2021 Volkswagen ID.4 Review: A Practical EV Ruined by Frustrating Tech01/17/2022
In case you haven’t noticed, EVs are becoming more and more popular by the day. Three of the best 10 cars we drove in 2021 were electric, and a fourth was a hybrid. I can say without a doubt that that number will grow in 2022—mostly because we’ve already seen a major EV debut in the first week of the year alone. But while pricey electric pickup trucks are cool and all, they’re hardly a viable solution for most Americans. That falls on much simpler, less expensive, and considerably more practical vehicles like the 2021 Volkswagen ID.4.
On paper, the ID.4 looks like the perfect family-moving EV. Four doors, five seats, a spacious cabin, a large trunk, and lastly, a starting price that people other than Tech Bros can actually afford. Most importantly, the ID.4 grabs everything there’s to appreciate about a traditional, gas-powered crossover and packages it into a modern-looking electric car with a decent driving range.
Any way you look at it, it’s evident that Volkswagen’s goal for its first mass-market EV in the United States is to simply convince folks that they can switch to electric power without losing any of the things they’ve grown used to and love about their Golfs or Tiguans. And before you email me about it—yes, I know VW sold the e-Golf in the U.S., but that’s a bit of a special case. The ID.4 fulfills that promise on some levels, but falls far short on others.
2021 Volkswagen ID.4 Specs
- 2022 base price (2021 AWD Pro S as tested): $41,995 ($50,870)
- Powertrain: 82-kWh lithium-ion battery | dual electric motors | 1-speed transmission | all-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 295
- Torque: 339 lb-ft
- Seating capacity: 5
- Cargo volume: 30.3 cubic feet (64.2 cubic feet with the rear seats down)
- Curb weight: 4,888 pounds
- Range: Between 240 and 249 miles, depending on trim
- EPA fuel economy: 98 MPGe city | 88 highway
- Quick take: A solid daily driver that’s severely undermined by its atrocious technology and unpredictable glitches.
- Score: 5.5/10
The Volkswagen ID.4 is currently the only member of the electric ID family that’s available in the United States. Abroad, its ID.3, ID.5, and ID.6 siblings are also available, ranging in size from Golfish hatchbacks to compact and midsize crossovers. Domestically, the ID.4 fits neatly between the Taos and Tiguan in terms of size. The bite-sized Taos is 175 inches long, the ID.4 180, and the Tiguan 186.
VW gave the ID.4 an exterior fitting its electric persona. The body is smooth, the lines are clean, the 19-inch wheels look sharp, and overall it’s a very modern-looking crossover. Yet that modern aesthetic comes from a simplistic design, not from making the body overly angular or adding rocket-thruster-looking lighting elements at all four corners. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the ID.4 is a tidy, swoopy fella.
That simplicity translates to the inside, too, and I’m all here for it. Like in most VWs, the interior design is spot-on, prioritizing comfort and practicality. In this case, there is a large pass-through cubby under the dash for handbags, four cupholders for the front seats (two of which double as general storage cubbies), and a tilted (so your phone doesn’t fall out) wireless charging pad that’s nicely positioned near the driver’s armrest. The glass roof is fixed, but it does have a power shade you can open or close to regulate light. Unfortunately, VW skipped on a volume knob or any kind of push-style button for any sort of control, but more on that later.
Whether you opt for the 2021 ID.4 Pro or Pro S, you’ll get the same all-wheel-drive powertrain underneath. An 82-kWh lithium-ion battery drives two electric motors: an asynchronous unit up front and a permanent magnet synchronous in the rear. Total power output is rated at 295 horsepower and 330 pound-feet of torque, which is good for an EPA-tested driving range of 240 miles on a single charge (249 in the less-equipped and therefore lighter base trim).
And while the ID.4 VW let me drive for over a week was a 2021 model, several important changes have been made for 2022. The same powertrain remains in the 2022 Volkswagen ID.4, but customers will now be able to choose between rear-wheel-drive (201 hp) and all-wheel-drive (same 295 hp) models. The maximum acceptance DC charging rate has been upped from 125 kW to 135 kW for faster charging, and the brake-hold feature has also been added (which drastically enhances one-pedal driving). Lastly, VW is promising an “EPA-estimated range improvement over 2021,” but it has yet to announce official figures. As a reminder, 2021 model-year ID.4s will return either a claimed 240 or 249 miles depending on trim.
