Volkswagen id.4 2021, Volkswagen 2020

2021 Volkswagen ID.4 review: Prototype test

International first drive

This is it, VW's first all-electric SUV. It'll be here next year, but should you want one? Signs point to yes, but price remains a question.
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UPDATE, September 24: The 2021 Volkswagen ID.4 has now been properly unveiled. See our detailed story here.

“Never before has an electric vehicle been conceived with such a global outlook.”

Ralf Brandstätter, the newly elected Volkswagen CEO, is talking up the new 2021 Volkswagen ID.4 ahead of our first drive of a near-to-production-ready prototype of the new electric-powered SUV.

The second model from Volkswagen’s electric-only ID sub-brand is positioned in the fastest-growing market segment in the world right now. It is planned to be built in no less than five different factories on three different continents, starting at its recently refitted Zwickau plant in Germany, from which right-hand-drive models will begin rolling early next year.

“The ID.4 will have a big impact in each of our three most important markets – Europe, China and North America,” says Brandstätter, adding, “We see it very much as a mainstream model with the potential for significant volumes.”

But as well as being key to Volkswagen’s stated aim to sell up to 1.5 million electric vehicles annually by 2025, the ID.4 plays a central role in the plans of its sister brands, too, forming the basis of the upcoming Audi Q4, Cupra Tavascan and Skoda Enyaq.

Like the smaller ID.3, it is based on Volkswagen’s skateboard-style MEB electric car platform, and will be sold with a range of drivelines in a combination of both rear- and four-wheel-drive guises, along with the choice of two different-sized batteries.

Included are four initial rear-wheel-drive models with either a 109kW, 125kW, 129kW or 150kW rear-mounted electric motor. The former two come with a 52kWh battery, while the latter two run a larger 77kWh battery, giving prospective owners a wide choice of configurations.

Also set to be added to the ID.4 line-up in 2021 are two four-wheel-drive models, both of which use the larger 77kWh battery in combination with two electric motors, a smaller unit mounted up front and a main unit at the rear, developing a combined 195kW or, in a yet to be officially confirmed GTX badged range-topping performance model, a headlining 225kW.

Volkswagen says the 77kWh battery boasts a range of up to 520km (323 miles) on the WLTP test cycle. This compares to the 485km quoted by Hyundai for the latest evolution of the Kona Electric equipped with a 64kWh battery and the claimed 541km range of the Tesla Model Y, which uses a 62kWh battery.

Although the prototype we’re in carries light disguise around its headlamps and various parts of its body, the ID.4 clearly holds true to the form and detailing established with the early ID.Crozz concept first wheeled out at the 2017 Shanghai motor show.

It’s contemporary-looking with heavy crossover tones and unmistakable electric vehicle proportions that clearly set it apart visually from the Tiguan.

Key elements include a full-width light graphic running between the angular headlamps up front, short and heavily structured bonnet, deep doors with new-look fixed door handles featuring electric mechanisms, and a sloping rear window.

With a drag co-efficient of 0.26, it is also among the most aerodynamic SUVs on the market today. That's thanks in part to a substantial shroud around the rear window that helps to lengthen the roof line and smooth airflow towards the rear, as well as what Volkswagen describes as aerodynamically optimised wheels, which come as an option.

At 4584mm in length, 1852mm in width and 1612mm in height, the ID.4 is 73mm longer, 13mm wider and 63mm lower than the recently facelifted second-generation Tiguan. But Volkswagen’s second dedicated electric model sits on a 2766mm wheelbase, which is 85mm longer than that of its popular compact combustion-engine SUV stablemate.

It also rolls on wheels ranging from a standard 18 inches through to an optional 21 inches.

Volkswagen is offering two charging options with the ID.4. Lower-end versions with the 52kWh battery are able to be charged at up to 100kW, while upper-end models with the 77kWh battery can handle charging at up to 125kW.

As a guide, Volkswagen says 30 minutes of charging provides up to 320km in range on the more powerful system. In most cases, you’ll have to pay for the privilege, though. The base model, meanwhile, supports 50kW charging as standard.

The driver’s door opens wide. You step up into the ID.4 over a rather high sill, painted in body colour. The seating position is elevated but not excessively so, while the floor is completely flat up front without any defined footwells owing to the packaging of the battery within the floorpan.

The multi-layer dashboard, featuring similar styling but noticeably higher-quality materials than those of the ID.3, houses two displays: a 5.3-inch digital instrument panel and a 10.0-inch centrally mounted infotainment screen as standard. However, the prototype we’re in receives an optional 12.0-inch display in combination with an optional augmented reality head-up display unit.

The standard vegan leather-bound steering wheel, with touch-sensitive controls on each of its horizontal spokes, adjusts quite generously for both rake and reach.

The front seats are softly cushioned and offer adequate if not outstanding support. They’re upholstered as standard in a recycled nylon material, and come with the same optional armrests as those offered by the ID.3.

