2021 Volkswagen ID4 AWD: Here's why the electric vehicle belongs on America's shopping list

The powerful and affordable 2021 Volkswagen ID4 AWD has the price, performance and features to be an inflection point as mainstream drivers in America decide whether an electric vehicle is right for them.

I spent a day driving the 295-horsepower compact SUV in the hills west of the $4.3 billion assembly complex in Chattanooga, Tennessee, that’s adding the ID4 to the Passat sedan and Atlas and Atlas Cross midsize SUVs it already builds.

Prices for the ID4 AWD will start at $43,675 when U.S. sales begin later this month. The 201-hp rear-drive ID4 that went on sale earlier this year starts at $39,995. Neither of those prices include federal tax credits of $7,500, or local tax credits that can lower the vehicles’ cost further. They also exclude a $1,195 destination charge every customer will pay, but that’s another story.

The ID4’s price and profile put it squarely in the middle of the U.S. market. It’s a compact SUV priced to compete with best sellers like the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V and Nissan Rogue.

You may have noticed I didn’t mention high-profile electric SUVs like the Ford Mustang Mach-E or Tesla Y. That’s because they’re not the competition. If EVs succeed – and they almost certainly will – it won’t be by fighting each other for the 2%-3% of sales EVs currently account for.

2021 Volkswagen ID4 AWD: Here's why the electric vehicle belongs on America’s shopping list

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It’ll be because people decided they’d rather have an electric ID4, Mach-E, Y or Cadillac Lyric than a gasoline-powered SUV. Other EVs aren’t competition. They’re company.

In that context, the ID4 AWD fills an important niche. It’s priced in the heart of the compact SUV market. It’s way more fun to drive than the aforementioned RAV/CR-V/Rogue cabal. It’s comfortably anonymous — you’ll find it in the parking lot, but it doesn’t scream for attention like the upcoming $79,995 Hummer EV pickup.

2021 Volkswagen ID4 AWD: Here's why the electric vehicle belongs on America’s shopping list

Driving impressions

The base rear-drive ID4 is a perfectly serviceable vehicle, but it lacks the pizzazz a newcomer needs to get attention.

The AWD corrects that. Its 295 hp and 339 pound-feet of torque deliver strong, easy acceleration. The fact that most EVs will be better balanced than vehicles with internal combustion engines (ICE) – most of their weight is midcar, fore and aft, and low in the chassis – lends itself to stability and good roadholding. The steering is direct and responsive.

2021 Volkswagen ID4 AWD: Here's why the electric vehicle belongs on America’s shopping list

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Quick aside: Many EVs will have RWD base models. Don’t be concerned if you live in the frost belt. Electronic traction controls, EV’s unique weight distribution and other factors will keep your wheels from spinning fruitlessly the first chilly day. EVs, particularly electric ones, promise to be very manageable in low-traction conditions. They should also be water-resistant, in fact, more than some ICE vehicles.

The ID4 is roomier than you’d expect. There’s no transmission tunnel because there’s no need for a drive shaft to connect the independent electric motors to the front and rear axles.

The ID4 AWD should have an EPA rating of about 249 miles on a charge, according to VW. The rear-drive model is rated at 260 miles.

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Controls and over-the-air updates

The controls are a bit idiosyncratic — there’s no start button; enter the car with its key, fob, tap the brake pedal and all systems are go.

2021 Volkswagen ID4 AWD: Here's why the electric vehicle belongs on America’s shopping list

Despite their newness, most of the controls, I found, are easy to use. The ID4 has very few dials or buttons. That leads to a clean appearance, but a few overreaches. How much is the ownership experience improved by the fact that the driver has two, not four toggles to raise and lower windows? (A separate touch point on the driver’s door changes the switches’ purpose from front to rear windows. Somebody used time figuring that out that could have been spent playing with their kids or knitting a sweater.)

The drivetrain has a setting that increases regenerative braking when the driver lifts their foot off the accelerator. That feature provides considerably less deceleration than the “one-pedal driving” setting the Mach-E and many other EVs offer.

The ID4 is already getting over-the-air updates to improve features. Adding one-pedal driving will be among them, unless I’m alone in wanting the feature.

2021 Volkswagen ID4 AWD: Here's why the electric vehicle belongs on America’s shopping list

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The ID4 was developed to beat the anodyne compact SUVs that are among America’s top sellers at their own, unobtrusive game, with the added benefits of lower energy costs, at-home charging and reduced emissions. The AWD model adds power and fun to that equation. It belongs on America’s shopping list.

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