If VW wants to be the best EV-maker, it has to beat the best.
Keen to atone for the sins of Dieselgate, the Volkswagen group has turned to electrification. Not only has every sub-brand within the group started to embrace the technology, but VW has pledged vast amounts of resources towards improving charging infrastructure across the US through its new start-up, Electrify America. But if the German automaker is going to succeed as a mainstream EV producer, the Volkswagen ID.4 - the brand's first dedicated EV to make it stateside - is going to have to be a smash hit. In order to do so, it'll need to go up against the best in the business, which in this instance, means taking on the Tesla Model Y. So, in the arena of compact electric SUVs, how does the newcomer stack up?
Tesla debuted the Model Y first, but the design we saw from Musk and co. wasn't exactly groundbreaking, taking inspiration from other Tesla models like the larger Model X and the similarly-sized Model 3 sedan. But it does have a clean-cut identity, and the concave fascia, upswept headlights, and coupe-like rear-end are all hallmark design traits that make the Model 3 identifiable as a Tesla from a mile off.
Volkswagen has played it safe with the ID.4, giving it many traits that make it seem like any other VW product. LED daytime running lights wouldn't look out of place on a VW Golf, nor would the choice of wheels. But that doesn't mean it doesn't have its own identity. Sharing design cues with the European-market ID.3 and the ID.R racecar, the ID.4 makes use of a two-tone paint scheme, honeycomb patterning on the front grille, and a distinct LED lightbar that spans between the headlights. Neither design is revolutionary, easing the change-over for early adopters who may be afraid to stand out from the crowd.
Tesla has shaken the game up, proving that electric vehicles can also be incredible performance machines. The Model Y Performance delivers a 3.5-second 0-60 mph sprint, a top speed of 155 mph, and a 291-mile range. The less-powerful Long Range model drops the sprint time to 4.8 seconds but increases the range of travel on a charge to an EPA-certified 316 miles.
Volkswagen has chosen a similar tack to the ID.4 lineup, offering two derivatives at launch. The base model only has 201 horsepower and 228 lb-ft of torque, enabling a 0-62 mph sprint of a fairly underwhelming 8.5 seconds. With an 82 kWh battery, the RWD variant boasts a range of only 250 miles. Later in 2021, the ID.4 will also be available in an AWD model, adding an extra motor to the front axle for outputs of 302 hp. There's no word yet on a larger battery pack, which means that, for now, Tesla's performance and electric range throne is still unchallenged.
The ID.4 makes use of fast-charging capabilities and can recoup 80% charge in 38 minutes. Contrarily, the Model Y will charge from 10 to 80% in 20 minutes through Tesla's Supercharger network.
Both design teams may have played it safe on the outside, but inside they are a little more adventurous. Tesla stays true to a tried and trusted recipe with the Model Y, with a minimalistic design boasting a massive 15-inch landscape-oriented floating display that houses everything from driver instrumentation to navigation and infotainment. It's remarkably spacious too, with seating for up to seven occupants and the impression of space aided by a large glass roof. With 41.8 and 40.5 inches of legroom for first and second-row occupants, it's impressively accommodating.
The ID.4 falls short by comparison with just 37.6 inches of rear-seat legroom, although 41.1 inches up front is about on par. Unlike the Model Y, though, the ID.4 can only seat five. The interior is far more conventional, with a 5.3-inch digital instrumentation cluster ahead of the driver and a 10-inch central infotainment screen that can be upgraded to a 12-inch item. Once again, the VW ID.4 caters to those who don't want to feel like they're making a massive change from combustion to electrification.
With electrification rapidly taking over, the breadth of ability expected from EVs is ever-growing. To that end, an electric crossover needs to be a helpful utility vehicle as well as a comfortable family commuter. For the Tesla, that means a maximum towing capacity of up to 3,500 lbs, which is healthily beaten by the ID.4's claimed ability to tow 4,200 lbs.
While not everyone will make use of the tow hitch, one area that will be used by all is the traditional trunk and cargo space. Tesla coyly doesn't give a breakdown of its available space, only claiming a total of 68 cubic feet, split between the cabin with the rear seats folded and the front-mounted 'frunk'. The VW ID.4 may lack third-row seat availability, but with 30.3 cubic feet of storage behind the rear seats and 64.2 cubic feet with them deployed, it seems to have the Model Y beaten for in-cabin storage.
Tesla has become renowned for its Autopilot semi-autonomous driving suite, so if the ID.4 is to rival the Model Y, it needs to have its own tricks at the ready. Volkswagen has duly taken note of this, introducing the IQ.DRIVE suite with forward collision warning, autonomous braking, blind-spot monitors, adaptive cruise control, and lane keeping assist. Further safety features include road sign identification, and park distance control. Tesla still leads in this department, however, as Autopilot is included as standard, while the optional 'Full Self-Driving Capability' adds automatic highway departure, overtaking of slower cars, auto parking, summoning of your car, and the ability to read and stop at traffic lights and stop signs. Auto-steer on city streets is also slated to arrive this year.
As for standard tech, the ID.4 fares better, with wireless device charging, in-car Wi-Fi, and multiple smartphone connectivity options. The Discover Pro multimedia system also has fancy tech such as voice commands that adapt the climate control based on simple commands like "Hello ID, I'm cold." The Model Y gets most of the same tech, but unlike the VW, there's no Android Auto or Apple CarPlay functionality.
The Volkswagen ID.4 needs to impress, and with a $39,995 base MSRP for the RWD ID.4 Pro before a federal tax credit of up to $7,500, it seems like great value for money. The Model Y is way more expensive by comparison, with the Long Range carrying a base price of $49,990. Compounding the cost is that no new Tesla models are eligible for the federal tax rebates. Even in its most expensive trim, the more powerful ID.4 AWD Pro starts at only $43,695.
Of course, while you pay less for the Volkswagen, you get less in many ways. An all-electric range of 250 miles is poor in an era where range anxiety is a real problem, and the middling performance from the EV is rather startling. Yes, it's practical, well-equipped, and affordable, but we can't help but feel that the ID.4 won't have the same mass appeal as the Model Y until it can closely rival its range capabilities.