A couple days ago, I encountered something very surprising in my hometown. With the exception of the Chevrolet dealer, which started selling Bolts last year, the place is an EV desert. The Nissan dealer doesn’t sell or work on LEAFs (leaves?). Nobody else sells EVs of any kind, even used. The manager at one of the dealers told me they don’t sell them because nobody buys them, but nobody buys them because nobody sells them. It’s a Catch-22.
When I saw the big banner at the Volkswagen dealer encouraging people to come in and test drive an ID.4, I was mildly shocked. It was like seeing a new spring bubble up through the sand in the desert. I haven’t had a chance to test one out yet, so I went in to check it out.
I was very impressed with the dealer, and mostly impressed with the ID.4.
The Good: The VW ID.4 Is Great For Its Target Market
Let’s get this out of the way first: If you go into test driving the ID.4 with Tesla expectations, you’ll be disappointed. Aside from interior room, it’s not going to compete with the Model Y on Tesla’s turf. Truth be told, though, that’s not the point at all. It’s pretty clear that competing with Tesla wasn’t Volkswagen’s goal, though. Instead of trying to out-Tesla Tesla, or make the best EV ever made, the company set out to make a vehicle that the average crossover buyer would appreciate.
At that mission, I think it succeeded, and it will likely get VW a lot of sales to “normies.” Environmentally and for EVs in general, that’s a very good thing.
The ID.4 is definitely a Volkswagen. What I mean by that is that it’s true to VW’s other vehicles. When you open the door and sit down inside, you’ll feel right at home if you’re used to VW’s other offerings. As a Jetta owner, I appreciated that. Instead of trying to build a Tesla clone, or make an EV that radically departed from their other cars, the company built an EV that’s a Volkswagen. The seats, the controls, the dash, and everything else felt like it belonged on the VW lot.
At the same time, though, it’s still a decent EV. It’s got decent power, decent range, and decent charging. It’s built on a dedicated platform. The center of gravity is low like it should be. It feels planted and stable, and doesn’t feel like they took a Tiguan and stuffed batteries under the seats. There were some features that I felt were missing, EV-wise (I’ll discuss this in the next section), but for someone switching from a gas crossover, they’re not going to miss them (and might not even want them).
Personally, I liked the controls of the ID.4 more than the Model Y. Instead of trying to cram everything they could into the center display, they left the most frequently used controls as buttons and have a column-mounted screen to serve as gauge cluster. It still has a decent center display touchscreen, which I enjoyed, but I didn’t have to menu dive for as many things as I did in the Model Y.
Once again, it’s designed to sell EVs to the average crossover buyer. If their last crossover had buttons and a gauge cluster, many of them will expect their next crossover to have buttons and a gauge cluster. VW isn’t trying to build its cars around a minimalist self-driving future the way Tesla is. Instead of centering on autonomy, it’s trying to be more driver-centric, and that’s something I personally prefer.
Different people have different tastes, so if that’s not your cup of tea, then look at a Tesla. The diversity that the ID.4 represents may be “legacy auto” doing the legacy thing, but it’s going to attract the legacy car buyers who don’t want a radical shift from what they’re used to.
Rear Drive Is A Big Plus
One area where the ID.4 shines is that it’s rear-wheel drive. Even luxury SUVs like the Acura MDX tend to feel sort of cheap because they’re built around a transverse engine front-drive transaxle, with power to the rear wheels largely an afterthought. 10-12 years ago, Tesla got this right while Nissan and others did the dumb and made front-drive EVs. Now, Volkswagen is getting it right, and it shows.
By having rear drive, the ID.4 feels more like an SUV. Let’s face it: most crossovers are just a minivan, minus the sliding doors, and with some testosterone shots to bulk it up and make it look more aggressive. The average buyer doesn’t know much about the underpinnings, so they think crossovers are really something different than the minivan they turn their nose up at. The ID.4? It’s got the actual feel of a real SUV when you stomp on that accelerator pedal or coax it through a turn.
In other words, it doesn’t feel like a lame McCrossOver, so it’s going to please crossover buyers (who didn’t want a minivan) more than VW’s other offerings.
The Bad: Some Missing EV Features, An Odd Color Choice
The biggest thing I felt was missing was one pedal driving. I would have never really cared about that, but getting that for the first time in my 2018 LEAF, and then enjoying later in Tesla vehicles and the Chevy Bolt, really showed me how valuable the feature is. I know it’s not for everyone, and I’d totally understand if VW wanted to leave it turned off by default, but it should at least be something you can turn on in a menu.
I felt the same way about the car’s “B mode.” Being able to turn the regenerative braking up a notch isn’t only a convenience feature, but it’s also essential for going down long, steep downhill sections of road without roasting the friction brakes or tiring out your foot. It just could have been a lot stronger, though. Once again, being able to select stronger regenerative braking in B mode in the menu or something would be nice.
Just like the other things, I also would have liked the ability to disable creep in the menu. I get that most new EV buyers came from a vehicle that started moving when the brake pedal is released, but not everyone wants their EV to pretend it’s got a torque converter. Some of us even know how to drive a manual transmission, and disabling creep feels more comfortable and controllable.
One other thing I found odd was that the steering wheel and nearby controls were white, even when the rest of the interior was black. The other ID.4s I saw on the lot were the same. I don’t know if this is just a First Edition thing, or if it’s going to be this way for all of them. I actually thought it was kind of cool, but it bugged my wife, and I’m sure it will bug other potential buyers to not have an option there (if that’s the case).
The Ugly (For Me, At Least): Supple Suspension
One problem: suspension is pretty soggy. For the average crossover buyer, that’s pretty much what they’re looking for. Why? Because it absorbs the shock of bumps really well. I took it over one of the nastiest bumps in my neighborhood — one so bad that I don’t ever take my LEAF through that intersection, because it usually makes my guts move. The ID.4 took it like a champ, with us barely feeling it.
I know most crossover buyers want the supple suspension, but the body roll was a bit excessive in higher speed turns, like you’d find on some freeway on- and off-ramps. Unlike an ICE with crazy body roll, it felt a lot more controllable and had a limit to the roll where it would go ahead and start planting. It’s still pretty uncomfortable in those turns, though.
In a banked turn, like you’d find on an on- or off-ramp, it does just fine if you give it a light press of the “play” pedal. This shifts the weight onto the rear wheels a bit, and it feels much better. Coasting through any tighter turn at speed isn’t advised — it just feels uncomfortable and magnifies the squishiness of the suspension. On a flatter turn, expect lots of body roll no matter how much electron throttle you give it.
I hope that VW will sell a “sport” version of the vehicle with a stiffer suspension at some point. That way, buyers who like to ride on a cloud can enjoy the vehicle, while people like me who want better performance in turns can buy that version.
For myself, I won’t be buying one. The biggest problem? I have a wife and four kids, and that leaves us a seat short. If I buy an SUV or crossover, it needs to have 7 seats so there’s one spare for other family/friends.
That’s not all readers, though. If I didn’t have that many kids, I’d be considering it a lot more. It was great by crossover and SUV standards. The only thing I’d really like to see VW do is offer those missing EV features (one-pedal driving, more regen, ability to disable creep), and offer a sport version with less body roll.
Featured image and all other images by Jennifer Sensiba.
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