Driving the VW ID.4
Driving the VW ID.4 begins by simply getting in the car, as there’s no need to turn an ignition on. Planting your butt in the seat triggers the electrical systems for the screens, climate, radio, et cetera. Then, simply twist the unique shifter—mounted behind the steering wheel and to the right of the gauge cluster—to hit the road. Twist away from you to go forward and twist it toward you to reverse. When done, simply push the button on the side of the shifter to engage Park. Hop out of the car so the seat senses that you’re no longer in it, and it will shut the vehicle off. It’s very easy, even if maybe a bit unintuitive at first. (There is an actual push-start button that can be used to override the automated system if desired.)
Obviously, between getting in and getting out, there’s actual driving that happens—but that occurs without a fuss in the ID.4. This is not to say the experience is a boring one, however, because at nearly 300 hp, it has plenty of pep in its step. The ID.4 zips away off the line with ease and it does so in complete silence, earning it puzzling looks from bystanders who didn’t expect a bubbly crossover to rocket away so quickly. It’s a similar experience at highway speeds, when a quick stab of the accelerator can deliver more than enough acceleration to pass one, two, or three semis clogging up the road.
Steering feel is quite good, as has mostly been the case in the EVs I’ve driven this year like the Ford Mustang Mach-E and Polestar 2. It’s direct and communicative when driving at a quicker pace on the highway or country roads, but it’s also pleasant when slipping in and out of parking lots or traversing tight downtown streets. I had to maneuver the ID.4 behind my house to plug it in overnight during my test, and plenty of back-and-forths were necessary to squeeze in. The accelerator, brake, and steering all worked harmoniously together regardless of pace—no variations in pedal sensitivity or weirdly grabby brakes.
One-pedal driving can be activated via the shifter, and it’s the way I drove the thing for most of my time with it. As a 2021 model, the tester did not feature a brake-hold feature (where the car doesn’t creep forward from a stop when you let off the brake), but it’s been added to the 2022 models. One-pedal mode wasn’t nearly as intuitive as it is in the Nissan Leaf or Mustang Mach-E, however, because it forced me to use the brake pedal to shed off additional speed or to stay stopped at a light. This, in addition to the lack of actual buttons or knobs on the steering wheel and center console, made the driving experience considerably less enjoyable than it should’ve been.
The Highs and Lows
The ID.4 doesn’t attempt to reinvent the crossover, it simply electrifies it. Its biggest pro is how easy it makes daily life by being a legitimately comfortable car with a very spacious cabin and very comfortable seats. Its trunk is capable of swallowing several suitcases, and the rear seat is comfortable enough for three adults—not kids, adults. It has climate vents for the rear occupants as well as USB-C charging ports. Its doors open wide and its low floor and relatively high roof make it extremely easy to get in and out. Another high point of the ID.4 is its seating adjustment, which, unlike other EVs I’ve driven, doesn’t make me feel like I’m sitting on top
of a bunch of battery packs, but actually in the vehicle itself. This is possible because the floor doesn’t appear to sit as high, which also means rear occupants don’t have their knees pushed into their chests.
Sadly, you’ll forget about all of those pretty things when you go to operate the infotainment system. It’s awful, likely the worst I’ve ever come across. I was never able to find a channel list for the XM satellite radio because there isn’t an option to do such a thing—at least not one you can find in under 30 minutes of poking around. Then there’s a climate system on/off icon on the screen that you must click to turn the AC or heater on. You can’t just push the fan speed icon and expect it to turn on. No, you must tap the “on” button and then adjust the temperature or fan speed separately. This extra step makes no sense—and to add insult to injury, I couldn’t turn the heater on countless times because the climate portion of the OS was unresponsive. Other times, it would simply say that the function couldn’t be performed at the time. Why? No idea.
And as if using button- and dial-less touch surfaces to control the volume and other vital things wasn’t enough, the actual user interface was also absolutely horrific. It was glitchy, slow, and organized in a way that made zero sense. During a two-hour trip, I was not able to turn off the heated steering wheel function, which had gotten stuck on its highest setting. It got so painfully hot that I had to resort to just using my fingertips to hold the wheel. Power-cycling the car wouldn’t do anything, either. Eventually, it just turned off by itself for no apparent reason.
