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posted on 2020-10-05 17:51:00 .
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In late September, Volkswagen unveiled a new crossover called the ID.4. It’s one of a number of new battery electric vehicles that the automaker has in the works, and the first destined for this side of the Atlantic. Although the order books are now open, the ID.4 is still finishing its final stage of development, and customer cars won’t start arriving on boats until next year. But in advance of that, last week VW let Ars have a quick go in an early pre-production prototype.
It was a much more low-key experience than my last time driving one of VW’s electric prototypes. Then, it was the ID Buggy and an original Manx buggy on a sunny day at Pebble Beach. The bright green prototype had an electronic speed limiter but would breach 25mph while coasting down a slight grade, and we even had a photographer in a chase vehicle to record the event.
This time, I met up with VW at an Electrify America charging station a couple of miles from Dulles International Airport in Virginia. Instead of bright sunshine, there were gray skies and the occasional half-hearted drop of rain. There was no vintage car for comparison, and no chase vehicle. In fact, there was no photo shoot at all—VW asked us to keep it to interior pics only. But there was also no chaperone, just a request to be back within 45 minutes.
Oh, and one last reminder that this was not a final production ID.4, meaning some features might not be implemented yet. Here are the things I noticed not working: the retractable sunshade for the panoramic roof, and any indication of how many kilowatt-hours were being consumed per unit of distance. Therefore, I’ll discuss those two aspects of the ID.4 no further.
What I learned in 45 minutes
I can discuss what it’s like to drive, however. The driving position affords a good view of the road, and neither the A pillar nor driver’s side mirror create a big blindspot. The steering wheel adjusts for reach and rake, and the 5.3-inch main instrument display and its twistable drive selector move with it. The multifunction steering wheel’s buttons are easy to use and provide a positive haptic buzz when you press one, and the layout will be familiar to anyone with experience of a recent VW. The voice commands weren’t quite as full-featured as Google Assistant in the new Polestar 2 but were still actually quite useful.
Selecting forward, reverse, or park will be familiar to anyone with experience of a BMW i3. Twist it away from you for D, or once more for B, which amps up the regenerative braking for a much stronger one-pedal driving effect. Twist it toward you for reverse, or push the button on the end to engage Park.
The prototype we drove was fitted with the larger of the two infotainment screens. The UI is intuitive, and there’s a degree of customization when it comes to color schemes. On its left-most edge are some controls that are always in the same place—the seat heaters and a home button, and below the screen are physical controls for the left- and right-side climate settings and volume, and below that, the hazard lights and a few other important functions. They are easy to reach from the driver’s seat, as were the air vents, the cupholders, and the storage cubby between the seats (which is where you find the wireless charging pad for your phone.)
I don’t know that what I saw will be the final look for the main instrument panel. It’s about as minimalist as the one in the Ford Mustang Mach-E, although it’s configurable with either two or three panes. One of these shows your speed, a graphical representation of the battery’s state of charge, a range estimate, and a bar graph that shows energy being deployed or regenerated. To the right is a pane for navigation directions. To the left is another pane that lets you know when advanced driver assists like lane keeping or adaptive cruise are active. Curiously, there is no icon or glyph to indicate the set speed for cruise control—whether that is representative of the final car or not, I don’t know.
The driver assists themselves functioned well, and the interval between taking your hands off the steering wheel—which senses their presence through capacitive sensors—and the first admonishment to return them to the rim is closer to two minutes than it is 15 seconds.
It has a turning circle to rival a London Taxi
With only 45 minutes on offer, I chose to spend most of my time doing all the driving myself. The ID.4 has three different preset modes: Eco, Comfort, and Sport, with an Individual setting that lets you mix and match. Eco is the least peppy of these, remapping the accelerator pedal and limiting power, but it’s still entirely adequate for traffic speeds in fast-paced Northern Virginia. Sport is noticeably quicker and is the setting you should pick if you enjoy those brief surges of electric motor-induced adrenalin.
There’s too much body roll, and the seats have too little lateral bolstering to throw it around a corner like a GTI. However, the ID.4 does have an extremely small turning circle, which should prove far more useful to its intended audience. And it seems there is an audience out there. Less than a minute after pulling out of the charging station, an excited driver in traffic next to me gestured for me to lower my window, full of questions.
Listing image by Jonathan Gitlin
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