2021 Volkswagen ID.4 Pro S with Gradient

A Complicated History Leads to a Complicated Car

There’s no doubt that the automobile has a long, storied history, but perhaps more notable than most is Volkswagen’s.

At the turn of the 20th century, the idea of producing a mass market automobile began floating in the literature of German journals. It wasn’t until 1934 that German car makers attempted to build a true “people’s car” to compete with the likes of the Ford Model T that had set the standard of affordability just years prior. Unfortunately, their attempts proved futile for the people were plagued with circumstances that made purchasing a car unfavorable–such as Germany’s high vehicle taxes and the public’s low income–leading most consumers in the transportation market to purchase for themselves an affordable motorcycle instead.

Competing with the Ford Model T.

Then in 1937, a more prominent German effort to accomplish this goal came about. On May 28th of that year, under the directive of Adolf Hitler, his Nazi party, and the German Labor Front, a new state-owned car maker was established–Gesellschaft zur Vorbereitung des Deutschen Volkswagens mbH. Within a year, it was renamed Volkswagenwerk GmbH, which when translated to English simply means, “The People’s Car Company.”

Volkswagen went on to become one of his most fruitful pet projects. Setting up shop in Wolfsburg, it was tasked with one goal in mind–to develop and mass produce an affordable, yet quick car that could be purchased for less than 1000 Reichsmarks (equivalent to about $400 at the time–for comparison, the average car would leave at least a $1,200 dent in one’s wallet). After all, the newly-built road network needed a traveling populace to make use of its construction.

To lead the engineering effort Hitler called in Ferdinand Porsche, a renowned car designer and racing engineer, who had left the Daimler group almost a decade prior and set up his own consultancy in Stuttgart. After working on multiple prototypes for Volkswagen, the KdF-wagen (or “Strength through Joy”) car debuted in a propaganda-laden ceremony at 990RM ($396).

However, the KdF-wagen never saw mass production. The common industrial worker still lacked the buying power to afford himself one, despite the savings installment plans offered by the German Labor Front. Beyond its unaffordability, the country was in the midst of preparing for war, as a year later World War II led the country to retool its factories to produce the materials and transport needed to support the nation’s war efforts.

Rebuilding the German Economy Post-WWII

A New Era for Volkswagen

American troops gave up control of Volkswagen and its assets to the British Military Government following the war. The Allies were determined to make the car maker the primary driving factor of jumpstarting the fragile German economy, and the British would administer the production of Volkswagen’s cars until control could be returned to Germany.

Under British control, the dreams of producing the Volkswagen were married to Porsche’s design in what eventually went on to become the Volkswagen Beetle–a car that over the course of the century cemented itself as a cultural icon around the world. In an effort to distance the brand from its history, the design was upgraded with an ethos for a reflection of a peacetime Germany. Pastel green, medium brown, and Bordeaux red were available to decorate the exterior, for example. This aesthetic revival was instrumental in the four-fold growth in Beetle sales by the end of the 1950s, hitting almost a half million by 1963. But the road to success was long.

The British Military Government initially ordered 20,000 vehicles before doubling that order by September of 1945, just months before its first year of production. That order ended up being fulfilled years later, due to a series of supply-related production delays.

Today's Volkswagen

and the road to an all-electric future

A couple of years ago, it would have been unheard of to think that there could be supply-related production delays for a mass market automaker, but since then, our world has changed in more ways than one. Manufacturers are reeling from their low-output predicated on the inability to find parts for production, stressing both dealers and consumers as the supply can’t catch up to the demand. Despite this, however, car makers haven’t been stymied from pushing forward and developing new cars. Volkswagen included.

Enter the 2021 Volkswagen ID.4–a compact crossover SUV not much larger than the VW Golf.

The car, according to the company, holds the same level of importance for Volkswagen’s journey in the 21st century as the Beetle did in the 20th. Stepping into a new electric future, the ID.4 establishes itself as the first ground-up EV built by VW to hit the streets of North America. Sure, they have the ID.3 hatchback as the first of their ID-series production, but that’s not available in our market, so we just have this little crossover to test their claim.

