Volkswagen invited us down to Chattanooga, Tennessee, for a brief drive of an ID.4 electric crossover prototype alongside a Mazda CX-5 AWD. Since we made the trip from our Kentucky base to VW’s United States headquarters in a VW Tiguan SE-L Premium R-Line 4Motion, we had a representative trio for our brief comparison test.
In April this year, the CX-5 and Tiguan finished first and second, respectively, in our six-way compact crossover comparo. Since the ID.4’s debut a week ago, VW has stressed its desire for the ID.4 to be seen as a competitor for combustion-engine offerings as well as electric challengers such as the Tesla Model Y, Ford Mustang Mach-E, and Hyundai Kona Electric. That gives the electric German quite the task—convincing shoppers to step away from the security of the familiar while overcoming the lure of Japanese juggernauts like the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V.
The ID.4’s looks arguably straddle a middle ground, more exotic than the ICE competition but less racy than the Mach-E and Model Y, which have steeply raked coupe rooflines. The ID.4’s roof sits 1.9 inches lower than a Tiguan, but its 8.2 inches of ground clearance (for the European model) is 0.3 inches more than the Tiguan offers, ensuring it skews more crossover than wagon. The VW’s rear bumper blends some unexpected lines and textures, but overall it presents a fulsome, handsome form. If someone replaced the VW badges with those from Citroen’s DS luxury line, we wouldn’t have known better.
The shape moves through the air cleanly enough, VW citing a coefficient of drag of 0.28, matching the Audi e-tron. The Tesla Model Y comes in at a claimed 0.23, while Ford has only committed to a figure “below 0.30” for the Mach-E.
Since we were driving a prototype, we can’t deliver final judgment on issues such as noise, vibration, and harshness, which are still undergoing tuning and where there’s clearly work to be done. Every ID.4 comes with keyless access, the crossover powered up and primed to go as soon as the driver takes his seat and presses the brake pedal. At that point, the EV is silent. Get moving, and the ear detects the Jetsons-like whir common to every EV, but the motor also emits a subtle, high-pitched whine as it spools up to its 16,000-rpm peak. We could hear the whine inside the cabin and, rolling down the windows at low speeds, confirm that it could be also heard outside the car.
The prototype rode on European-spec all-season Pirelli P Zeros that created a mild resonant thrum on all but the most polished road surfaces. U.S. models will get a selection of Hankook, Pirelli, or Bridgestone all-season rubber, depending on tire size. Aerodynamic sleight of hand keeps wind noise on par for the segment, the turbulence no worse at 65 mph than it was at 35.
When we had a chance for spirited runs on a 30-mile suburban loop, we discovered a squishy brake pedal with long travel. Volkswagen fits drums on the ID.4’s rear axle, same as on the ID.3. VW says an EV’s typical duty cycle includes so much regenerative braking that “disc brakes on the rear can be less effective than drums after long periods of not being put to heavy use.” That sounds to us like a cost-saving measure wrapped in a performance justification. Even the Chevrolet Bolt uses four-wheel disc brakes, and that car can be stopped using Fred Flintstone’s best-foot-forward technique. We preferred the ID.4’s B mode, which increases brake energy recuperation to make driving mostly a one-pedal operation.
All of those issues, except the drum brakes, can be tuned to satisfaction with some more attention from the engineers.
In the solid win column, the ID.4 was clearly the best handling machine in our trio. A healthy portion of the ID.4’s advantage came from being the only rear-wheel driver of the bunch. VW likes to pepper GTI references into conversations about the ID.4’s handling. That’s a bit optimistic, but only a bit. In our April crossover test, we said, “The Tiguan feels like a GTI for responsible adults,” minus some agility and road hugging. The ID.4 feels like a GTI for electric crossover buyers, offering the same playfulness that distinguishes the Tiguan.
The e-motor’s maximum output of 228 pound-feet of torque isn’t generous for a vehicle weighing a claimed 4559 pounds in base Pro trim, but the instant application of every pound-foot delivered a little snap of the head with each stab on the throttle. Volkswagen hasn’t yet pegged a zero-to-60-mph time, only saying it’s less than 7.8 seconds, which sounds consistent with the rated 201 horsepower. Steering is sharp, the crossover’s stubby nose easy to place on a chosen line. And the ID.4’s 33.6-foot turning circle is 1.8 feet smaller than the Chevrolet Bolt’s.
Damping and body control are excellent, with body roll checked by a 24-mm anti-roll bar in front and a 22.5-mm bar out back. It took more work in the ID.4 than the CX-5 or Tiguan to get the tires to beg for mercy, and there’s a small window for using the throttle to place the rear wheels. Once you’ve overcooked 4,600 pounds of RWD compact crossover into an acute corner, though, there are no heroics to attempt. It’s time to get hard on the brakes.
We’ll need to wait for a real drive time in a retail model to render a final verdict. But the ID.4 prototype wasn’t far from delivering the pleasant EV ambience we’d expect, and it already stands out thanks to its style. Unlike the coupe-roofed competition, it hasn’t sacrificed roominess or utility for looks. Dynamically, the little crossover already delivers, a chunky pup game to get friskier than almost any of its buyers will ever demand. The AWD model promises to be even better, especially if VW programs some spirited torque shuffling between the front and rear motors.
Already priced below the Mach-E and Model Y before federal and state discounts, buyers who apply the full $7,500 federal tax credit can pocket healthy savings by choosing the VW over the Ford or Tesla. Even after the federal credit, though, the ID.4 charges a notable premium over status-quo models like the CR-V and CX-5. We’re skeptical that VW’s EV will siphon off a substantial number of traditional compact crossover buyers, but the ID.4 is a big move in the right direction.
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