Review: 2021 Volkswagen ID.4 is an electric people's car
Don't want to join the (alleged) Tesla cult? Volkswagen's electric car for the people is here.
Dieselgate. Ugh, really leaves a bad taste in the mouth, doesn't it. Similar to the taste of, well, diesel. Hey, I've never drunk diesel to know what it tastes like...Only a few short years after that brand-altering and expensive catastrophe, here comes the antithesis of diesel: the all-electric ID.4. While VW has been pumping out small EVs for a short time, like the Golf EV, this is the first serious attempt at a low-cost EV that was built from the ground up as an EV. Porsche, VW's subsidiary, might have struck first with the Taycan super EV, but the ID.4 is the first shot at making what Volkswagen is famous for and the meaning behind their name: a car (EV) of and for the people.
This article is more aimed at the consumer who wants to know how the ID.4 acts as a car, how it drives, and what it's like to live with. For more technical mumbo-jumbo that will prove largely meaningless to most, you'll have to look elsewhere. I want to focus more on the basics and essentials. An EV is a car after all, and it should be treated as the same as other cars; another tool and mode of transportation. I'm not testing this as if it's a cell phone.
I've always thought that ugly doesn't sell, but Tesla has disproved that theory with their hideously ugly Model 3, Y, and X electric vehicles (the Model S is okay). Honestly, they look like what toilet paper is meant to wipe - yet they still sell. On the contrary, VW's new ID.4 crossover boasts an attractive design. I like that it isn't weird like other EVs, a trend most exacerbated by BMW's i3. Chevy's Bolt wasn't great either, and if we mention hybrids, the Prius and the first-gen Chevy Volt are akin to 40-grit sandpaper on your eyes. Why does an EV have to look different? The ID.4 is very distinct from other VW models, yet it's still a good-looking machine like other Volkswagens, and one that is unmistakably a car. Good job, VW. It's less SUV and more of a built-up wagon, but that's a good thing. The blue with contrasting colors makes for an alluring finish, too. It's nothing completely exciting, but it acts as a simple and effective aesthetic. This more reserved design language is a good choice for another reason: As a legacy automaker, this is part of a transition to move all models to electric in the coming decade. So, if they came out with some ugly batshit science experiment gone wrong, it would make existing customers reluctant. Ease them in then instead; It's the right move.
Because an EV doesn't have to bother with an engine and gearbox that takes up valuable space, it does free up designers to do more with less. So, despite the smallish dimensions (180 inches long), you'd be surprised to find the ID.4 cabin space quite roomy front and rear. Fill up both rows with adults and it makes for a very plausible and comfortable affair. The obligatory huge sunroof increases perceived space even further. The cargo area isn't exploding in volume per se, but it's enough for daily activities. Drivers will surely appreciate the airy environment created by the spacious interior. However, despite no gas engine in front of you, open the front hood and you're greeted by electric, er, gizmos, instead of additional front storage. Missed opportunity there.
Besides the aforementioned space, the ID.4 has a pleasant interior design and quality to it, though I found it far from resembling anything luxurious. Luckily, most things are soft to the touch and few will find any complaints. With this car's white steering wheel, be sure you have clean hands whenever you drive! Other Volkswagen's, like the Atlas, are known for excessive hard plastics strewn about everywhere, so it's nice they resisted in this application. In the middle is a large touchscreen that serves as a focal point. While impressive to look at, it's mightily unimpressive to use. Laggy and unintuitive were the main things that came to my mind after a week of use. Having never used one myself for a real comparison, I've only ever heard wonderful things about Tesla's even larger central display unit, so VW is on the back foot there. I do wish the digital gauged behind the steering wheel was both larger and carried more driving info, being reserved only for speed and cruise control displays; energy consumption would be a nice addition in the corner even. At least you get a display behind the wheel at all.
To drive, there's a rocker switch to the right hand side of the speedometer display that is awkward to try the first few times, but you'll get the hang of it soon enough. It's exactly like the rotating rocker that was in the BMW i3 - wonder where they got their inspiration from. The steering wheel is comfortable in the hand, but this is the rare case where I wish I could sit higher up. Even with no engine up front, the hood height is tall, and so through slow right corners - like those through neighborhood or especially right turns that then go downhill - are particularly tough to see over that tall hood. The one part of the design VW got wrong here then: the hood is too tall. Despite that, flick it into drive and the VW feels exactly like a regular car...until you lift off the accelerator that is. To be blunt, this VW freewheels. The equivalent of putting your car in neutral down a long hill, boy does the ID.4 just pile on speed at a ridiculous rate when coasting. On roads with even the slightest degree of downward slope to them, just lift off and this EV maintains or even increases speed.
