Mountain Wheels: All-wheel drive edition of Volkswagen’s id.4 EV stops the slippage

With almost 300 horsepower and an additional electric motor driving its front wheels, the more all-season friendly rendition of the Volkswagen id.4 EV gains more practicality.
Andy Stonehouse/Courtesy photo

I had an aha moment with the new, electronic all-wheel drive version of the equally new Volkswagen id.4 Pro S electric crossover, one that might help incentivize it as the long-awaited, mass-market alternative to Tesla products.

That is, given Thanksgiving Day’s seasonal rarity of actual snow on Lookout Mountain above Golden, the roads were left with an impenetrable 2-inch sheet of ice in the shadowed corners. (I guess the Denver Parks plow drivers got the holiday off.)

I’ve yet to drive an electric vehicle that, besides maybe a version of the Prius AWD equipped with better tires, did not feel like it was instantly going to explode the minute it hit ice or snow.

The quite-revolutionary but still very painfully futuristic id.4, unique in that it is a nearly normal sized family vehicle just a bit smaller than the current Tiguan crossover, surprised me greatly as it absolutely effortlessly handled that boilerplate ice.

There were indeed a half-dozen vehicles in the ditch, tow trucks, state troopers — the whole bit. I cruised along with a soundtrack of that ridiculous “Frankenstein” music that electric cars play to warn pedestrians of their presence, with not a care in the world — even on those ultra-steep hairpin turns below Buffalo Bill’s grave.

The magic here is two-fold and might be reason for mountain dwellers with regular snow to consider the VW, for real.

Firstly, the AWD, 4,888-pound version of the automobile — base priced at $48,175 for the upscale Statement edition, and $1,500 more than that with 20-inch wheels and all-season tires, a black roof and a host of silver accents — receives an extra electric motor driving the front axle.

This brings total output to 295 horsepower and 339 pound-feet of torque, and the nonmechanical power up front can be applied instantly, unlike the wait-a-minute response of traditional all-wheel drive systems.

I even pulled up a “traction” mode setting on the id.4’s screen to give it the best combination. Again, zero problems. No wheel spin, no slippage, just eerie traction, both uphill and around corners.

The second part of the magic, which you can use even on your nonelectric vehicle, was a set of very impressive all-season tires. Bridgestone Alenza Sports provided a comfortable and sporty ride on dry roads and performed like flypaper on that glaze ice.

So does that make the id.4 the EV that tipped the scales to mass-market success, as it was recently won the Save the Planet Award from online reviewers, and even participated in the very gnarly Rebelle Rally off-road race, earlier this year?

My opinion so far is that EV owners are a curious lot, who take pride in their vehicle’s eccentricities and, frankly, their exclusivity. They already have dedicated at-home charging systems, and they apparently spend hours before any out-of-town journey mapping out routes, phoning ahead to check on charger station status and then occasionally driving in winter with the heat off to maximize their vehicle’s range.

All of that still holds true for id.4 if you take the adventurous steps of making more than a 40-mile journey. My Thanksgiving trip was a quick buzz up to Loveland Ski Area, a distance of exactly 41 mostly uphill miles from my house. Temperatures were above freezing, so I did not have to blast the heat, and I was not carrying a family of four with me.

I used about one-third of the 82 kWh battery reserve getting to Loveland, where there are no public chargers, and was concerned to see my “half tank remaining” total range drop to a paltry 85 miles, though a fully charged vehicle says it has as much as a 284 mile range.

Downhill, of course, it hardly used any power at all, and a visit (one of several) to the Electrify America charging stations on the Front Range got it as much recharge as I was willing to wait for. VW’s agreement allows owners three years of free charging with that power vendor. And I hear the EA station at Walmart in Frisco has been serviced, as it is often out of service.

Beyond that, it’s still a carnival ride experience inside, though the id.4 is spacious and features 64.2 cubic feet of cargo storage with the rear seats dropped. The 1960s lunar lander-inspired gearshifter is confounding, and peculiarities from an unpredictable lane-keep system to programmable automatic climate controls will, I imagine, make more sense to a permanent user. And it’s never really clear if the car is on or off.

Andy Stonehouse

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