Volkswagen likes to describe the cabin as an “open space architecture”. It is certainly roomy, with greater rear-seat leg room than you’ll find in a standard-wheelbase Tiguan, and excellent versatility thanks to typical features such as a 40:20:40 split-fold rear seat.

The boot, while boasting a fairly high loading lip, is also quite generous on space.

Volkswagen says the early build prototype is not quite representative of the production version, but by the look of its excellent panel fit and well-built interior, it’s very close on quality and general finish to what we can expect to see when UK deliveries get underway before the end of the year.

Hit the starter button hidden on the steering column trim – at which a chime signals the electric powertrain is primed – then twist the gear selector mounted on the end of the instrument panel. One notch forward gets you the standard drive mode, while two notches selects the battery mode, at which point stronger brake energy regeneration is triggered for added energy harvesting when you lift off the throttle and under braking. It’s the same controller used by the ID.3, proving simple and straightforward from the outset.

Further drive modes – Eco, Comfort, Sport and Individual – alter the characteristics of the steering, throttle, powertrain and adaptive damping.

We’re driving the most powerful of the rear-wheel-drive ID.4 models here. With 310Nm of torque on tap from the very moment you nudge the throttle, it is brilliantly responsive. It has instant performance – the kind that is sufficiently strong to whip you up to posted urban limits with all but a fleeting application of the right foot in each of its three driving modes – and excellent traction.

Once you’ve got the ID.3 rolling along, it gathers speed in quite a determined fashion on an open throttle. To be honest, it’s probably more spirited than it really needs to be. That said, the strong initial performance does begin to fade once you’ve hit typical motorway cruising speeds and aerodynamic drag increases.

Volkswagen is yet to reveal any official performance figures, though it does say the top speed of initial rear-wheel-drive ID.4 models will be limited to 160km/h.

In standard drive mode, it coasts with a very faint hint of brake regeneration when you lift off the throttle. When you call up battery mode, it delivers quite strong regenerative properties. So much so that you quickly learn there’s little need to operate the brake pedal yourself except when coming to a complete stop.

Beyond the acoustic pedestrian warning, which switches off at just over 19km/h, the ID.4’s powertrain is virtually silent in operation. There’s a very faint hint of electric motor whine as you accelerate away, but little else to complain about. More noticeable is the tyre roar from the optional 235/45 R21 and 255/40 R21 Bridgestone Turanzas on less than smooth road surfaces.

Because it is otherwise so quiet, you’re also aware of quite a lot of wind buffeting around the large door-mounted mirrors at typical motorway cruising speeds.

Dynamically, there’s quite a lot to like here. The steering is nicely weighted and well geared, providing a direct but not overly urgent action fully befitting the ID.4’s mass-market ambitions.

With the front wheels free of any driving forces, the electromechanical system delivers a surprising amount of road feel that instils the driver with confidence right from the outset. It’s also exceptionally well damped. Very little road shock is transmitted back through the rack, even on badly pitted roads.

With the electric motor confined to the rear, the front wheels have lots of room to turn. The resulting 10.2m turning circle, which is comparable to that of the significantly smaller T-Cross, gives the new Volkswagen outstanding manoeuvrability and agility.

With the battery mounted down low, the ID.4 benefits from a much lower centre of gravity than typical combustion engine SUVs of similar dimensions. The chassis, featuring MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link arrangement at the rear, is similar in design to that of the ID.3, and comes with optional adaptive damping control.

There’s a measured rear-wheel-drive fluency to the handling, which is characterised by excellent lateral body control, strong grip and excellent traction in sport mode.

Despite the low-profile tyres and large rims worn by the prototype we drove, the ride also proved surprisingly compliant when you switch into comfort, with good bump absorption and nicely controlled rebound qualities.

You can’t buy the ID.4 just yet. But if you’re considering an electric vehicle for everyday use, it should definitely be on your shopping list. For all the inherent complexity of its electric powertrain, it is a car you quickly adapt to and appreciate, both for its responsiveness and agility whether in an urban environment or out on the open road.

Further appeal comes through its clever interior, impressive quality, versatile nature, feeling of deep-seated engineering integrity and, with the 77kWh battery of the prototype, ample range. For those keen on towing, Volkswagen’s also got you covered – the ID.4 comes with an optional tow ball that provides it with a towing capacity of up to 1900kg.

If Volkswagen prices it right – and with a starting price of €37,000 in Germany indicating the ID.4 will land here at around $70,000 – it promises to leave quite a mark, not only on its electric vehicle rivals, but also the compact-SUV class as a whole.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Volkswagen has previously indicated it is hopeful of a sub-$50,000 starting point for the ID.4 in Australia, but it remains to be seen if the company can achieve such a low price point for an electric model of this size and driving range. Read out about here.

UPDATE, September 24: The 2021 Volkswagen ID.4 has now been properly unveiled. See our detailed story here.