VW ID.4 Survives 1000 Mile Off-Road Race

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It turns out that the Volkswagen ID.4 is a lot tougher than the average crossover. It didn’t win any Baja races, but it did finish one without any repairs. That’s something most vehicles couldn’t do.

“This was an exciting test of ID.4 technology because no other production-based EV had ever entered this event, let alone completed it,” said Scott Keogh, President and CEO of Volkswagen of America. “Congrats to our team for demonstrating that EVs can stand up to extreme environments, and showing how fun electric vehicles can be. The ID.4 could definitely be the Baja Bug for the electric age.”

The vehicle was modified, but not nearly as much as most vehicles at the NORRA Mexican 1000. Tanner Foust, a well known Volkswagen racing driver, and his team, teamed up with Rhys Millen Racing to prepare the VW ID.4 for the grueling race. The vehicle’s key components, the drive unit, battery pack, and other drive systems were left completely stock. If you pick up a VW ID.4 from a dealer, it would have the same main parts as the one that completed this race.

Modifications included an upgraded suspension, stripping out the interior, adding a roll cage, and some screens for extra information. “The suspension was thoroughly reworked with rally-style coil-over struts at all four wheels and tubular lower control arms in the front and boxed lower rear links.” the company said in a press release. “The radiator was raised several inches to improve approach angles and cooling capacity, and additional skid plates of 3/8-inch steel added to the undercarriage.”

Due to COVID-19, the race was divided into staged loops, giving Volkswagen opportunity to take the 1,000 miles a little bit at a time, with transits needed to go to the next loop. Individual stages ranged from as little as 33 miles to 167 miles. Between stages, they charged the ID.4 with a 50 kW charging station, powered by a biofuel generator. This powered the car during the race, but at least once, they had to pull the vehicle with a chase vehicle to give it a little boost through regenerative braking.

“This was everything we had hoped for,” said Tanner Foust. “The course was challenging, but the ID.4 was more than up to the tasks we asked of it. This demonstrates the real potential for EV technology to make an impact in all sorts of areas that we have only just begun to explore.”

Out of 90 vehicles that entered the race, only 64 vehicles finished the brutal race. Despite the brutal nature of the Baja wilderness, the only damage suffered by the ID.4 was some cosmetic injury to the rear bumper. All of the vehicle’s key power, battery, and control systems performed as expected. The ID.4 was raced mostly in “B” level battery regeneration mode with stock traction control turned on. Foust drove most of the race, with writer and off-road racer Emme Hall completing two stages.

This Shows How Durable EVs Can Be

Every team entering a race like this one puts in a TON of work to get their ICE-powered car up to snuff. This time, almost 1/3 of the vehicles couldn’t complete the race, because it destroyed the vehicle in some key way.

I’m no professional racer, but I have quite a bit of experience doing trail driving in the desert. Between the sand, the rocks, the thorns, and the up-and-down terrain, even Jeeps regularly can break key drivetrain parts, usually requiring a trailside repair of some sort to get home because there are no tow trucks in many areas. I’ve seen the best ICE vehicles fail to keep going, despite being built up for it, and these usually were just trail runs and not any kind of race event.

While some readers would consider the modifications VW made to the ID.4 to be pretty heavy duty, they didn’t touch any of the main components. Suspension can be unbolted, and the parts VW’s team came up with can then be bolted on. Everything else they described can basically be done with a set of wrenches. They didn’t describe any hard-core fabrication or other exotic modifications.

One of the common parts to break on a Jeep out on desert trails is an axle. To prevent that, they put heavy-duty axles to prevent that. Whenever something breaks, they try to replace it with something stronger.

This ID.4, not so much. The differential of the vehicle is part of the stock drive unit. The press release doesn’t say that they changed the CV assemblies, which is the equivalent of the axle in a vehicle like the ID.4. That they went through 1,000 miles of this terrain without breaking those components shows that they’re significantly tougher than the average axle in a street-oriented vehicle.

In other words, the ID.4 is beefy, and that surprised me even after driving one. I already could tell that it’s more of a real SUV and not a crappy McCrossOver, but I had no idea it could be capable of something like this. It really is more of an SUV.

The Aftermarket Potential Is Huge

Given that the core components are this tough, there’s definitely a huge, huge potential for an aftermarket to supply upgrades to the ID.4. If you can buy an EV like the ID.4 and purchase a few bolt-on modifications to make it go off-road on such serious trails, that’s a huge deal. Expect a number of companies to start offering kits to make some of these upgrades.

What I Hope VW Does

I’d also like to see VW get more off-road performance out of its EVs. Once some all-wheel drive versions come out, I hope that it builds and sells some outdoor explorer-oriented versions of the ID.4. With the relatively small size of the vehicle compared to things like the Cybertruck or Bollinger, an off-road ID.4 could prove to be like the Suzuki Samurai of the 2020s.

I’d personally seriously consider purchasing such a vehicle. I’d have a lot of fun exploring the deserts and mountains of the Southwest with it.

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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

Jennifer Sensiba has 1950 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba