Volkswagen considered the launch of the ID.3 hatchback as pivotally important - the third pillar (hence 3) of its people's car history after the Beetle and the Golf, no less. And while the new ID.4 is a long way from the fourth incarnation - because it's exactly the car you'd likely expect it to be - that shouldn't diminish the car's role in VW future.
Because, really, what could be more 2021 than an electric compact SUV from a premium manufacturer, delivered carbon neutral to its customer for less than £40k? VW is banking on the ID.4's popularity, too, launching the car as its first global EV, to be produced in five factories across the world and become a significant part of its plan to deliver 1.5 million electric cars annually by 2025. Better be good, then...
To look at, it would be easy to believe that the ID.3 followed the 4 rather than the other way around. The SUV seems a more cohesive, more desirable piece of design, being slightly less gawky and better proportioned. With both underpinned by VW's MEB architecture, the ID.3 and ID.4 actually share a wheelbase, the latter's more commodious interior (including a 543-litre boot) coming thanks to an increase in length. Similarly, though a lot of the interior is shared, the ID.4 feels just a tad nicer to be in; perhaps it was the respective specifications of each. But while there are one or two more scratchier surfaces than would be expected in a VW of this money, 4 does seem a mild improvement on 3. The plethora of storage spaces, cup holders and charge points, along with the pleasing sense of space and light, is retained. Unfortunately, the haptic steering wheel controls and central touchscreen are still here, too, neither of which are as intuitive as they should be.
The first ID.4s in the UK are, appropriately enough, 1st Editions, with a 77kWh battery, 204hp and a WLTP range of 310 miles, and 125Kw charging possible; slightly less impressive is a claimed 2,049kg kerbweight without the driver aboard. Models with more power and less power, plus four-wheel drive, twin-motor cars, are expected in time. For now, that power output gets you to 62mph in 8.5 seconds and onto a 99mph maximum.
VW says that the ID.4 is engineered "to be nimble in the city, agile on country roads, and relaxed on the motorway." Around town it is, by and large, an absolute dream, spry and agile in a way something weighing two tonnes could never normally be. It's just so easy: the steering is super responsive without being flighty, there's ample performance through a nicely calibrated throttle pedal and once at a stop, a firm brake press is all that's needed to remain stationary. When the traffic moves again, just hit the gas and away the ID.4 goes. When so much of urban driving is so stressful, this sort of silence and seamlessness should not be underrated.
But it isn't perfect. The drive selector dial (another of the less brilliant bits of plastic) now features a 'B' setting alongside 'D' that introduces some regenerative braking. Which is great, because the brakes don't deliver a terrific amount of feel and it should make town driving even easier. However, because the regen only ever provides up to 0.25g of braking force, the one pedal driving that makes some BEVs so enjoyable isn't really possible here unless you're especially good at reading the road. The logic for not doing any more than that makes sense - it only drags the rear brakes, and so it wouldn't be sensible to have much more braking being done - though it still feels like a missed opportunity. On the 1st Edition's 20-inch wheels, moreover, the ride isn't the most soothing; that the range will start with 18s implies that something smaller might offer a better compromise. Wheel control remains good, but as the driver you're never in any doubt that quite a lot of unsprung mass is being managed.
With more demanding dynamic tests than mini roundabouts, the ID.4 impresses. Naturally, it's in much the same way that the ID.3 does - feeling neutral, willing to change direction and with good composure - but the fact it's retained those characteristics with additional weight deserves recognition. Truth told the speed that can be carried through bends and the traction available on the way out is more than most customers are ever going to need; this Launch Edition could well have been four-wheel drive for the abundance of purchase on offer. Only very occasionally does the traction control light flicker if you're especially greedy at low speed with some lock on. For the most part it's job jobbed.
Where perhaps there's some additional equivocation is around the ID.4's performance. Because while 0-62mph in 8.5 seconds looks passable enough, that says as much about EV immediacy of the line than true performance; on the road, once the initial surge at urban speeds has subsided, the ID.4 just doesn't feel very quick. Perhaps it doesn't need to, though on this experience it would be hard to recommend any of the less powerful models that will follow. With a family and their clutter onboard, this could well be a two-and-a-quarter-tonne car, and there's only so far that immediate torque will get you if there isn't much of it.
As for motorway driving, the ID.4 is almost as composed (which is to say very) as the ID.3, drag co-efficient of 0.28Cd keeping wind noise to a minimum and stability good, if perhaps more susceptible to sidewinds. As is the way with battery electric vehicles, range suffers at a constant speed, though a real world range of 230 miles (our car averaged 2.7 miles per kWh in mixed driving) is about par for the course. This is cheaper than a Mach-E Mustang, don't forget.
And that's the key to the ID.4, as it was with the ID.3. This isn't out to reinvent the sector like a Lotus Evija or a Citroen Ami; VW is happy to leave the wild and wacky stuff to others. Instead, it's just an SUV, one with a few novel touches and a fair bit of style, the kind of car that so many customers are desperate to get their hands on right now - albeit one powered by a battery. Beyond the usual EV constraints, it doesn't impose any further restrictions on usage than any other rival, to the extent that it's easy to imagine buyers comparing the ID.4 to combustion-engined alternatives. Those reservations will continue to linger about interior quality and outright performance, but this really is just the start of VW's grand electrification plan. With cars like the ID.3 and 4, it's off to modest and unassuming - yet quietly impressive - start.
SPECIFICATION | VW ID.4 1ST EDITION
Engine: Electric motor powered by 77kWh battery
Transmission: Direct drive single speed gearbox, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 204
Torque (lb ft): 229
0-62mph: 8.5 seconds
Top speed: 99mph
CO2: 0g/km (driving)
MPG: 3.8 miles/kWh (310 miles WLTP)
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