When an automaker stakes its future on diesel engines and those suddenly fall out of favor, where does it go next? Electric vehicles seem like a nice pivot, and Volkswagen is currently overseeing one of the most rapid direction changes we've seen in the automotive industry, shunning diesel engines completely in favor of cleaner electric powertrains. The company launched its affordable ID.3 electric hatchback in Europe last year, but since Americans hate hatchbacks, some work was needed to make it a viable seller here. Volkswagen knew in order to sell an electric vehicle in the US, it had to be a crossover.
The 201-horsepower Volkswagen ID.4 arrives as the German automaker's first electric SUV, targeted at making EVs attainable for millions, not millionaires. With a sub-$40,000 starting price plus federal incentives, a strong 250-mile range, and approachable performance with quirky German flavor, the ID.4 is positioned to offer buyers an affordable entry into the EV lifestyle. The ID.4 doesn't arrive without competition though, as a refreshed Chevrolet Bolt and sporty Ford Mustang Mach-E will also be seeking to capture first-time EV buyers and Tesla converts alike. Is the ID.4 truly the people's electric car? We spent a few days in a 1st Edition model to find out.
The 2021 Volkswagen ID.4 is an all-new arrival this year. This dedicated electric crossover will initially be offered in a rear-wheel-drive configuration with 201 horsepower from a single electric motor, but a more powerful AWD version with dual motors and 302 hp will be available midway through the year. For the RWD model, range on a full charge works out to 250 miles. The stylish lines conceal a spacious, two-row interior with over 30 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second row. A digital cockpit and a large rocker switch replacing a conventional shift lever are some of the notable technologies to be found in the cabin, along with a central touchscreen measuring up to 12 inches.
See trim levels and configurations:
Volkswagen didn't build the ID.4 to be a rear-wheel-drive GTI alternative, so it's naive to think of it as one. We'd describe the handling characteristics as spry without going so far as to call them sporty. Think of it like a Golf or Tiguan, but electric. The steering is light, like most Volkswagen vehicles, but sport mode adds a tremendous amount of weight to make it feel more GTI-like. With drive going to the rear, the front wheels can focus on the task of steering, making the connection to the road feel more precise, better than what we've experienced in a Tesla or Chevrolet Bolt. The ID.4's low center of gravity, thanks to the floor-mounted batteries, keeps it level through the corners in a way none of its gasoline competitors can match. We particularly enjoyed the ID.4's B mode, which triggers one-pedal driving with the regenerative brakes. If we modulated it correctly, we could do nearly an entire journey without touching the brake pedal.
In its Eco and Normal modes, the ID.4's accelerator requires a heavy foot to get the car moving quickly, likely in an attempt to conserve range. Placing the car into Sport mode makes it feel far more eager to deliver power in a hurry, though it's worth noting that the electric acceleration feels smooth and instant in all drive modes. The RWD ID.4 feels quick but not fast, so we'd wait for the more powerful AWD variant for a sportier experience. Though there is no adaptive suspension on the ID.4, ride quality is generally excellent, offering less choppy suspension than a comparable Tesla Model Y and much better than a Chevrolet Bolt. Road and wind noise is fairly low, though both are more noticeable with the lack of an engine. Just turn the radio on, and the disturbances fade away almost entirely.
NHTSA safety ratings are not available at this time.
Volkswagen boldly calls the ID.4 its most important vehicle since the original Beetle, and this point is difficult to dispute. Some might argue that Volkswagen's success in the US hinges on the ID.4, so it's crucial that the launch goes without any hiccups. So long as the company's engineers solve the infotainment glitches we experienced on our early test car before customer deliveries begin, we see no reason why the ID.4 can't be "the people's car" to get people talking about electric vehicles.
The driving experience feels surprisingly normal, which should appeal to nervous buyers who may be hesitant to purchase their first EV. We can't see many Tesla owners rushing to sell their cars, but then again, the ID.4 competes in a lower price point and is not directly fighting the Model Y. As an alternative to the less expensive Chevrolet Bolt and Bolt EUV, we think the ID.4 feels less economy-minded and more premium overall. Options like the Hyundai Kona Electric and Kia Niro EV offer comparable range and performance at a similar price, but feel less unique since they are both based on conventional crossovers. Volkswagen's stiffest competition should come with the arrival of the Hyundai Ioniq 5, though pricing information for that vehicle is still unavailable.
Choosing a 2021 Volkswagen ID.4 will still boil down to the individual buyer, their available charging methods, and driving habits. High-mileage drivers and buyers who live in apartments without charging stations might be better off with a plug-in hybrid alternative like the Toyota RAV4 Prime. But if the ID.4 suits your lifestyle, we see it as a fun new option in the affordable EV space. So long as the launch goes smoothly, the ID.4 should be an EV conversation starter.
The Nissan Ariya is another bold electric vehicle from a respected mainstream automaker. In fact, whereas the ID.4 has smart but restrained styling, the production Ariya has a dramatic, concept-like look. The Nissan will be offered in either FWD or AWD configurations, while the ID.4 is either RWD or AWD. With between 215 and 389 hp, the Nissan won't only be more powerful than the comparable ID.4 models, but Nissan claims a maximum range of 300 miles which will surpass the 250-mile range of the ID.4. However, the ID.4 may just be the better SUV as its 30.3-cubic-foot trunk is larger than the Ariya's rather poor 22.8-cube effort. More than one battery option is an advantage for the Ariya. We look forward to putting these two rivals up against each other when the Ariya arrives at the end of 2021.
There's no doubt that the Tesla Model Y is the crossover that VW would like to conquer with the ID.4. However, it's somewhat of a mismatch as Tesla seems to have lost faith in the RWD-only Standard Range Model Y, removing it from its website but then saying it was still technically available. Its 244-mile range and price of just below $40,000 makes it a near-identical match for the base ID.4 Pro, which has a 250-mile range and a sub-$40k price as well. The Model Y is easily quicker, though, and both the Long Range and Performance models will embarrass the single-motor ID.4 in a straight line. These versions of the Model Y also have a better range of 326 and 303 miles respectively, along with access to Tesla's comprehensive Supercharger network. However, the Model Y has had a few quality foibles along the way, and we don't anticipate the same for a VW product. The ID.4 benefits from a federal tax credit of up to $7,500, dramatically improving the value proposition of the newer vehicle. Based on the early evidence, the Model Y looks to have retained its edge as the better EV, but not necessarily the better crossover.
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Check out some informative Volkswagen ID.4 video reviews below.