2021 Volkswagen ID.4 Pro S AWD




339 lb-ft




82-kWh battery, dual motor AWD

Similar to the Beetle of the past, the ID.4 sets out to be the simple, rear-motored, affordable alternative to the standard EV offerings from American automakers. While it checks off two of those boxes, its affordability is not that clear, given that it starts at just under $42,000. On the other hand, there is an associated federal tax credit and some states are offering their own incentives in addition to that, which help dampen the blow to your wallet. However, once you add packages and options such as all wheel drive, you’ll find yourself spending the big bucks on the modern day “people’s car.” Yet, put in perspective, it remains comparable to the price tag on similar EVs available on the market.


Simplification is clearly key with Volkswagen’s offering of the ID.4. Instead of having a myriad of trims, there are just two*. The Pro which comes in at a starting MSRP of $40,760 and the Pro S priced at $45,250 (* – with Gradient it’ll be an additional $1,510). Both can be optioned up an additional $3,680 for the dual motor, all-wheel drive powertrain.

I had the opportunity to drive the Pro S with Gradient spec in Kings Red with a Black Roof exterior, sporting a Galaxy Black interior. Also available for the interior is Lunar Grey, which would be the upholstery aesthetic of my choice because lighter interiors give a more airy and open feel. This model priced out to just under $51,000, with delivery bringing it to a total of $52,030.

Exterior Styling

I will admit that when this car was dropped off in my driveway, it had a strong presence. Whether that presence was good or bad, I’m still unsure. Its large body panels prominently displaying its bright paint job certainly makes it stand out, but at the same time its shape and angles are no more interesting than any other Volkswagen on the road. In fairness, they’re not meant to be.

Existing perfectly on the cusp of practicality and innovation, the ID.4 at least aesthetically is the definition of being being a consumer appliance car for the modern era–a vehicle that gets you from point A to point B, while not attracting too much attention to yourself.

It sports a fascia one could consider cute like a child’s grin. That is if you don’t think it reminds you of a cross between the Nissan Cube and a Kia Soul. Although defined by bold air passthroughs and a low, battery cooling grille, most notable is its light signature, which illuminates not only the bar between the LED headlights but the VW logo as well.

Moving to the back, you’ll notice a more aggressive rear light signature that seems somewhat reminiscent of an Audi such as the A7, A8, or even the Q8. It’s definitely rooted in the decision to use a full-width light bar, and honestly I’m a fan. The only drawback I saw was the way the painted panel wraps around the reflectors as it ends up being a place where snow builds up. Of course, that’s not an issue when you don’t live in a snowy climate, nor is it a dealbreaker if you do.

Interior Styling

To get in the car, you open the door not by pulling the handles, but triggering an electronic door unlatching mechanism and effectively pulling the door once it’s popped open. I would liken it to the Ford Mustang Mach E, but in a more intuitive and streamlined way. So instead of pushing a button that pops the door open and then pulling a ledge, you’re just grasping at a fixed door handle as you would with most cars. But if you’re someone who likes to grab the handle top down, you do not have that luxury.

Inside, however, you are greeted with a roomy cockpit that may seem underwhelming at first glance. So much so that you might forget how comfortable and plush the perforated, heated V-Tex leatherette seats are.

Homey brown-leather clads the dash, but is married to a metallic trim that can sometimes reflect light right in the driver’s line of sight.

A 12-inch infotainment screen protrudes from the center of the dash, only to be accompanied by a 5-inch digital instrument cluster next to it, located behind the heated steering wheel. The instrument cluster does a great job at displaying the necessary information for a driver when on the road, keeping their eyes mostly on the road, without having to glance over to the center screen to get basic operational information.

Its simplicity does not end there. Over on the driver’s side door panel, you will find your basic controls for the auto-dimming mirrors and windows, while on the bit of dash next to it are capacitive touch controls for things like the lights and defrosters. More capacitive touch controls can be found under the the infotainment display, but not all are illuminated. So you might find some trouble with trying to adjust the climate or the volume at night when getting used to the car. You can of course make these adjustments from the screen, but more on that later.

