First drive: VW ID.4 is a family-sized electric SUV that whispers rather than shouts

By Bloomberg Time of article published Apr 1, 2021

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LOS ANGELES - "We are building EVs for the millions, not millionaires."

That's how Mark Gillies, the senior manager for product communications at Volkswagen, described the 2021 Volkswagen ID.4 on a video call recently. After all, last year the VW brand sold 5.3 million vehicles worldwide. That's more than Audi, BMW, and Porsche combined.

After driving the ID.4 for a weekend around Los Angeles, I'm not so sure millionaires won't like it, too. The first electric SUV from VW will hit international markets shortly with futuristic good looks, high-tech driving features, and 400km of battery range.

South Africans will, however have to wait until 2022 to buy the ID.4, which will be the first electric VW to be sold locally. Pricing will be announced closer to launch.

Although the ID.4 will never be mistaken for a six-figure electric supercar, with its spacious, airy cabin and satisfactory performance, the vehicle does hold its own.

Electric vehicles aren't exactly proliferating in the US. Still, that doesn't mean American consumers aren't curious about them. As I was driving an ID.4 up California's Highway 101 toward Pasadena on a Sunday, it earned multiple thumbs-up from cars passing by - a rare occurrence for a Volkswagen SUV, non-electric versions of which are ubiquitous in LA. When I met my indefatigable realtor several times over the course of the weekend, she, a longtime California resident, asked what I thought of it and professed a desire to own one.

We've already seen a slew of higher-priced electric vehicles, including the Jaguar I-Pace, Tesla Model X, Audi e-tron, Porsche Taycan, and a few budget-minded ones such as the oblong, awkward-looking Chevrolet Bolt, Kia Nero and Nissan Leaf. But the VW ID.4 bridges the gap between affordable electric mobility and thoughtful-even elegant-components and design.

I tested the "First Edition" variant for four days. This is a special-trim line that comes with larger 20-inch wheels, enhanced "fuel" economy, black badging-and a completely sold-out order book, among other things.

All ID.4 models currently offer only rear-wheel drive, but all-wheel drive models will debut later this year-as will a less-expensive base model.

The first things I noticed about the vehicle were its lights: Large LED projector headlights and an LED stripe across their top (daytime running lights) gave it an intense but friendly mein. The diamond-patterned headlights were framed by illuminated rings flattened at the bottom.

The vehicle looks different enough on the road to make close observers take a second look - they can tell this is no Tiguan - but it blends in sufficiently to avert embarrassing commotions at the grocery store or while waiting in line to get vaccine.

Inside the five-seat crossover felt economic but well-made. Most notable was the 25.4cm touch infotainment display in the middle of the dash panel, which angled slightly toward me; the traditional gearshift was replaced by a large rocker switch on the right. There was also a floating dashboard panel-floating because it was not connected to the centre console-with a long center console running between the front seats.

An optional panoramic roof stretched across the ceiling; the electric sunshade saved my New York-pale skin from L.A.'s glaring sun. The rear bench seat is durable enough to withstand a German Shepherd but comfortable enough for a nap (don't ask how I know) and includes two USB ports and an illuminated wireless cellphone charging pad.

I especially liked several innovative features that come standard and make this VW feel like a premium SUV: heated steering wheel, heated front seats, heated side mirrors and washer nozzles, and-on all-wheel-drive models - a heated windshield to keep it from steaming up. The ID.4 also has an electric resistance heater designed to reach the desired temperature faster than traditional heaters from petrol-powered vehicles, which blow cold air until the engine has warmed.

Sitting in the driver's seat reminded me of being in the VW Jettas and Golfs that the wealthier kids had at my high school. VW has made its most progressive vehicle feel reassuringly familiar.

With a rear-mounted motor that produces 150kW and 310Nm, the ID.4 won't win any drag races - zero to 100km/h takes 8.5 seconds, and top speed is staggeringly slow at less than 160km/h.

The four drive modes (Eco, Comfort, Sport, and Custom) proved effective for saving battery range though not for somehow magically boosting this beast into anything approaching "fast." Still, it drives smoothly enough, offers good 360-degree visibility, and will save fuel money.

I do think, by the way, that consumers mulling the realties of owning an electric vehicle need some reassurance regarding range anxiety-still the biggest reason they won't take the plunge.

The ID.4 does have nearly 400km of charge, even under aggressive highway driving, and it charges to 80% on a 125-kW DC fast charger in just 38 minutes. But while the average VW owner drives less than 95km a day, according to Gillies, there are still days when you want to drive to see grandma after a year of social distancing, and you're not going to want to have to sit in some parking lot waiting for your car to charge on the way home.

For many, that makes the ID.4 an excellent second family car for urban commuting and regular use. As for those long-trip days, it's still best to take another car.


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