The other option of course is to use regenerative braking. Simply rotate the transmission switch again from 'D' to 'B,' and you're now using kinetic motion to recharge the battery pack. This time, instead of getting that 'neutral effect' each time you lift, you're greeted by a dramatic deceleration force similar to braking. If you've never experienced regeneration before, it will be shocking at first and you will have to change your driving style quite abundantly. The point of this regen, besides recharging, is to enable one-pedal driving. Plan your moves accordingly and you will rarely, if ever, have to use the brake pedal to stop. It's unusual, yes, but in a surprising way this can make for a more involving driving experience by planning your acceleration and stopping ability/distances to the nanometer. Luckily, if you prefer the coasting mode and using lots of brake pedal, you can choose that mode instead for all-time, so it's nice VW has given the choice to the driver.
So, how did I drive it? I chose a combination, partly induced by my OCD that only comes alive when driving. Long level roads? I chose the normal drive. When I needed to slow down for certain turns and stoplights? Flick it to regen. I'm not kidding when I say that on some trips I would flick it back and forth a dozen times or more, but I reckon that doing as such will also yield the absolutely best efficiency as you're now adapting the car's systems to the most efficient choice for that moment. Tediously fun let's call it. Others will hate that method, though, and rather understandably.
The ride quality is good and comfortable with nothing to complain about there as the ID.4 manages bumps well. It's quiet, too, very quiet, with an absence of wind noise and, of course, no engine noise. Steering and handling are a little more questionable, however. Don't mistake this for a Golf GTI at any point and you'll be delighted at how easy to drive the ID.4 is with its light and mostly direct steering. Handling and attacking corners were not a priority, so don't expect to be ripping up backroads even with the rare rear-wheel drive configuration that it possesses. For your daily commutes, there is nothing to deride here, even enjoying hopping in and immediately being able to go in the relaxing environment and driving demeanors. And no, because it's rear-wheel drive, you cannot drift it. I looked everywhere for a way to disable traction control to no avail :(.
Performance is only just adequate, especially compared to what some Teslas are capable of now. With 201 horsepower and 229 pounds of torque, 0-60 MPH arrives in 7.5 seconds, so you won't be winning drag races against muscle cars here. However, armed with instant and maximum torque at request, getting up and going from stops is admirably easy in the ID.4 while merging onto freeways is also done with zero stress. While on paper it might be 'oh my god, it's slow,' it's not slow in the slightest. Remember, this a car for regular people, and it works just fine in the real world. I do have to think that one of the reasons people are so allured by certain EVs is the thrilling acceleration they can offer (looking at you, Tesla). And with only so-so acceleration and no sporting intentions when it comes to handling, the ID.4 is largely unexciting to drive. For nearly 100% of buyers, that's okay, but I can't help but think there could be something more there to capture some imagination.
So, the economy then. Well, it's not groundbreaking by any means, but it's certainly enough to work just fine for most people. Range anxiety isn't completely gone, though, at least yet in my experience. With its 77 kWh battery pack fully juiced, you can expect about 220-240 miles of range from your ID.4 in mixed driving, and that's with using creature comforts such as air-conditioning. I regularly saw 3 miles per kWh overall, and was able to stretch that to 3.4 when hyper-mileaging (being all weird with the drive to regen switches that is). Some people quote MPGe, but MPGe is a complicated and confusing conversion that ultimately is meaningless. The easiest number to use is the car's onboard info giving you how many miles you can go for each kilowatt onboard. 3 mi/kWh does lag behind BMW's i3 rating of about 4 in my experience, but that car also had a mediocre 120 miles of range at the time due to the tiny battery pack.
For those wanting direct personal comparisons to a Tesla for efficiency, I have none unfortunately. However, the good people at Car and Driver ran both an ID.4 and Model Y Long Range in their standardized highway range test, with the ID.4 reaching 190 miles and the Model Y 220. On another test, they were able to do 210 in the VW, which matches my own estimate. It must be said that the Model Y does have an additional 5 kilowatts of battery storage available, but despite the Model Y having a huge EPA claim advantage, real world results are likely much closer than you'd think between the two rivals.
Charging? You have a couple choices. Each new ID.4 comes with three years of free charging on VW's new Electrify America network, which includes a mix of standard level 2 chargers and also DC fast-charging. For simple commuting of 30 miles a day, you can plug your ID.4 in overnight in your garage with the included wall-socket device. The Electrify America is easy enough to use once you download the app and select the charger on your phone as you plug it in, but in my hometown in Cameron Park, CA, the closest fast charger was 20 minutes away. Further, there were only a handful in the greater Sacramento area while the San Francisco Bay area was absolutely littered with them everywhere when I checked a map. I did use the DC fast-charger two different times and it is remarkable how quick it can juice you back up.
