Volkswagen made its mark in the U.S. market with practical, affordable icons like the Beetle and Golf GTI. It hopes its first battery-powered vehicle, the ID.4, will do the same for electrics.
The German brand took the wraps off the compact SUV on Wednesday. The ID.4 will be the first EV from a foreign carmaker to be built in the U.S. as it competes against similar SUVs from domestic brands like the Tesla Model Y and Ford Mustang Mach E.
Like its competitors, it will have a steep road to climb against cheaper, longer-range gas-powered vehicles. Compact SUVs like the Toyota RAV4, Nissan Rogue and Honda CR-V each sell about 400,000 units annually.
Scheduled for 2022 production in Chattanooga, Tennessee, early models of the ID.4 will arrive here early next year from Germany. Once the source of Golf compact car production, the Zwickau, Germany plant has been remade to produce cars off the manufacturer’s new MEB electric platform – with high hopes to achieve global volumes of 330,000 units a year.
When production begins stateside, the ID.4 will be built alongside the gas-powered Passat sedan and Atlas SUV. VW says it is committed to an all-EV future and has invested $800 million in Chattanooga for electric vehicle production.
The ID.4’s footprint most closely resembles its sister Tiguan SUV, VW’s bestseller with about 109,000 units sold here in 2019.
Starting at $39,995 (with the price expected to be about $35,000 once US production starts in 2022), the first edition ID.4 compares favorably to the smaller, subcompact $36,620 Chevy Bolt EV especially when the federal tax credit for EVs factors in. The Bolt is no longer eligible for the $7,500 credit whereas the VW will get the full credit until its reaches 200,000 in sales.
In addition to being bigger than the Bolt with a 6-inch longer wheelbase and 13 more cubic feet of cargo, the ID.4 will also be available in all-wheel-drive. A larger Chevy Bolt EUV is expected for 2022.
The all-wheel drive capability puts the ID.4 on par with the Tesla Model 3 and Model Y which dominate SUVs sales in the US. Through June, according to CleanTechnica, the two Teslas have piled up nearly 60,000 in sales compared to the closest competitor – the Bolt – at just over 8,000 units.
Like the Teslas (and the forthcoming Mustang Mach E), the 201-horsepower Volkswagen will be rear-wheel drive biased for better handling. The RWD option is unusual in the compact SUV market with its usually front-wheel drive powered vehicles. Interestingly, the ID.4 goes against type with low-tech rear drum brakes – with regenerative braking, VW says rear disc brakes aren’t needed in an EV.
With the 82-kWh battery stuffed under the floorboards like other EVs, VW says the ID.4 will have familiar, fun VW handling despite its high-riding SUV stance.
For another $4,000 — about $10,000 cheaper than a comparable, 384-horse Model Y — the ID.4 will add a front electric motor for a total of 302 horsepower and better winter grip. With 250 miles of range, the VW is competitive with the Bolt’s 259, if not Tesla’s class-beating 290-322 miles.
But in an indicator of why EVs have struggled in the US market at just 2% market share, the ID.4’s stats pale next to its gas-powered peers.
For under $30,000, for example, the VW Tiguan boasts 430 miles of range and more cargo space. For green customers looking for a hybrid option, the all-wheel-drive Toyota RAV4 Prime plug-in is $5,000 cheaper and will go 522 miles on a tank of $2-a-gallon gas.
Ford’s $28,000 Escape Sport Hybrid compact SUV will go 568 miles on a tank.
To make the electric offering more attractive, VW is offering three years of free charging from its national, Electrify America charging network. U.S. governments forced VW to build the network as penance for its Dieselgate sins. The network parallels Tesla’s national fast-charging network, though so far, there are only seven locations in Michigan.
Most EV buyers will use the ID.4 for local commutes, plugging in at home where the ute can do a full charge on a faster, 240-volt plug in about 7½ hours.
The ID.4’s interior maintains the simplicity of the exterior with most functions executed by touch or voice control. Like Tesla, ID.4 features big console screens – 10 or 12-inch tablets are available – though a classic instrument display is behind the steering wheel.
The $40,000 car is stuffed with standard stuff including self-driving tech called IQ.DRIVE, forward-collision warning, emergency braking, blind-spot monitor, adaptive cruise-control, lane-keep assist and more.
The flexible architecture underneath ID.4 will spawn a family of VW EVs. The Golf-sized ID.3 hatchback is aimed at the European market, and VW is working on a wagon and microbus-inspired van.
The ID.4 will be sold across all 50 states, through some 600 dealers. Buyers can put down a $100 deposit at VW.com with an additional $400 due later. Customers can follow their ute’s production progress online before eventual delivery at their VW dealer.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at email@example.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.
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