A decade ago, Volkswagen was all in on clean diesel as its solution to meeting greenhouse gas emissions standards. As we now know, that proved to be a lie. From the time dieselgate burst into the open in September 2015, Volkswagen Group pivoted to electrification and committed tens of billions of dollars to bring dozens of new electric models to almost all of its nine car brands. The first of the new VW models to hit the American market is the ID.4 which arrives in early 2021 with a 250-mile range and $40,000 starting price.
As most of the industry has learned through the first decade of the modern EV era, simply stuffing batteries and motors into a platform designed for fuel tanks and engines rarely works out well. Thus, the VW group set about developing new dedicated EV architectures specifically designed for zero emission propulsion. In the early 2010s, VW launched new internal combustion engine architectures called MQB and MLB for transverse and longitudinal engine vehicles.
MQB now underpins almost everything in the VW lineup from the subcompact Polo up to the three-row Atlas SUV with the MLB system used in most of the group’s premium brand vehicles. Unlike most traditional platforms, VW describes these more as tool kits with sets of scalable and reusable components that can be mixed and matched to create a wide range of vehicles with less engineering.
The same basic premise was applied to create the new MEB toolkit for electric vehicles. Over the past several years, VW has revealed several concepts based on MEB including the original ID hatchback, ID Crozz crossover and ID Buzz minivan. The hatch recently went on sale in Europe as the ID.3 and the ID.4 draws heavily on the Crozz. The Buzz is scheduled to debut in 2022. Additional MEB variants will be coming from numerous VW Group brands including the Audi Q4 e-Tron next year.
While MEB is purpose designed for EVs, unlike many other EV platforms, it’s not a skateboard. Skateboard chassis are more like old-school body-on-frame systems where the battery, frame, suspension and drive units are effectively a stand-alone unit. MEB is more like a modern unibody system but with packaging and component locations optimized for electric drive.
The battery remains under the floor. However, unlike MQB which is based around transverse mounted engines in the front, the default configuration for MEB is rear-wheel drive. VW opted to put the default electric motor in the back much as BMW did for the i3 to get better driving dynamics. Since the motor is so much smaller than an engine, it doesn’t intrude on cargo or passenger space.
You might think that this would also leave plenty of space up front for a frunk, but alas, VW instead opted to shorten the front section of the vehicle and stuff it with climate control and other hardware. There will also be an all-wheel-drive variant of the ID.4 with a second motor at the front axle.
The ID.4 will launch here with a 201-horsepower permanent magnet motor at the rear axle that delivers 228 lb-ft of torque from zero rpm. Later in 2021, the front axle motor of the AWD version will bring the total to 302-hp.
For the North American market, the ID.4 will initially only be offered with the 82-kWh lithium ion battery pack that is the largest of three options on the ID.3 in Europe. Like other EVs, VW will only use 94% of the capacity or about 77-kWh. This helps to ensure that it won’t get overcharged or drawn down too low, both conditions that can lead to permanent degradation.
That 77-kWh is claimed to be enough for an estimated 250-mile range on the EPA driving cycle. A 250-mile range from 77-kWh, means the ID.4 is not as efficient as the Hyundai Kona, Kia Niro, Chevrolet Bolt or Tesla TSLA Model Y but it is far better than the current Audi E-tron. Once production is localized in Chattanooga in 2022 VW will add a lower cost version with a reduced battery capacity, likely the mid-range 62-kWh version offered in Europe.
The ID.4 will have a 2,700 lb towing capacity which tops the 2,700-lb rating of the Rav4 Prime but comes up a bit short of the 3,500-lb capability of the gas-powered Ford Escape. The challenge with EVs of course is how much range you sacrifice when towing. In most cases range drops by 40-50%. Fortunately, towing is not usually a major priority for drivers of these small utility vehicles.
Where does this fit in the market?
At 180.5-inches long, the ID.4 is the same length as the Ford Escape and less than half an inch shorter than the Toyota Rav4. It is 6.5-inches shorter than the Model Y, but it doesn’t seem to have impacted the interior volume very much. Tesla doesn’t list passenger volume for the Model Y, but does list the total cargo area with the rear seats folded as 68 cubic feet. The VW has 99.9 cubic feet for passengers,with 30.3 cubic feet for cargo behind the rear seats. With the seats folded that grows to 64.2 cubic feet. These are all volumes that are comparable to the market leaders in the compact crossover segment.