The center console is a simple, yet functional divider between the driver and passenger. Removable cupholders surrounded by a piano black finish, that catch more dust than a VHS tape in 2022, are paired with a covered storage compartment. In it you’ll find two slots to separate the space for more organization, a couple USB ports, and a wireless charger.

Jumping in the rear-seat you have a properly spacious, adult-friendly bench that splits 60/40 for when you need more cargo room. Its expansive sunroof makes star-gazing the main feature of sitting in the back row. But if you’re one to get car sick easily, and want a breath of fresh air, be sure not to ask the driver to open your windows for you considering there are no dedicated rear window controls for the driver.

Tech-nical Difficulties

The quirks don’t end there. We’ve already discussed the strange mirror controls and lack of rear seat window controls, but the dashboard contains some of the wonkiest controls. The non-illuminated capacitive touch ledge, so to say, allows you to adjust the temperature with ease, activate seat heaters with a two finger touch, and raise and lower volume, but for some reason not the fan speed.

It’s not too much of an issue because on another set of touch paneling resting below those, there’s one that pulls up the climate controls on the screen enabling you to make all the adjustments your heart may desire, while also revealing the heated steering toggle.

Volkswagen seems to hide a lot of settings and features behind multiple interactions with the display that make it slightly inconvenient for the driver. Taking that inconvenience a step further, the ability to change some (read most) settings, including the brightness of the display, get locked away when the car is moving. So if you’re driving and something needs to changed, you’ll need to pull over to get that done.

But what you can do while you’re on the road is use the gesture feature to swipe between the three home screens on the display. To do this, you just wave your hand left or right in front of the display. There’s an in-cabin camera that’ll pick up on your hand movement to interact with the UI. This same camera brings up the icon names on the screen when your hand approaches the display, in case you were wondering.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, which is somewhat a relief. Because although the ID.4 interface is simple in design, its not so in experience. But like all new interfaces, it’s one that can be learned. The most impressive bit of technology in this car has to be the IQ.DRIVE assistance and safety features.

While cruise control and lane centering are pretty standard across many product offerings today, the input required by other cars varies. Some manufacturers require you to tug at the steering wheel every 15 seconds or so to keep the active cruise control engaged. But this car has really invested in capacitive touch. So much so, that I’ve said capacitive more times in this section than I have in my entire life.

What this means in its implementation is that the steering wheel doesn’t require much input to indicate that you are actively engaged. Lightly holding or touching the wheel is sufficient information for the car to recognize that you were paying attention to the road. It makes for a more simplified assistive driver feature.


Electric cars are notorious for their TARDIS-like capabilities. That is, they may appear bigger on the inside. Part of that is simply due to the space-maximizing production from the lack of many mechanical components that are found in gasoline powered cars. So what you end up having is cargo space comparable to the Volkswagen Tiguan or Mazda CX-5, vehicles which are noticeably larger than the ID.4.

Measuring 30 cubic feet, or 64 cubic feet with the second row folded down, it comes in as being one of the more practical cargo carriers. Plus, with a reasonably low trunk lip, loading large items is a breeze.

Unfortunately, the ID.4 does not have a frunk, instead stashing many of its drivetrain components under the hood. It’s a bit unsightly in my opinion, and made worse by the lack of automatic or gas lift support struts.

On the Road

Okay, enough about the car’s stationary features, let’s talk about what it’s like to drive.

Surprisingly smooth.

I’m serious. Going into my first drive, I didn’t have very high expectations from this “EV for the People.” For starters, it wasn’t the most intuitive car to be behind the wheel of. Just trying to adjust the mirrors took me a minute to figure out. And don’t get me started on the Bop It of a gear-selector installed on this car. But with enough exposure I was able to get the hang of those pre-drive elements.

The ID.4’s gear selector is reminiscent of a particularly famous 90s toy.

