First drive: 2021 Volkswagen ID.4 plays catchup to Ford Mustang Mach-E, Tesla Model Y

April 30, 2021

The 2021 Volkswagen ID.4 is a good car that needs a better interface and minor controls. It and the forthcoming dual-motor all-wheel-drive ID.4 need to work out the kinks before the arrival of other electric compact crossovers, such as the Nissan Ariya, Hyundai Ioniq 5, Kia EV6, and many more.

Serving as the de facto head of VW’s ID electric family in the U.S., the ID.4 crossover SUV has a roomy interior and conservative but attractive styling. Marketed for the millions, not the millionaires, the VW ID.4 chases the Tesla Model Y and the Ford Mustang Mach-E when it comes to performance and technology. 

The only ID.4 drivetrain available now is a single motor driving the rear axle via an 82-kwh battery pack. It makes 201 hp and 229 lb-ft of torque, and lacks the gut-dropping burst of torque in the single-motor Mach-E that makes 317 lb-ft or in the base Model Y, which is quicker than both even though Tesla no longer publishes official specs. 

Most electric cars burst off the line due to the instantaneous torque, then plateau around 30 mph. The ID.4 1st Edition I tested moves decisively enough for its 4,600-pound weight, but it takes 7.5 seconds to hit 60 mph, which is at least 2.0 seconds slower than its competitors. 

Volkswagen claims the ID.4’s competitive set is not other electrics, but compact crossovers in general such as the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V. It’s more likely a plug-in hybrid such as the Toyota RAV4 Prime will woo shoppers from the ICE side to the electric force. The base ID.4 Pro costs $41,190, or $1,700 less than the base Mach-E, and the 1st Edition tops out the range for now at $45,190 including destination. Factoring in the $7,500 federal EV tax credit, the ID.4 undercuts the Model Y by at least $15,000 and, with its good standard equipment, it matches the price of higher trim gas crossovers. 

2021 Volkswagen ID.4 1st Edition

2021 Volkswagen ID.4 1st Edition

2021 Volkswagen ID.4 1st Edition

2021 Volkswagen ID.4 1st Edition

2021 Volkswagen ID.4 1st Edition

2021 Volkswagen ID.4 1st Edition

2021 Volkswagen ID.4 1st Edition

2021 Volkswagen ID.4 1st Edition

It looks different enough to attract eyes without being goofy enough to repel them. The ID.4 is both familiar and new. Like other EVs, its door handles are flush with the body, and like other crossovers, black cladding rounds the wheel arches from bumper to bumper and braces the rocker panels. A ridged hood falls off on either side into a curving body line that sweeps up to the tailgate. Riding on large 20-inch wheels with cool tomahawk designs, the ID.4 sits low and wide, with a squat greenhouse; the body seems high but the roof rides low in that strange but compelling contradiction of electric crossovers.

The interior best reflects the ID.4’s design success. A fixed glass roof oversees an airy cabin with clever storage spaces throughout. The same could be said about the Mach-E and Model Y, but the ID.4 does it better. 

2021 Volkswagen ID.4 1st Edition

2021 Volkswagen ID.4 1st Edition

2021 Volkswagen ID.4 1st Edition

2021 Volkswagen ID.4 1st Edition

2021 Volkswagen ID.4 1st Edition

2021 Volkswagen ID.4 1st Edition

In back, 30.3 cubic feet of space expands to 64.2 cubic feet with the 60/40-split rear seats folded down. Flanked by side pockets, the tiered cargo floor can be lowered about three inches, and a deep storage locker below it can fit the charging equipment and a couple bottles of wine or other valuables. The Model Y maxes out at 68 cubic feet thanks to its humped roofline and front trunk absent on the ID.4; instead of a frunk, VW packed in some components to open up the interior. The rear seats have an armrest with cupholders that also doubles as a pass through for skis or other long items. 

Fitting four in the cabin comes easy, and I was able to carpool four thirteen-year-olds without issue. The head room is exceptional and the leg room slots between the smaller Mach-E and larger Model Y. Deep door pockets complement two twin cupholders in the console area. The center console comes up short of the center stack, giving the ID.4 a wide open floor plan favored by interior designers. The front twin cupholders can be squeezed on the sides and removed to reveal a large tray that can fit a cell phone from the ‘90s. The rear twin cupholder between the seats is also adjustable. Between the two is a wireless smartphone charging pocket with two USB-C ports. It’s all very slim and neat, as are the inner armrests that can be flipped up, though they feel cheap compared to the rest of the interior. 

2021 Volkswagen ID.4 1st Edition

2021 Volkswagen ID.4 1st Edition

2021 Volkswagen ID.4 1st Edition

2021 Volkswagen ID.4 1st Edition

2021 Volkswagen ID.4 1st Edition

2021 Volkswagen ID.4 1st Edition

The interface is my biggest gripe with the ID.4, and the part where it falls shortest of its tech-forward EV competitors. The 1st Edition comes with a 12.0-inch touchscreen that lags a little and buries some menu items, but the display is crisp and owners will get used to it quick enough. The issue is with the menu bar below the touchscreen, even on the base model with the 10.0-inch touchscreen. VW retired buttons in favor of some kind of haptic controls with little feedback and inconsistent reception to fingertips. Eventually, I stopped bothering and used a couple more steps via the touchscreen and steering controls. 

The interface may not be intuitive but the tech is smart. When a passenger exits the car when the heated front seats are activated, the seat warmer automatically shuts off. Put the car in park and it shuts off, like most other electric vehicles. Open the door to exit and the same smart seat sensors shut off the audio and other creature comforts. Otherwise, you can stay in the car and rock out without wasting much juice.  

The ambient lighting turned the cosmetic into the functional by prompting navigation cues and charging status, as well as changing the color based on drive mode, so Sport mode changes the touchscreen background color to red. It’s not just some cutesy quirk that appears to be the calling card for EVs. 

2021 Volkswagen ID.4 - First drive, Portland OR

2021 Volkswagen ID.4 - First drive, Portland OR

Instead of a Ludicrous or Unbridled drive mode, VW stamped a play button icon on the accelerator and a pause button on the brake. It could make bare feet giggle. Two regen brake settings simplify operation. Twist the gear dial on the side of the instrument panel to B for more significant regen, and it approximates one-pedal driving but you still have to press the brake and can’t override the creep. 

I didn’t have the ID.4 long enough to drain the battery, but reports abound about nuisances with the VW-funded Electrify America fast-charging network. Access should improve, according to Green Car Reports editor Bengt Halvorson, but until then, plan ahead. I was able to maintain near full charge overnight on my Level 1 120-volt outlet, and VW claims the 250 miles of range can be recouped in 7.5 hours on a Level 2 outlet. 

The ID.4’s wide and low stance give it a planted feel on the road, even in cold rain in rear-wheel drive. The open cabin remains remarkably quiet, and even though the brakes can be too sensitive in that final push before a full stop, the ID.4 is smooth and composed.

The 2021 Volkswagen ID.4 poses a value option to the Mustang Mach-E and Tesla Model Y that doesn’t feel like a sacrifice, but some upgrades to the controls and tech could improve its standing in the burgeoning electric crossover field. Compared to the dinosaur fueled, the ID.4 is an evolutionary step forward. But for now, it’s still one step behind. 

Volkswagen provided the ID.4 to my house to let me bring you this firsthand report.

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