  • I was pleasantly surprised by the ID.4’s range efficiency, which perhaps might be the soft bigotry of mediocre expectations after the Audi e-tron and Porsche Taycan both received bad grades.


    Jonathan Gitlin

  • I didn’t need to hypermile or suffer in the cold or heat to achieve 3.3 miles/kWh, either. I put the car to the test in Sport mode on a twisty road, and drove to Baltimore and back to fetch lunch. (Note: neither this screen nor the previous one shows the first day’s driving, but that also clocked in at 3.3 miles/kWh.)


    Jonathan Gitlin

  • I’m not sure who had this particular car before me, but I did manage to raise this average to 2.7 miles/kWh up from 2.1 miles/kWh when it got dropped off.


    Jonathan Gitlin

  • DC fast charging. Just after taking this picture I realized that I needed to move the blue dot on the slider to 80 percent. (There’s no point fast-charging to 100 percent because of the sigmoidal shape of a charging curve.)


    Jonathan Gitlin

  • Changing the charging target is really simple.


    Jonathan Gitlin

  • An illustration of the VW ID.4 powertrain layout.


    Volkswagen

  • The CCS socket is on the right side of the car.


    Volkswagen

  • When you’re charging, the main instrument display tells you how long you have left.


    Jonathan Gitlin

  • ID.4s get three years of unlimited DC fast charging at Electrify America stations, which is a pretty great deal IMO.

For the time being, range is the main thing people want from a battery EV. The official EPA rating for the ID.4 is 250 miles of range (402 km) from the battery’s useable 77 kWh. I averaged 3.3 miles/kWh, using both the heating and air conditioning thanks to some late February weather that ranged from below freezing to warm enough for short sleeves in the space of a day.

The vast majority of ID.4 owners will plug them in each night, and with enough amps, the onboard AC charger can reach 11 kW, recharging the battery in 7.5 hours. A DC fast charger takes just 38 minutes to charge the ID.4 from five percent to 80 percent, at a maximum of 125 kW. (As we have found with most other BEVs and fast charging, if you arrive with a greater state of charge, it still takes roughly the same time to get to 80 percent; the battery just draws a lower amount of power.) VW is even including three years of unlimited DC charging with Electrify America, which is good news for potential buyers who don’t have a garage or carport where they can charge at home.

The new ISO15118 Plug and Charge protocol hasn’t made its way to the ID.4 yet, but VW tells us that should arrive with the first over-the-air software update later this year. Once that happens, you won’t even need the Electrify America app on your phone, as the car will handle authentication and billing when it handshakes with the charger.

A very VW experience

  • The interior of the ID.4 1st Edition is dominated by the white steering wheel. I shudder to think what it’ll look like ten years from now. But the 1st Edition is sold out already, so if you haven’t ordered one already it’s not a problem you’ll have to worry about.


    Jonathan Gitlin

  • With a black steering wheel the interior looks a lot more sober.


    Volkswagen

  • The main instrument display is a 5.3-inch screen.


    Jonathan Gitlin

  • It’s pretty minimalist, with ADAS status on the left (which you can hide), then your speed and the speed limit in the middle.


    Jonathan Gitlin

  • Twist the knob on the side to go forward into D or B, and back toward you to go into R, with N at the halfway point. Park is engaged by a button on the edge.


    Jonathan Gitlin

  • 1st Editions do get these cute pedals.


    Volkswagen

  • Soft-touch buttons for the headlights and demisters. The placement and shape of this screams pure VW.


    Volkswagen

  • Wireless charging is standard, and there are two USB-C ports up front.


    Volkswagen

  • The cupholder has removable dividers.


    Volkswagen

  • The glass roof has no center brace. It makes the interior feel very spacious.


    Volkswagen

  • The back seats are pretty spacious though.


    Jonathan Gitlin

  • I am 5 feet, 7 inches tall, and this is how much room I had.


    Jonathan Gitlin

  • More USB-C ports for the back seats.


    Volkswagen

  • The cargo area.


    Jonathan Gitlin

  • This is rather cavernous with the seats folded flat.


    Volkswagen

By now I’ve sat through at least three briefings about the ID.4, and each time VW stressed that it wanted to make a crossover to appeal to normal VW customers, something that could tempt the electrocurious out of a Tiguan without scaring them. That’s achieved in part by the interior, which is instantly recognizable as a VW through the design language but also the use of materials, like the pebble-textured soft plastic that it so often uses for dashboards and door cards.

Our 1st Edition stands out by having a white steering wheel, as well as whimsical Play and Pause symbols on the pedals, but as you’ll see in the gallery above, it looks a lot more sober with a black steering wheel. Ahead of the driver is a 5.3-inch main instrument display, and to the right of it, the drive selector. Twist it away from you to engage D (or B, which increases regenerative braking), and toward you to engage reverse. To park, simply push the button on the end. Turn signals and windshield wipers are activated by conventional stalks, and there are the usual controls on the wheel for adaptive cruise control and media.

We’ll get to the infotainment experience in a bit more depth shortly, but the 1st Edition and ID.4 Pro S both use a 12-inch touchscreen infotainment system, with a smaller 10-inch unit in the ID.4 Pro. Unlike some other new BEVs, there are still plenty of soft-touch buttons to push for common controls like the wing mirrors, climate, volume, lights, and so on.

The passenger experience in the ID.4 is a spacious one, whether that’s in the front or back seats. As you’ll note in the pictures, there’s plenty of leg room for the rear seats (37.6 inches/954 mm) and there’s a completely flat floor at the back. There is a decent array of storage bins and cubbies, and the cargo area grows from 30.3 cubic feet (858 L) to 64.2 cubic feet (1,818 L) with the rear seats folded down. We didn’t test it as a tow vehicle, but it’s rated for 2,000 lb (907 kg) loads in the US, with the forthcoming AWD version rated for 2,700 lbs (1,225 kg).

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