My first trip with the car, my brother came along, and we went to our local Shop Rite to buy some groceries. Twisting the gear-shift forward for D was a chakra-realigning experience. After all, most of the time you’re pulling a selector back to get a car into drive. But if it’s an electronic gear shift, you’d push forward for reverse and pull back for drive, keeping in line with that PRNDL configuration that we’re all used to. Not so much with the ID.4. You‘ll twist forward for Drive and Braking (which is just its regenerative braking drive mode), twist backward for Reverse, and bop it in Park for when you’ve reached your destination.

Once on the road, however, I had never expected this car to drive like it was gliding around. The MacPherson struts up front and multi-link suspension in the back made it so that every crevice in the tarmac and shallow potholes on the road were only mildly noticable. It was a short-lived experience riding that cloud, as we’d reached our destination after just 3 minutes.

Trying to get out was not easy. Volkswagen decided to use a combination electronic and mechanical door handle. While this is not a problem for most, if it’s your first time you’re going to feel like you are trapped in the car. There is a sweet spot to pull the handle, which if you miss, yet continuously hold onto the handle trying to push out the door, it’s just not gonna work for you. Jason Cammisa had a very similar experience where is used some less than tasteful words in expressing his frustration. Release the handle and pull again completely, and you will mechanically unlatch the door. On the bright side, this will certainly come in handy if you ever find yourself without any charge remaining on your battery.

Finally out of the car, we were able to carry on with our grocery shopping, load up the trunk and head back home. Opened the door on one try this time.

Handles just as a Commuter Car Would

For the most part, it’ll fit a wide variety of needs. Being just right as a grocery-getter, errand runner, work commuter, and drop your kids to school-er. I’ll admit that last one didn’t really stick the landing. But you get what I mean.

I don’t have a long commute, but to be fair neither does anyone in my family. So I had to make do with my dad’s 30-mile drive to work, which is coincidentally the average commuting distance for the typical driver.

It’s a great route, since it has everything from sharp turns on local roads to high-speed freeways with short entry and exit ramps. If you put the pedal to the metal, you’ll feel a tangible difference between sending your gasoline-powered Honda CR-V or say Nissan Versa and the ID.4, but unlike other EV’s on the market, the Volkswagen has a more linear acceleration. It’s not push you back in your seat fast, but it is pretty zippy, in light of its weight. It’ll get you up to highway speeds from zero (to 60mph) in 5.4 seconds, thanks to its 220 kW motors, generating 295-horsepower and 229lb-ft of torque at standstill.

I found the steering to be rather well weighted, providing a balanced feel when taking the car around curves and corners. Plenty of road grip and controlled body lean, paired with the comfort of its interior, gives you a calm and composed driving experience. Braking, on the other hand, is a mixed-bag when slowing down from high speeds. When in Drive, there’s enough body roll that you can coast down the road maintainin your speed before having to hit the brakes. When in Braking, the one-pedal or regenerative braking drive mode, you’ll feel an increasing resistance when letting off the accelerator, but not quite strong enough that it could bring you to a full stop from high speeds. After driving for a while, you’ll learn the proper amount of pedaling you’ll need to give you a more consistent brake feel.

Wind and road noise are minimal, so a conversation between two soft-spoken individuals requires very little effort. But if you’re not in the mood for a conversation, and want to just jam out on the road, you‘ll find that its sound system is perfectly adequate. There are no gimmicks or specialty tuning that make the audio system stand out as if seated in the middle of a concert hall, but it isn’t underwhelming by any means.

Luckily, there was considerable snowfall when I had the car, so I took it out before the roads were plowed. There are some drive mode options available through the infotainment system, but I hadn’t really noticed any real difference between what they offered–whether it was Eco, Comfort, Sport or Traction. In each setting, I felt as though it was ultimately driving the same. Holding its own on the snowy roads of the Northeast, without slipping once when driving carefully with regard to other drivers on the road.

But take it to an empty parking lot and prepare to have some fun.

Although it’s different electronically controlled drive modes are practically all the same, it maintains the enjoyable snowy-weather driving dynamics.

