SAN DIEGO — The era of the no-compromise electric car is here. We’re spoiled for choice thanks to new, more affordable EVs from Ford, BMW, Hyundai, and Volkswagen — with more yet to come.
They’re reasonably priced, especially with available federal and state tax credits. They have decent range and charge quickly at DC fast chargers, and they can easily be used as everyday vehicles without any meaningful sacrifice.
This brings us to my test car this week: the oddly-named and curiously designed Volkswagen ID.4.
Volkswagen says the ID stands for “intelligent design, identity and visionary technologies,” and 4 represents the compact SUV segment. There’s an ID.3 compact electric car that’s not available in the US and a larger ID.5 that’s coming later.
So the name sounds like it was cooked up in a marketing brainstorming session and doesn’t exactly instill feeling in the buyer. The Beetle it isn’t.
But Volkswagen has always been a little different in design, and the ID.4 is the same. Time and again, when I was testing the car, I ran into design decisions that were just strange.
Here’s an example: Most cars with four doors also have four windows that can go up and down. And on the driver’s door panel, there are typically four switches to make those windows go up and down. You know, one button for each window.
But Volkswagen’s designers said nah, we don’t need that. Let’s have two switches, one each for left and right. And then, we’ll add a touch-sensitive toggle button that can adjust whether you’re controlling the front or rear windows. That’ll be neat and innovative!
So, instead of just pressing the switch to roll down the rear window, you have to first figure out whether the light marked “Rear” is illuminated or not. Then, if it isn’t, you have to tap it (it’s not actually a button, it’s a touch-sensitive toggle) and then roll down the rear window with the button.
So if you want to roll down all the windows, you have to press both switches down to get the fronts, tap “Rear,” and press both switches down again. It’s exciting and different for about four seconds, and then you realize that, no, it’s just bad design.
Then there are the climate and radio volume controls, which use capacitive-touch sensors located just below the big center infotainment screen. Again you have to look away from the road to use them, and there’s no meaningful feedback when you’re tapping away to raise or lower the preferred temperature settings.
And, of course, there’s no volume knob which is the worst design decision possible for a vehicle interior. Instead, you get a swipe/tap situation to change the volume. At least there are volume up/down buttons on the steering wheel.
Finally, we have the odd drive mode selector. Instead of a spinning knob like Ford uses or a wacky double-tap joystick like Volvo has, VW has a knob protruding from the steering wheel. Spin it forward for drive, backward for reverse, or push a button on the end for park.
I actually really like it, and I think it’s the best of the newfangled transmission control setups I’ve tested. Hyundai uses a similar format in the upcoming Ioniq 5, so maybe this one has some legs. It saves room between the seats for cupholders and phone chargers but is still intuitive and easy to use.
Another nice thing about the ID.4 is that you don’t need to turn it on and off. There’s a start/stop button, but I never touched it once. Instead, you get in the car, put your foot on the brake, and it turns on. Flip the knob to drive, and away you go. When you’re done, press the park button, get out and lock the doors. There is no step three. It’s just like a Tesla, and you’d be amazed at how quickly you adjust to not turning your car on and off.
But other than these weird design choices, the ID.4 is excellent. The 82 kWh battery pack promises around 250 miles of total range and is capable of 125 kW DC fast charging, returning a 5-80 percent charge time of 38 minutes at a properly-equipped charger.
Volkswagen is throwing in three years of unlimited charging at Electrify America charging stations (which it owns) with every ID.4, which is a nice bonus.
It’s comfortable and attractive, with a modern but not too weird design. At the moment, it is rear-drive only, but a dual-motor all-wheel-drive version is coming down the road. Eventually, it’ll be built at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, Tennessee facility, but American ID.4 cars are made in Germany for now.
My ID.4 1st Edition launch car was spec’d at $45,190, which drops down to $37,690 after a $7,500 tax credit and puts this close to the ballpark of comparable SUVs like the Toyota RAV4 in price.
If you’ve been on the fence about electric cars, this new crop of EVs are terrific and essentially compromise-free. The hardest part is picking which one to buy.