Furthermore, the headlights—despite being on Auto mode—sometimes would stay on after I had exited the car, making me come out of my house minutes later to manually turn them off. This meant I had to remember to switch them back to Auto while driving. And to top all these infuriating annoyances off, the driver only has two switches to control all four windows. That’s right, you must select the “Rear” setting and then use the two available switches to operate the rear windows. Want to roll down your own window? De-select Rear to be able to do that.
After spending nearly two weeks attempting to learn the system, I realized my efforts didn’t matter because the damn thing was so unpredictable and flawed that I just never felt confident that I had control over it.
VW ID.4 Features, Options, and Competition
For 2022, three ID.4 models will be available: Pro, Pro S, and Pro S with Gradient. However, the base Pro model in rear-drive trim comes decently equipped and starts at just $41,995 (including destination), which isn’t a bad deal. It features niceties like a heated steering wheel and heated seats as standard, as well as LED lighting, 19-inch wheels, and advanced driver-assist features like lane centering, front collision warning, and blind-spot monitoring. Optional equipment in higher trims includes a larger infotainment touchscreen, upgraded lighting, leatherette seats, a power liftgate, 20-inch wheels, and a black-painted roof.
The ID.4 will have to battle two of the hottest new crossovers in 2022: the Hyundai Ioniq 5 and the already-established Ford Mustang Mach-E. The three of them have very similar starting prices in the low 40s, offer rear-wheel and all-wheel setups, and are essentially low-riding sporty crossovers with room for five in their cleverly designed interiors. Then there’s the Tesla Model Y, which starts right under $60,000 but is offered with all-wheel drive as standard and has a 318-mile range. Plus, with the Tesla, buyers are privy to the extensive Supercharger network.
VW has been at the forefront of EV development and sustainability efforts for quite some time now, having made the decision to stop developing internal-combustion cars by 2026 back in 2018. Less than a year later, it announced an ambitious plan to launch 70 new EVs across its many brands, aiming to sell 22 million of them by 2028. It’s even gone as far as killing any non-electric motorsport programs.
The ID.4 is merely a small piece of the enormous electric empire VW is building, and it’s a rather important one, too. The ID.4 is VW’s first serious EV contender of many to be built on its MEB dedicated electric architecture in one of the most lucrative markets for any automaker: the U.S. Offering zero emissions and a decent 240-mile range solidifies the ID.4’s position as a more sustainable way to transport the family.
Value and Verdict
The ID.4’s value proposition is definitely there, especially with the 2022 models and the availability of a rear-wheel-drive option that’s priced lower than the 2021 AWD model I tested. It very likely will have a great range as well. In this sense, the ID.4 brings many similar attributes to the table at a slightly lower price than its competitors.
Unfortunately, the frustrating user experience and glitchy systems undermine the comfortable and safe operation of the vehicle. As I pointed out above, I did begin to get used to some of these issues and even started discovering workarounds after almost two weeks behind the wheel, proving that almost anyone can get used to a shitty user experience. I suspect this one is a bitter pill buyers will just have to swallow. However, my experience also begs the question as to why people must adapt to inherently clunky systems at all. Shouldn’t a UI and UX be smooth and intuitive immediately to everyone climbing into the driver’s seat for the first time? And while the OS issues can be fixed via over-the-air updates, only a hardware redesign could address the lack of usable buttons and knobs the ID.4 desperately needs.
Using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto would only solve a portion of these issues, as the third-party interface won’t save you from having to use VW’s system for the climate controls and navigating necessary charging, scheduling, efficiency menus that are vital to EV ownership. In a traditional car, I’d probably be less harsh, but an EV relies on its baked-in technology to maximize its capabilities, and the ID.4 is a letdown in this area.
If you live in an area with a mild climate where you hardly ever have to tinker with the AC or heater, or you’re the kind of person who doesn’t listen to the radio, let alone shuffle through various sources of music, you might be able to cruise by and enjoy the ID.4’s great driving experience without being subjected to its flaws. Simply drive, come home, plug in, repeat. If I were to overlook its tech deficiencies, the ID.4 is a solid daily that would give consumers an extremely good case for flipping from ICE to EV.
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