Despite the ID.4 weighing just over 4,600lbs and the Pro S’s optional all wheel drive system, on a snowy, icy surface with a safe, responsible dose of power, it proves to be a nimble and sporty EV. It maintains most of its stability and traction, but warns you that it’s not at the optimal level of traction control, still letting you slip and slide just enough to make tight turns that leave you smiling. All of this whether traction mode or comfort mode are engaged. Without those inclement whether conditions, however, you’ll just have to live with your regular 18ft turning radius, ~16ft for the RWD.

Range, Charging, and Efficiency

You can’t judge an EV without knowing what its battery is capable of.

The Volkswagen ID.4 features an 82kWh battery pack on 400V architecture, with 77kWh being usable capacity. For comparison’s sake, the Long Range Tesla Model 3 also has an 82kWh pack. Similarities pretty much end there.

It produces an estimated range rating of about 260-miles on a full charge, subject to ambient weather and driving conditions. This is 74 miles less than the Model 3’s estimated range.

I was only able to get about a total of 175-miles in my time with the car, which comprised of 145-miles actually driven from a 100% state of charge, down to 17%, with a remaining range estimate of 30 miles. Granted, this was in the dead of winter, with temperatures averaging at highs of 35ºF and lows of 15ºF. 175 miles actually isn’t half bad, given that a Model 3 got a 224-mile real world range after Richard Symons drove one in similar conditions.

State of Charge

Weather-aside, range is a bit of a tricky metric. Those of you used to the gasoline paradigm hardly ever think about range since gas stations are abundant. If you’re running low, you’ll just stop by a fuel pump, top up, and be on your merry way.

Battery EVs aren’t all that different, just substitute a car charging station for a fuel pump. Where the distinction can be drawn is charging speed, availability, reliability, and location.

Unlike fuel pumps, unless you’re some megalomaniacal billionaire or something, you can connect or install an electric car charger in your home.

Using the mobile charging cable that comes with your ID.4, plugged into a standard 110V household outlet, you’re looking at a 50 hour charge time. This is commonly referred to as Level 1 charging.

However, if you’re buying an EV, odds are you’ll be installing what is known as a Level 2 charger, or using a NEMA 14-50 outlet, which delivers anywhere between 3kW-19kW. This will get you recharged from 0-100% in roughly 7.5 hours; essentially, giving you the equivalent of a new tank of gas in your car overnight, every night. I should note that, while 100% state of charge sounds great, you should aim for charging up to 90% on a regular basis to keep your battery in good health, reserving that 10% for road trips and the such.

But when you’re on the road, you’ll be stopping at Level 3 charging stations, also known as DC Fast Chargers. The ID.4 claims a peak charging rate of 125kW, adding 200 miles of range in under 40 minutes. That’s 0-80% of a state of charge. The final 20% would top up at the same rate as a Level 2 charger.

The charging time is really offset by the cost to recharge. With gas prices still trending up, and electricity cheaper to deliver, you’ll save on average $1,250 on fuel costs annually according to EPA calculations against a comparable average new car based on 15,000 miles and 55% city driving.

A look back from inside the 2021 VW ID.4


If you’re in the market for a new car and want to get in on the EV train, while not having any dealbreakers on the experience of owning one, then this is the appliance car for you. It has a sort of cartoonish charm that makes it a practical solution for someone who determines a car’s value on its ability to (comfortably) get you from point A to point B. It’s simple-ish, yet functional in a satisfactory way.

On the other hand, if you’re someone who puts emphasis on the experience of driving and interacting with a car, enjoying the specifics of its driving dynamics in addition to the technology and software built-in, this probably isn’t the car for you.

The Volkswagen ID.4 is a good stepping stone into the EV world, but I’m not convinced that the Pro and Pro S lines’ price justify that decision. The upcoming base model’s lower price point at $35,000 (before the $7,500 federal tax credit) may be a more worthwhile investment.

All in all, it’s a car that checks the right boxes of being a car, but simply falls short of possessing the 21st-century iconography that the Beetle had the century prior.

Volkswagen may need a different way to create a buzz if they’re going to get people hyped about their electrification journey.