2021 Volkswagen ID4 AWD First Drive Review: More Capable
The 2021 volkswagen id4 is a solid little SUV that just happens to be an electric vehicle. Now, it’s an even more capable and appealing SUV with the addition of an optional second motor that gives it all-wheel drive and better performance.
Making the ID4 all-wheel drive was a painless affair, largely because it was designed to accommodate it. VW simply added a front motor to the existing rear-drive ID4 and updated the control software. Because the ID4 didn’t have a frunk (front trunk under the hood) to begin with, no cargo space has been lost. Without the AWD badging, you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference between the two models. The extra 0.6 inch of ground clearance is impossible to spot.
A Regular SUV With EV Advantages
It is at least useful. At 6.7 inches, the flat bottom of the ID4 isn’t particularly high off the ground, so if the snow is deep this year or the dirt road out to the cabin is storm damaged, every little bit helps. With nothing hanging down but the wheels and suspension, you can straddle obstacles you might want to avoid in gas-powered vehicles lest they catch on oil pans, frame components, or differentials.
To be certain, you can even take an ID4 AWD off the pavement; we deviated off VW’s suggested route and headed for some steep logging roads. The standard all-season tires don’t look like much, but thanks to VW’s excellent drivetrain programming, they were more than able to get the ID4 up the wet, rocky dirt paths with almost no wheelspin. We didn’t even have to engage the special Traction drive mode meant for bad weather and loose surfaces like these. With the longish front overhang and somewhat low ground clearance for an SUV, you need to pick your path carefully so as not to bang anything up, but when it comes to managing and maximizing traction, the ID4 has it down.
Back on paved roads, the extra motor also makes itself known when you put your foot down. Volkswagen claims it makes the ID4 about two seconds quicker to 60 mph, which, based on our testing, would put it in the mid-five-second range. It won’t throw you back in your seat like a Tesla, but it’s plenty quick for most SUV buyers and great for getting around slowpokes.
FWD vs. AWD
Of course, to maximize range, all four wheels are only driven when they need to be. Most of the time, the ID4 will be a two-wheel-drive vehicle, and you’ll never notice the difference. This is possible because the front motor is of the induction type (no magnets) and can freewheel. You will, however, appreciate that the all-wheel-drive version only loses 10 to 11 miles of range compared to the standard rear-drive model, so you can still go 240 to 249 miles on a full charge (depending on trim level), per the Environmental Protection Agency.
Were you to drive both models back to back, you might notice the AWD model’s steering is less lively and talkative than the rear-drive model’s, a common side effect of powering the front wheels. The AWD model still goes around a corner nicely thanks to the low center of gravity afforded most EVs, but it’s not a sporty and engaging driving experience, and that’s OK. More important for a car like this, VW has mostly retained the excellent turning radius that makes the rear-drive model so nice to drive in the city.
It is, in fact, a fairly conventional driving experience aside from the perfectly smooth acceleration. The ID4 AWD will feel familiar to anyone coming out of another SUV. The regenerative braking feels like taking your foot off the gas in any other vehicle, and even the high-regen B mode doesn’t provide a ton of regenerative braking like some EVs. You won’t be doing any one-pedal driving in this electric SUV, which some experienced EV drivers may miss. Thankfully, the brake system tuning is excellent, and you don’t feel any handoff from regenerative to mechanical braking. It can’t tow enough to need a trailer brake, but it’ll still pull 2,700 pounds when you want to take the boat to the lake or move the kid to college.
Really, if the ID4 feels unfamiliar anywhere, it’s in the interior controls. The twist-knob shifter is a little unusual but easy to adapt to. The exclusive use of capacitive buttons for the controls is a controversial move, as they make it impossible to do anything without taking your eyes briefly off the road. We’re happy to see VW went with large controls that are easy to find and programmed them to be nearly as responsive to your touch as a phone screen. Same deal for the infotainment display, whose graphics provide big digital buttons and a minimalist aesthetic that makes it easy to find and change settings quickly.
You never want to take your eyes off the road for long regardless, but it matters a little more in the ID4 because the car dulls the sensation of speed. It’s very easy to look down and find yourself seriously exceeding the speed limit without trying. The car is very planted on the road and nicely isolated, so it never feels like you’re going as fast as the speedometer says. The one big tell is all the wind noise that crops up around the corners of the windshield above 70 mph.
Let’s Talk Money
At $44,870 before any available tax credits, the ID4 is about $3,700 more than the rear-drive model but still the cheapest way into an all-wheel-drive electric SUV, undercutting the Ford Mustang Mach-E AWD by about $1,900 and the Tesla Model Y Dual Motor by roughly $9,000. To sweeten the deal even further, the IQ.Drive suite of active and passive safety features is standard, and the ID4 comes with three years of free DC fast charging at Electrify America public chargers, two years of free maintenance, and three years of free roadside assistance.
That’s a pretty good deal comparatively, and various local, state, and federal tax credits could knock it down well into the mid-$30,000 range, which will help you make peace with the fact that beyond the touch-sensitive controls, the ID4’s interior feels like it belongs in a car half its price. It’s just various shades of gray and black plastic everywhere, with grain and sheen that says “$25,000 car,” not “$45,000 car.” That and VW’s decision to put the charging port as far as possible from the driver’s door are the ID4’s biggest drawbacks.
That aside, the ID4 is one of the most compelling EVs on the market today. It’s priced to sell, it doesn’t look like a science project or a quick and dirty conversion from a gas car, it has plenty of range, and now it comes with all-wheel drive for folks who live in the northern half of the country, out in the sticks, or both. It’s no surprise 89 percent of ID4 buyers to date have been new to EVs and 68 percent have been new to VW. The ID4 is a solid small SUV that happens to be electric—exactly the kind of thing that ought to appeal to the average SUV buyer.
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