2021 Volkswagen ID.4 AWD First Drive – Just Add Power


2021 Volkswagen ID.4 AWDWhen Volkswagen invited us to test drive the all-wheel-drive version of the ID.4 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, I hesitated.

Fly all the way to Tennessee just for a slightly different version of a car I drove a few months ago? A place that’s been one of the worst COVID hotspots during the Delta variant surge, no less? Is it worth the time out of office, even if COVID wasn’t a thing?

Then it hit me as I blasted some forlorn backroad with Eddie Rabbitt’s “Driving My Life Away” – apt for an automotive journalist – blasting on the radio. I was thinking too old school.

See, as you almost certainly know, adding AWD to a rear-wheel-drive crossover might not make much of a difference for an internal-combustion-powered vehicle. It would no doubt add weight, and maybe change the ride and handling characteristics a bit, depending on the platform and the suspension and the engineering. It’s also possible any dynamic differences would be subtle or even unnoticeable (at least on dry pavement).

But the ID.4 is a bit of a different animal, having an electric motor located at the rear in the “base” non-AWD version. This means making the car all-wheel drive means adding another motor. Thus, also adding power.

That makes enough of a difference that I set aside other work, boarded a plane, and let someone stick a Q-tip up my nose. All so I can serve you, the Best and Brightest, with fresh content.

That Tennessee bourbon won’t drink itself, eh?

 

2021 Volkswagen ID.4 AWD

(Full Disclosure: Volkswagen flew me to Chattanooga, fed and housed me for a night, and gave me and others a tour of its plant, which will eventually build ID.4s. They also gave me a branded COVID mask – I am getting close to collecting one from all the brands. If there was any other swag, I didn’t see it. The box of snacks left in my room may or may not have been free – I didn’t bother with it.)

What differentiates the all-wheel-drive ID.4 from the rear-wheel-drive version is, obviously and as mentioned above, the addition of another electric motor, placed at the front axle. This one has a maximum output of 107 horsepower and 119 lb-ft of torque.

That gives the all-wheel-drive version of the ID.4 295 horsepower and 339 lb-ft of torque, over the rear-drive car’s 201/229 (if you’re wondering why the numbers don’t add up to 308 and 348, there’s a variety of reasons why total system power doesn’t match the total outputs of individual motors added together when it comes to multi-motor EVs, as well as gas-electric hybrids).

Unlike most AWD setups, there’s no mechanical link between the two axles. Instead, each motor connects to the front or rear wheels via a differential and single-speed gearbox.

2021 Volkswagen ID.4 AWD

Like many AWD setups, the ID.4 does spend most of its time in rear-drive mode, only engaging the front motor when necessary, or when in Sport mode. There is a slight range cost – Pro trims are listed at 249 miles (11 fewer than the FWD Pro) and 240 for the Pro S, which is a decrease of 10 from the FWD Pro S. EPA-estimated MPGe 102/90/97 for the Pro AWD and 98/88/93 for the Pro S.

Volkswagen estimates a 0-60 time of 5.4 seconds and says the ID.4 AWD can tow up to 2,700 pounds.

The battery pack is 82 kWh and consists of 12 modules with a total of 288 pouch cells. A floor plate with built-in water channels helps keep it cool. The battery pack is set up in the underbody, between the axles, in an attempt to get a 50/50 weight distribution and to keep the center of gravity low.

 

2021 Volkswagen ID.4 AWD

Charge times are about seven and half hours from a Level II station using the onboard 11 kW charger, and a DC fast-charging station with 125 kW charging can take the car from five percent charged to 80 percent charged in around 40 minutes. Buyers get three years of free charging at Electrify America stations. That includes DC fast charging.

Speaking of fast, or quick, to be grammatically correct, the ID.4 offers up quite the acceleration. Like any other EV, torque is available instantaneously, and the ID.4 can shove you back into its seat and shrink the distance between corners. This ability is quite useful when merging or trying to get past slow-moving semis on the freeway.

Straight-line speed isn’t the only hallmark of fun, though. A truly sporting vehicle, whether EV or not, whether a crossover or not, will also ride and handle in a way that gives the driver the grins.

2021 Volkswagen ID.4 AWD

This is where the ID.4 AWD experience is a mixed bag. On the way up and over Signal Mountain, I was driving at what I call a “relaxed hustle” – faster than the average speed of traffic, and faster than the speed limit, but not pushing hard enough to really stress the chassis or get the tires singing. On the way back, I pushed the speed a bit, and the difference in how the ID.4 reacted is revealing.

On the way up the mountain, in Sport mode, the ID.4 felt perfectly pleasant, even surprising. Body roll was present but no worse than expected from a crossover, the steering felt nicely weighted and allowed me to place the wheels accurately, and the car cruised through each corner on my preferred line with ease, shooting out on exit due to the instantly available power.

On the way back, with the effort dial cranked up, things were different. Understeer reared its head, at some points making turn-in difficult and slowing me down something fierce. The down-mountain route required more of the brakes, and they got a tad mushy at times. The tires also lost a little grip under heavy braking at one point. Oh, and all that hard driving predictably sapped battery range quickly.

