The electric car you’re looking at doesn’t have tire-melting zero to 60 mph times or the wildest range claims you’ve ever heard. It’s not a far-off promise from a tech billionaire who doesn’t even have a factory built yet, riding the wave of a Stock Market Adventure. It’s much closer to a Honda CR-V or a Toyota RAV4 than a Tesla with Plaid Mode. It’s not a “compliance car” good only for city driving built in limited numbers, either.
For the company that builds it, that is exactly the point. Meet the 2021 Volkswagen ID.4, the car that Volkswagen hopes will get America off gasoline en masse.
Volkswagen is shifting to electric vehicles more aggressively than any other traditional automaker. It faces the same tightening emissions and fuel economy regulations as every car company. But in larger part, this shift is happening because VW must undergo social and legal penance for its infamous diesel cheating scandal. And in North America, a market where it has struggled since the heyday of the original Beetle, the ID.4 is the tip of the spear for that electric initiative.
With an estimated 250-mile range, a $39,995 starting price before any state or federal tax incentives, three years of free fast charging and some impressive tech inside, VW isn’t aiming at Tesla or Lucid or Rivian with the ID.4. It’s aiming at standard family-hauling crossovers from Subaru and Honda and Chevrolet.
In a recent interview with The Drive in Brooklyn, Volkswagen Group of America CEO Scott Keogh didn’t mince words about what a crucial product the ID.4 is for the company and its all-in bet on battery-powered cars. With it, and assuming it is successful, many more Volkswagen EVs are coming, including an electric rebirth of the iconic Microbus.
“This is where we want to go,” Keogh said. “I don’t want to underestimate it. This is the most important car we’ve launched in a generation.” It’s important strategically due to emissions regulations, he said, and to make sure Volkswagen has a “cultural moment” once again.
When I pressed him on what that means, he said, “People say good things about you. You’re part of the conversation.” And with Dieselgate, which cost the company about $25 billion, that hasn’t happened in some time. Change, Keogh hopes, starts here.
Power, In More Ways Than One
Built on VW’s electric MEB platform, the ID.4 is a clean-sheet design, not an adaptation of a Tiguan or any other existing crossover. It uses an 82 kWh battery mounted to the bottom of the frame, and a rear-mounted single electric motor at the rear. As such, it’s rear-wheel drive, uncommon for VW’s cars in recent decades.
The ID.4 boasts 201 horsepower and 228 lb-ft of torque, and perhaps most importantly, an estimated 250 miles of range, though that claim has not yet been EPA-certified. A dual-motor, all-wheel-drive variant with 302 HP is on tap for 2021.
Keogh makes bold claims about the base ID.4’s performance. “It drives like a GTI,” he said. “The car is fun as hell to drive.”
Though VW hasn’t released exact metrics, it claims the ID.4 will be quicker and handle better than rival gas-powered crossovers, owing to the low center of gravity from the battery pack and healthy doses of instant electric torque. It can also tow 2,700 pounds, better than many crossover rivals. At 180.5 inches in length, size-wise it’s on par with a VW Tiguan, though it sits 1.9 inches lower and has a 0.9 inch shorter wheelbase.
Mechanically, it’s very closely related to the compact, Golf-sized ID.3 hatchback launching in Europe right now. That car won’t come stateside—Americans never bought Golfs in meaningful numbers, so the ID.3 can’t deliver the scale VW is after. Plus, as Keogh and everybody else who pays attention to the market knows, if you want volume in America these days, you get it with a small SUV.
VW claims the ID.4 can charge to full in around 7.5 hours at a home or public Level 2 charger, and from five to 80 percent in just 38 minutes at a DC 125 kW fast-charging station. The estimated 250-mile range puts the ID.4 on solid footing with many competitors, and makes it superior to its corporate cousin the Audi e-tron, though it is well below the class-leading numbers offered by Tesla.
But VW’s research indicates most compact SUV owners only drive 59 miles a day, if that, and that nearly 20 percent of them never take the road trips they claim to take. So while all EVs sold in America need impressive range numbers to be taken seriously, the ID.4 is designed for people’s actual driving habits.