VW calls the exterior design futuristic which may be a bit hyperbolic. Nonetheless, it is an attractive look and it echoes the design language of the ID.3 and the series of ID concepts. Most of the face is now closed off thanks to the reduced cooling requirements which are served by a smaller grille opening at the base of the fascia. Signature lighting around the headlamps, across the face and in the VW logo provide a new brand look.
The sweeping beltline gives the vehicle a more muscular and organic stance than the creased lines found on the Tiguan. The contrasting A and C-pillars and roof rail are also a nice touch that lighten the car overall. Overall it’s a handsome evolution as VW transitions to electric power.
On the inside, the design changes are more dramatic with touch controls dominating. A 5.3-inch display known as the ID.Cockpit sits in front of the driver to serve as the instrument cluster. A rocker switch on the right side of the display serves as the shift selector while touch controls on the left and right steering wheel spokes can be used to control functions like cruise control, volume and trigger voice recognition. Another touch panel to the left of the cluster display controls lights and front/rear defoggers.
The standard central touchscreen for infotainment measures 10-inches but adding the Statement package upgrades this to 12-inches. Gestures in front of the screen can be used to swipe through the various menus. Like many new vehicles, the ID.4 has built-in natural language voice recognition that can be triggered with “hello ID.” An LED light bar across the base of the windshield will illuminate when the car recognizes your voice with different colors depending on the task.
LTE connectivity is standard on all ID.4s with five years of basic service included. A wifi hotspot that supports up to four devices can be used when you subscribe to a premium data package. Wireless connectivity also extends to using Apple AAPL Carplay and Android Auto with a standard Qi charging pad below the dashboard. MEB platform vehicles also have support for over-the-air software updates.
Following the current trend toward making driver assist features standard equipment, the ID.4 also gets forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, blindspot monitoring with cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, road sign recognition and more.
In addition to the usual AC home charging, the ID.4 supports DC fast charging at up to 125-kW. VW says this will allow charging from 5% to 80% in 38 minutes which you can likely do during a weekly trip to the grocery store, assuming there is a DC charger next to your grocery store. VW is one-upping most other EV vendors by offering three years of unlimited fast charging at Electrify America stations (which VW owns and agreed to develop as part of its dieselgate settlement). As of writing this, there are 447 EA locations open with more than 2,000 chargers and more are opening all the time.
VW has already launched production of the ID.4 at its Zwickau plant in Germany where the ID.3 and other MEB-based vehicles are being built. The first year or so of production for North America will be imported from Germany which means that supplies will be relatively limited since that plant is also supplying multiple models for the European market. VW is also expanding its assembly plant in Chatanooga, Tennessee and beginning in 2022, the ID.4 will be produced there using lithium ion cells from a new SK Innovation plant currently under construction in Georgia.
When the ID.4 Pro goes on sale in the U.S. in the first quarter of 2021, the base sticker price will be $39,995 for the rear-drive model. Two option packages will be available, Statement at $4,500 and Gradient at $1,500. Statement adds a glass roof, premium LED projector headlamps, adaptive front lighting, leatherette seating with 12-way power up front and power folding mirrors. Gradient swaps in a black contrasting roof and 20-inch wheels replacing the standard 19s.
Just as with the ID.3 in Europe, VW is also offering a 1st edition for early customers and this clearly the best value. At $43,995, the 1st edition gets everything in the Statement and Gradient packages except for the backlit VW logo for $2,000 less than the normal combined price of those packages. In addition to 1st badges on various locations including the steering wheel, it has play and pause logos on the accelerator and brake pedals.
Leases will be available starting at $379/month. The dual motor, AWD version comes later in the year for an extra $3,700. VW is still well below the 200,000 sales threshold for plug-in vehicles so the ID.4 will still be eligible for the full $7,500 federal tax credit for at least a couple of years. With that tax break, the price drops right into the heart of the market for compact utilities in the low $30K range.
VW is kicking off an aggressive plan to move toward electric propulsion across its lineup and it has wisely chosen to start with one of the most popular segments in the US market. The ID.4 isn’t the most affordable EV available today, but with tax breaks and fuel savings, it could prove to be a very competitive option for a lot of car buyers. VW estimates that the ID.4 will save about $3,500 in fuel over five years compared to a gas powered equivalent like the Tiguan and the 3 years of free EA fast charging will certainly help. We’re looking forward to testing this one out. 2021 will be a banner year for electric crossovers with the Nissan Ariya, Ford Mustang Mach-E, Tesla Model Y and VW ID.4 all battling for attention.