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If you like Teslas and tech, VW offers the ID.4 Pro

Last week, Mr. Driver’s Seat prepared for a vacation in the all-new, electric-powered Volkswagen ID.4 SUV. The first few days didn’t bode well, but things fell into place. So how was the drive?

The 2021 Volkswagen ID.4 Pro uses a 201-horsepower electric motor to power the rear wheels but will have an all-wheel-drive version coming this fall.
The 2021 Volkswagen ID.4 Pro uses a 201-horsepower electric motor to power the rear wheels but will have an all-wheel-drive version coming this fall.Read moreVolkswagen

Volkswagen ID.4 Pro: The Volkswagen of EVs?

Price: Starts at $39,995

Conventional wisdom: Consumer Reports calls it “pleasant-driving,” “functional” and “competitively priced,” but notes that many controls “come across as gimmicky for the sake of seeming high-tech, and the ID.4′s first version to market doesn’t burst with acceleration.”

Marketer’s pitch: “The ID 4 EV: Winner of the World Car of the Year 2021.” But you can only build and reserve it. Maybe next year?

Reality: The Volkswagen of Teslas.

Catching up: Last week, I introduced the ID.4 as I prepared to take it for a short vacation. This week will focus more on the driving experience.

» READ MORE: An electrified vacation in the Volkswagen ID.4

German engineering: I thought Volkswagen would give us another way of looking at the future of EVs. But I didn’t sense a whole lot of Volkswagenness in the ID.4.

Up to speed: The ID.4 electric motor creates 201 horsepower, which gets the small SUV to 60 mph in 7.4 seconds, according to Motor Trend. Full tilt comes only when using Sport mode.

The all-wheel-drive version — not yet available — sports 295 horses and a 0-60 time of 5.7 seconds, Volkswagen says.

On the road: The handling is fine in this rear-engine, rear-drive SUV, but nothing to get excited about and certainly not up to Volkswagen’s legendary, fun vehicles. It’s kind of … Beetle-y, without 50 years of wear and tear softening things up.

Even in Sport mode, it doesn’t really have a lot of zip. The steering tightened up, but there was not a lot of joy.

Driver’s Seat: Comfy and supportive, the ID.4 seat made a nice companion for the 350 miles or so I drove it during test week.

Friends and stuff: Plenty of room for a family of four adults to take a three-day vacation with lots of stuff. Beyond that it might get a little crowded.

Legroom, headroom and foot room are all generous. Sturgis Kid 4.0 reports the seat was firm and straight, though. And the middle seat has just as much legroom as the rest, as there’s no hump at all.

Stop and start: A car that starts only when you sit in the driver’s seat turns out to be a giant pain. Picture yourself traveling with family or friends — how many times does the driver want to leave the vehicle but keep the vehicle running? A quick stop at the store, a need to fish something out of the hatch — I was surprised how often this came up.

Plus, someday it’s going to fail, and the diagnostics alone will cost hundreds.

Play some tunes: Volkswagen has always offered nice infotainment controls — buttons, a couple knobs, and an easy touchscreen.

But the cool kids got their hands on the ID.4, and so now you have … a Tesla. The touchscreen operates everything, and there are just a few buttons on the outside. Nothing will operate when the vehicle is in motion, and things don’t operate easily when it’s not.

There’s a home button on the screen, like on an iPhone, so once you’re used to that, it becomes easier.

On the bright side, sound from the system is awesome.

Keeping warm and cool: Volkswagen has also long offered user-friendly HVAC controls, but the ID.4 HVAC is in the touchscreen, as well. Fortunately, the “buttons” are big and easy to see.

But the user-unfriendly controls turned out to be the least of the problems.

As for cooling, max AC was required for most of a long trip in the 90-plus temperatures. I got to wondering how this would handle an Arizona heat wave. (Or, because 2021, a Vancouver one.)

Fortunately, Sturgis Kid 1.0 and Son-in-Law 1.0 just returned from a belated honeymoon road trip through the desert Southwest in temperatures of 110 degrees or more. She reports that a Buick Encore really needed the AC on medium or medium-high. So herein may lie another EV pitfall.

From the rear, Sturgis Kid 4.0 complained that the low vents in the console don’t help cooling much, especially up high where, you know, the heat rises.

With the low dashboard vents, I also had to keep the defrost control on for much of the trip, and, of course, the windshield started to fog a little.

Electricity consumption: I didn’t drive my usual full-tilt way, keeping it between 70 and 75 on the highway and moving more gently around town. I was mostly able to keep the range as advertised, which is 260 miles on a charge.

Indoorsy: It was as hot as blazes inside the ID.4 Pro after that charging. The materials and the colors need to be much lighter and reflective, because so much energy is going to be devoted to cooling the vehicle that every little bit helps.

And the ID.4 knew this. After having the car parked in a garage overnight, the range read 220 miles, so obviously the ID.4 was factoring in that heat, as well.

Night shift: The lights sit frustratingly low. Leave the automatic high beams on because you’ll need them as often as you can get them.

Where it’s built: Chattanooga, Tenn., as of 2022.

How it’s built: Consumer Reports predicts the reliability to be a 2 out of 5, though honestly there’s not a lot of data out there yet.

In the end: Volkswagen needs to believe in what it’s been doing enough to keep doing it even when the fuel source changes. Keep making fun, sporty, intuitive cars, whether electric or gas. The ID.4 isn’t that.

On the bright side, a Volkswagen could conceivably have fewer problems than a Tesla. On the down side, all those chargers you can’t access.

My excitement for the long-promised ID.Buzz microbus has been significantly diminished.