If a cross-country journey is in order, VW hopes its free charging Electrify America deal will help entice buyers. That company, a VW subsidiary that resulted from its Dieselgate settlement with the U.S. government, has more than 470 stations coast-to-coast and is rapidly adding more.
Inside And Out
I’ll readily admit to being underwhelmed by the ID.4’s design when spy shots and the concept car first emerged. But after seeing this blue car myself in a Williamsburg studio—where it was sterilized after each reporter got a turn inside—I’ll say it looks much better in person.
While it’s not an instant knockout like the ID. BUZZ concept, or even the New Beetle from the late 1990s, the ID.4 boasts a clean, modern and sleek design. With no grille up front, it echoes the old Type 3 compacts of the 1960s and ’70s. Then again, it’s key to remember VW wants to steal sales from the Subaru Outback with this thing, not sell spaceships to niche buyers.
It’s more impressive inside. There’s no start button. You simply get in, hit the brake pedal, and then drive away. The touch screen infotainment system comes in 10- or 12-inch flavors. It feels like a cover version of Apple CarPlay, with clean, geometric graphics and a home button.
It keeps the buttons to a minimum, relegating HVAC controls to the screen. You swipe your finger over a panel overhead to slide the panoramic roof shade back. You select drive or reverse with a twist toggle to the right of the digital display above the steering wheel. And an LED light bar across the dash displays different colors to indicate your remaining range.
Unlike a Tesla, however, there is no front trunk, or frunk—here that houses the HVAC and other components, and with the hood up you realize just how short the front end actually is. But by mounting the battery into the floor (and crossover SUVs do allow for bigger batteries) headroom, legroom and trunk space all feel pretty impressive.
Any GTI owner knows VW’s interiors tend to be a cut above mainstream competitors, and the company did a strong job on both material quality and delivering something that feels future-facing but not too out there for everyday buyers.
But Will It Sell?
Taking over the world with electricity instead of TDIs this time is a tall order. Despite widely being seen as the future of automobiles and various newcomers delivering a wild ride for investors this summer alone, EVs still only make up about 2 percent of the U.S. new-vehicle market.
VW knows the $39,995 price of the launch ID.4 may raise some eyebrows. But it’s quick to point out it has plenty of $7,500 federal tax credits left to offer new buyers, bringing it down to $32,495, on par with the average price of most compact SUVs. Some states, like California and New Jersey, offer additional rebates and credits. VW is also offering a 36-month lease deal for 10,000 miles a year at $379 per month with $3,579 due at signing.
Plus, VW says it’s launching a $35,000 version in 2022 once its American factory in Chattanooga, Tenn. is up to speed making ID.4s, so it could get even cheaper. That car will have a smaller battery, though its range has not yet been disclosed.
“At the same time, every single minute, we’re optimizing this car,” Keogh said. VW plans on updating its software and battery cell management as it gets more data on how the ID.4 is used. “Whether we decide through software or a host of things to optimize range, I would call that book never closed.”
We’ve heard “a $35,000 version is coming” from certain other EV manufacturers for years, but the VW Group boasts one of the mightiest manufacturing operations on earth. The ID.4 will be built in five factories globally—two in Europe, two in China and one in Tennessee. That alone should speak to the scale of both VW’s production power and its ambitions with this car.
But this is still new territory for VW, and the journey to electrification has not been without its headaches. In Europe, the ID.3 was delayed this year over persistent software issues, one reason why the CEO of the global VW brand was relieved of his duties. (He still leads the larger VW Group.)
For Keogh’s part, he says that the three-month delay in Europe “was a tempest in a teapot” given the platform’s worldwide ambitions. He added that by the time the ID.4 goes on sale in America in the first quarter of 2021, it and the ID.3 will have already been on the road in other markets, so those issues should be ironed out.
“This a completely new platform, completely new architecture, completely new technology, being globalized at scale right off the bat,” Keogh said. “Make no mistake, the number one thing is we want to get it right.”
If the ID.3 is the first test of VW’s massive EV shift, the ID.4 is its most important. As for whether it’ll pass that test, from here, that depends on how many American buyers are eager to part with their CR-Vs for something that needs no gasoline.
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