Mountain Wheels: VW’s all-electric ID.4 crossover emphasizes utility, futuristic design
Most auto companies in the world are now on a firm trajectory to an almost entirely all-electric future, not so far on the horizon. But if you live in a rural area, need a vehicle to reliably and simply travel great distances (especially in the winter), and you’re more interested in practicality than super-cool design, that future may still be a way off.
Case in point: the new Volkswagen ID.4, the company’s first global mass-market, all-electric vehicle that is a sizeable crossover, to boot. On the surface, it looks like it has all the credentials you’d require for an easy entry into the world of electric vehicles.
It’s not just a tiny, weird vehicle, but is indeed a comfortable, five-passenger sorta-SUV. It’s got a fully-charged range of approximately 250 miles, and editions available later this year will also be available with all-wheel drive. Plus, you get three years of free charging with the Electrify America network — which conveniently has a station at the Walmart in Frisco — in addition to locations in lots of spots in the Front Range.
So what’s not to love, especially considering you’ll never have to buy $4 per gallon gasoline, and that its $39,995 base price ($43,995 for the First Edition model I drove) can be considerably reduced by federal, and maybe even state, electric vehicle credits?
Well … let me tell you about that. Say you don’t have a reliable electrical outlet at your home, or you live in a condo or apartment complex where you can’t easily charge the vehicle overnight, or install the preferable 240-volt charging system (which will fully charge the car in 7.5 to 11.5 hours). I also frequently travel more than 250 miles to locations that are desperately underserved by charging technology, so that’s another strike.
As I found with the very pleasant ID.4, fully-charged cruising power is no issue. Its 82 kilowatt-hour battery and its rear electric motor produce 201 horsepower and 229 pound-feet of torque, so highway travel and mountain corridor climbs are no problem. It’s also got a couple of different driving modes, including a sport mode that sort of emulates the one-pedal accelerator/decelerator feel I got on the Ford Mustang Mach-E electric.
The major issue I had was any sense of reliability and predictability regarding that battery capacity, plus a mix of cabin technology that’s maybe just a little too future-focused for pleasure.
It is indeed a sizeable vehicle and, as a result, you feel its presence and its slightly oversized 20-inch wheels in corners or when trying to park. The size also translates into considerable cargo room, something of a rarity in current electric vehicles, so that may be a positive for some potential customers.
I was absolutely confused by its electrical usage, however, as downhill trips sometimes doubled the vehicle’s range — the regenerative braking doing its job, I guess — while uphill trips did the exact opposite, sucking power (and potential range) in some very random ways.
ID.4 is also set up to instantly turn on its air conditioning or heating setup the minute you open the door, and to stay on until you literally get up out of your seat.There’s a whoopee cushion-style sensor in the driver’s seat which was often literally the only way to get the AC and audio systems to turn off, which I found really annoying.
Alternately, you can turn to a confusing set of bright, bright yellow controls on a central touchscreen to modify those automatic settings. This became critical as I tried to, over and over again, turn off a ridiculously heavy-handed and potentially dangerous lane-keeping system which pushed me towards cyclists I tried to pass and became completely confused in intersections or merging lanes. It appears you have to press a three-button/screen combo every single time to turn that system off.
While ID.4 looks like a reasonably normal — if somewhat futuristic — version of VW’s other small or mid-size crossovers, inside they’ve gone for the whole 1970s plastic spaceship theme in a surprisingly austere way.
The one-piece instrument panel and gear selector pod (the gear selector being a very counterintuitive twisting knob) provides very little information, though it looks like it’s right out of “Space 1999,” and the rest of the cabin has an overly plastic and very simple design.
Andy Stonehouse’s column “Mountain Wheels” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Stonehouse has worked as an editor and writer in Colorado since 1998, focusing on automotive coverage since 2004. He lives in Golden. Contact him at email@example.com.
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