Stopping with 30% of range remaining at the Folsom Outlets, I plugged it in during a quick shopping trip. Watching the progress on my phone, the ID.4 had replenished to over 80% just 30 minutes later, and when I returned to the car after about an hour's time total, I was back at 100%. I will say that while the charger is advertised at 350 kw/h, I never saw it pump more than 120 kw/h. After later consulting the window sticker, I saw that the ID.4 can charge at a max 125 kW, so the peak output I saw was right on the money. A different charger rated for 150 kw/h charging only produced about 40 kw/h at a separate charging time, so while the chargers claim these numbers, what it actually injects into the socket is another story. Either way, I was happy with the charge time on the most powerful plug available. However, that still doesn't combat away the inconvenience of it. If I didn't have to stop for anything there, I still would have had to sit there for thirty minutes and waited, and that was a hot day, too. 30 minutes is fast for jumping 50%, but it's still inconvenient. If you are close to one of their chargers, then range anxiety won't be an issue. But for me, and the fact the closest was nearly 20 miles from home for their ultra-fast charging, it did make me have to plan trips out.
About range anxiety for me, going to Sacramento for the day and back, an 80-mile round trip, I departed with 150 miles of range existing. I could have made it home easily with at least 70 miles remaining, but 70 is too little for, especially when that elusive fast charger is 20 miles away still and in the opposite direction of my work commute. Maybe it's less anxiety and more just conscientiously planning out my trips. If topped up, I would feel perfectly fine planning a hundred-plus mile trip to the Bay Area, mostly because of the huge charging network in that region. Once more DC fast chargers are installed nearby, I wouldn't give a second thought about any kind of anxiety except on maybe a Southern California road trip. You can use non-Electrify America chargers, but you'll have to pay for them, ranging from 30 to 40 cents per kW locally, which would get surprisingly expensive pretty quick. Just like a pilot has to flight plan, you will have to make a drive (charging) plan. Now, you could charge it at home, which down below details based on my energy rates.
Okay, so some maths to figure if you're charging at home: Where I live, PG&E charges 26 cents per kilowatt. Driving 30 miles a day and achieving 3 miles per kilowatt means I'm using 10 kilowatts a day, which equates to $2.60 for those 30 miles. If I compared a Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, which gets 40 MPG at $4.00/gallon, that comes to $3.00 for 30 miles. Because of my energy charges, it's not much cheaper to operate and charge an EV at home compared to a good hybrid vehicle, plus refueling the hybrid is far more convenient. If you have decent solar, or have much cheaper energy rates, then it makes a lot more sense, but I'm at 26 cents and that's tier 1, too. If charging an EV regularly, my rates would actually go up as I'd moved into another tier based on usage. That's just myself as an example given my own current and ridiculous PG&E energy rates where I live.
Further, the level 1 charging cable VW includes charges at a sluggish 1 kWh, meaning only a few miles will be replenished each hour, which makes it impractical if you have longer commutes. Having a level 2 charger installed at home is another option, which charges at a decent rate, about 15-20 miles of range per hour. These level 2 chargers typically cost $500-$1,000 to have installed at home The important thing to consider here then is your at-home energy costs, especially since they vary so much geographically. Even if you have solar, you might first to need to consult how much power your system makes to be able to run both your house and a car. It's all about personal research.
At an as-tested price of $45,190, the ID.4 represents an attractive entry point to the burgeoning world of EVs. Factor in hefty government tax credits and rebates and you can have one for way less than you'd initially think and there are bound to be some incredible lease deals, too. The range is enough for most people to feel comfortable with and it has space to boot to turn it into an extremely practical vehicle. Off-roading, though, like where I ventured for the Mars lunar-esque photos, it doesn't do that so well, so it's not that practical if you're looking for that sort of adventure. Unlike a Tesla that has gimmicks like farting sounds, VW has forgone any antics to build a car first and foremost. So despite being a cutting-edge electric vehicle, it does lack any exciting features to really draw buyers away from combustion other than the fact that it is electric. A fine car electric or not, but just a bit boring. Perhaps the biggest foe the Germans will face here is not from Tesla, but from Ford and their Mustang Mach-e SUV. Like the Volkswagen, it's Ford's first serious foray into a mainstream real-world-proof EV that is very competitively priced and has extra performance.
Still, the ID.4 is here and now. I enjoyed my time driving around in silence, finding roaming downtown Sacramento streets particularly soothing. I reckon city residents appreciate it, too, instead of a loud-mouthed Camaro making an unwarranted ruckus on their block. The only caveat, at least in my local area, is the presence of VW's Electrify America charging network. There are other chargers you can use at a cost, but the appeal of that free 3 years of charging is hugely enticing. Either way, the ID.4 makes a decent case as an electric car for the people.
2021 Volkswagen ID.4 1st Edition
As-tested price: $45,190
Pros: spacious cabin, silent and comfortable driving experience; decent range
Cons: Lacks any driving thrills; fussy infotainment display
Verdict: an electric car for everybody
180 inches long
73 inches wide
64 inches high
109 inch wheelbase
estimated curb weight 4,700 pounds
77 kWh lithium-ion battery
229 lb-ft torque
0-60 MPH 7.5 seconds
Driving range: 220-240 miles