I quickly found the ID.4 to be one of those vehicles that’s pleasantly engaging during spirited driving, but only up to a point. Past that point, it’s more stress and mess than fun.

2021 Volkswagen ID.4 AWD

Which, to be fair, is fine. The ID.4 isn’t meant to be a performance EV, unlike Ford’s Mustang Mach-E. Think of it as a family-oriented crossover with some sportiness and you’ll keep your expectations in line with its abilities.

Indeed, during gentle urban and suburban driving, the ID.4 acquitted itself nicely, especially when I took it out of the more high-strung Sport mode and dropped it into Comfort. The ride is a nice balance of stiff and smooth, with little to object to. A short freeway stint was nice and relaxed.

The all-wheel-drive car has the same suspension: Front strut-type with lower control arms, telescopic dampers, coil springs, and an anti-roll bar; and a multi-link rear with coil springs, telescopic dampers, and an anti-roll bar. The ride height is raised by 0.6 inches and the springs and dampers are firmer while the anti-roll bars are thicker than on the FWD car. Like with the FWD ID.4, some suspension bits are aluminum in order to keep weight down.

2021 Volkswagen ID.4 AWD

Inside, VW has bestowed the car with a lot of haptic-touch controls and focused the cabin around the infotainment screen. The infotainment system here worked fine, though there was occasional lag when switching menus, but other controls annoyed me. The haptic-touch controls on the steering wheel and under the infotainment screen worked well, but I had trouble with the mirror and window controls on the door – they just aren’t intuitive. To be fair, owners will likely get used to the setup.

Then again, owners won’t get locked in the back seat while shooting pics because they first turned on the child lock, then somehow still managed to lock the door after turning that off. Nor would they find themselves locked out of the front seat after managing to unlock the rear door, because now the front door was locked. This happened with the key in the vehicle and caused me some consternation.

The shifter also confused me – I nearly drove forward into a general store at our break stop instead of backing out of the parking spot because to me, flicking up for drive and down for reverse on the shifter (located on the side of the steering column) made more sense. Luckily, I caught myself in time. It’s one thing to stuff a test car down a mountainside – imagine the shame if I’d tagged a building at 1.5 mph. I had no issue with it the last time I drove an ID.4, but I suspect it is still novel enough that I am not used to it.

2021 Volkswagen ID.4 AWD

Perhaps the biggest beef I had with the cabin was the lack of radio and tuning knobs. Haptic touch is one thing, going knobless in the face of overwhelming evidence that it’s a bad idea is another.

The voice-recognition system seemed to work well early but later wouldn’t turn on when I said the magic words. I did dig the dashboard light that activates when you’re using the factory nav and approaching a turn – it’s useful. Also useful is the easy-to-read digital gauge screen.

I found the front seat roomy enough, and it wasn’t hard to get the driving position right. Rear-seat space was acceptable for my large frame, and the cargo area seems able to swallow groceries well enough. It’s listed at 30.3 cubic feet with the rear seats up. The seats were comfortable throughout my drive, and cabin materials seemed class-appropriate, if not remarkably nice.

2021 Volkswagen ID.4 AWD

The cabin is quiet, keeping outside noises out. Of course, there’s no exhaust note to contend with – just a whoosh and whir that you hear when you dig into the throttle. Tire noise was unremarkable.

Standard features available at the $43,675 base price include LED lighting all around, 19-inch wheels, keyless entry and starting, rain-sensing wipers, automatic headlights, heated steering wheel, cloth seats, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, voice-activated assistant, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, wireless phone charging, IQ.DRIVE suite of driver-aid systems, trailer-hitch, and road-sign display.

Opt for the Pro S that I drove ($48,175) and you add LED adaptive projector headlamps, a light bar for the VW logo/grille, fixed-glass panoramic roof, power-fold side mirrors, a hands-free power liftgate, leatherette seats, and ambient lighting.

A Gradient Package adds $1,500 and 20-inch wheels, a black roof with silver roof rails and accents, and silver accents for both bumpers. Destination is $1,195. Volkswagen will also remind you, repeatedly, that the ID.4 qualifies for the $7,500 federal tax credit.

2021 Volkswagen ID.4 AWD

The AWD ID.4 is much like the rear-drive ID.4 – a well-rounded EV package for the commuter and/or family set, with a pinch of sport thrown in. Along with edgy design for the sake of it, ergonomics be damned. It’s just that this version is quicker and costs more, with a slight range penalty.

If the rear-drive ID.4 tickled your fancy but you yearned for more power, you’ve got your wish, provided you’ll spend a little more cheddar (about $4K more) for it.

It’s not a luxury EV crossover like the Tesla Model Y. It’s not a performer like the Mach-E. The ID.4 is instead a competent, if ergonomically flawed, package for the EV buyer who is looking for a mainstream ride with a side of sport. If you can get past the quirks, you’ll find that it, well, works.

[Images © 2021 Tim Healey/TTAC]





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