VW's big deal. It feels like forever ago now, but we'd all be remiss to forget the infamous Dieselgate scandal that rocked Volkswagen back in 2015. Essentially, the German brand was caught red-handed at cheating on the EPA emissions testing; they had fitted a special software on their diesel models to allow the otherwise-noncompliant engines to pass the strict EPA standards. As penance for their behavior, VW promised a full 180-degree pivot from diesels to electric cars.

The 2021 ID.4 is the earliest glimpse of what that future looks like. If Chevy didn't already own the rights to the name, we would imagine Volkswagen would've called this the Trailblazer, for that's really what this innocuous-looking crossover is. Current gas-powered VW crossovers aren't long for this world; if all goes according to plan, electrified models in the vein of the ID.4 will soon supplant the likes of the Tiguan and Atlas.

We're already seeing signs of this: the Passat - a longstanding high-volume VW - has recently been given a 2023 execution date. Its replacement? An electric crossover.

How viable Volkswagen's plan is boils down to the goodness of these early products. Much rides on the roof rails of the ID.4, a humble crossover that seeks to redefine what a VW is in this age of environmental awareness.

Smooth, quiet, planted. Powering the ID.4 is a single rear-mounted electric motor that makes 201 horsepower and 229 lb-ft of torque. It takes its juice from a lithium-ion battery that has 77 kWh of usable capacity. The battery is a heavy mother - it alone weighs just over 1,000 pounds - and is to blame for the ID.4's prodigious 4,600-pound curb weight. Oh, and that's for the rear-drive model. Dual-motor, all-wheel-drive models will likely figure closer to 5,000 pounds.

That's a lot of weight for a crossover with 201 horsepower, so don't expect Tesla-style acceleration. The ID.4 is much more modest in its accelerative prowess; it's more in line with its conventional gas-engine competition, which includes the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V and the like. Getting to 60 mph takes 7.5 seconds, according to VW. Acceleration is typical for an electric car: smooth, silent, graceful. It does feel faster than it actually is, but you'll never mistake it for a Model Y or a Mustang Mach E.

Because the half-ton battery is mounted underfloor, the chassis feels glued to the ground. Body roll is extremely minimal; tight corners are shrugged off as the ID.4 passes through the apexes with an easy composure. Color us impressed, especially for a crossover that isn't sporty in the least. Of course, much credit goes to the low-mounted battery for the VW's assuredness, but we appreciate the engineers fine-tuning the handling to feel so effortless. In a segment largely known for comatose driving experiences, the balanced, rear-drive ID.4 is a breath of fresh air.


Volkswagen ID.4

Range and Charging. The ID.4 doesn't advance the breed when it comes to range and charge times. On the contrary, it's thoroughly mid-pack. The EPA says to expect 250 miles of range, during which the ID.4 will return 104 MPGe city and 89 MPGe highway.

Those figures are right in line with other affordable EVs. A Chevrolet Bolt and Kona EV both return just under 260 miles of range; the Kia Niro EV will travel 239 miles before running out of juice. A Mustang Mach E returns between 230 and 305 miles of range depending on drivetrain and battery. The Tesla Model Y is the range leader among crossover EVs: 326 miles.

Charging the ID.4 is done the usual way: 120V outlet, wall charger, or fast-charging public chargers. The first is the slowest method and should be considered a last resort. The 240V dedicated wall charger is ideal for the day-to-day. It's capable of fully charging the battery in 7.5 hours, so plugging it in at night ensures a full battery well in time for the next day's commute.

VW also cooperates with Electrify America, the nation's largest public network of fast-charging stations, to offer three years free of fast charging. Bring your ID.4 to one of these public outlets and you can regain up to 80 percent of your battery in as little as 38 minutes. Of course, that's not nearly as fast as refueling at a gas station, but the abundance of these charging stations - they're currently scattered along most highways in the lower 48 - at least make road trips a viable endeavor. Just be prepared to make longer, more frequent stops.

Interior, reimagined. Being such a pivotal new model, the ID.4 was a chance for VW to redefine expectations. We imagine the design brief was this: the only rule is there are no rules. The result? Interior designers were given a chance to engineer the future and lay the groundwork for what's to come. As such, you won't find the usual design tropes in the ID.4.

You'll note the new and novel approach as soon as you get in. There is no start button and certainly no place for something as rudimentary as a key. Instead, just settle in the driver's seat, twist the stalk-mounted shift lever to D, and take off. That simple.

That little shift toggle is itself novel, though Mercedes used a similar design for a while in the early 2010s. One twist for drive, one for reverse, a button for park, and a setting for engaging regenerative brakes. It's bone-simple, but it takes a minute to get used to. Reaching around the wheel to twist a stalk isn't as effortless or intuitive as grabbing a console-mounted shifter and blindly running it through the PRNDL pattern. We imagine that's why Mercedes reverted to a more traditional gearshift, but perhaps this time around it will take off.

The ID.4 has also done away with the center stack. In its stead is a large 12-inch touchscreen that atop a low-set dashboard. Nestled within its glossy haptic confines is pretty much every control governing climate settings and infotainment. Directly below the touchscreen are just enough capacitive buttons to govern the most commonly accessed settings.

Like the rest of the ID.4, the infotainment system is all-new. The software makes a great first impression with its high-contrast graphics, large icons, and easy visibility from the driver's seat. Unfortunately, closer inspection left us frustrated. Every input came with serious lag; the same was true with the capacitive buttons. Voice command should've helped but it too was a pain to work seamlessly. In this era of instant gratification, we don't want to wait whole seconds for an input to go through or audibly issue a command multiple times. We're hoping over-the-air updates nip this problem in the bud before production ramps up.

Final thoughts. The ID.4 comes to us with the burden of great expectations. VW expects this crossover to hasten mass adoption of electrified vehicles; the public is using this crossover as the yardstick to judge how seriously VW is about moving from diesel power to electric. That's a lot of pressure on something that looks and drives more like an automotive appliance than anything else.

But the fact the ID.4 is so ordinary is exactly why it is likely to be so successful in its mission. We're used to electric cars being groundbreaking moonshots like the entire Tesla lineup, but it's products like the ID.4 that will actually usher in the revolution. This VW is a nice-looking crossover that's the size, shape, and price of what consumers want. It also happens to be electric and eschews many conventions.

Does any of this guarantee success? No, but the ID.4's deft mix of new and familiar will likely tempt plenty of buyers. This is the latest electric to prove electric vehicles don't have to be wild creations made of unicorn hairs, stardust, and grand dreams. Sometimes, they can just be cars, ready for the rigors of everyday life. That's the case with the ID.4. We imagine there will be plenty of first-time electric buyers lining up for one, each one of them helping bring a gas-free future to fruition.

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