2021 Volkswagen ID.4 Pro S Road Trip Review: Enough With the Touch Buttons Already

I’d driven two examples of VW’s latest electric crossover prior to this review, but only long enough to get basic driving impressions. Twenty-six minutes across two drives isn’t enough time to form the deepest of opinions. So when the 2021 Volkswagen ID.4 Pro S showed up for a week, I charged it up and hit the highway for a 600-mile test of its manners, its range and charging abilities, and the relationship between human and machine.

My road trip took me from Washington, D.C. to visit a college roommate and his wife in the Outer Banks in North Carolina. They’re EV fans, now on their second Tesla, and our third roommate also drove down with his fiancée in their Tesla Model Y. Naturally, we compared the cars and the overall experience, and while the VW ID.4 is totally fine as “an electric car” in many ways, it’s equal parts competent and maddening.

2021 VW ID.4

What Is It?

This is a 2021 Volkswagen ID.4 Pro S, the higher trim level of the two offered on the car. It’s not VW’s first electric car – that distinction belongs to the e-Golf of years past – but it is the first mainstream, mass-market EV they’re selling. My test car was a single-motor model, using one electric motor to power the rear wheels. That motor produces 201 horsepower and 229 lb-ft of torque.

Two hundred horsepower is fine in a small, light car, but it’s not much when you’re staring at a 4,665 pound curb weight. The ID.4 Pro S is among the slowest cars we’ve driven all year at 24.32 pounds per horsepower, with only the Mazda MX-30 falling behind in its power-to-weight ratio of 25.56:1.

Should you desire more punch, VW will sell you an all-wheel drive ID.4. The second motor on the front axle provides another 94 horsepower and 110 lb-ft. Having driven one, it’s helpful, but neither variant of ID.4 is particularly sporty. Think of it more as a fully-electrified Tiguan.

Range-wise, VW rates the 2021 ID.4 Pro S at 250 miles, which was accurate in my driving. While you can recharge at home on a “Level 2” 6.6 kW charger, road trips will likely require stops at DC Fast Charging stations. The ID.4 can accept juice at a maximum rate of 125 kW, pretty competitive with most other EVs in the segment. High-end EVs like Porsche’s Taycan can charge up to 350 kW, but we won’t see that charging speed in most “mainstream” models for a while. No matter, VW claims the ID.4 can be charged from 5% to 80% state of charge in 38 minutes.

MSRP of my 2021 Volkswagen ID.4 RWD was right about $45,000.

2021 VW ID.4

Road Tripping the ID.4 Pro S

Our trip to the Outer Banks involved significant time on I-95, an interstate that oscillates between epic traffic jams and what-speed-limit kind of driving. I felt confident driving the ID.4 as I would any other road-trip car. We had a comfortable buffer of range compared to our sole charging stop, which was at a Walmart in Newport News, Virginia on the way down and a different Walmart in Richmond, Virginia as we drove home.

Treated as a “put it in Drive and go” sort of car, the ID.4 does well. It handles the interstate just fine, and I found 201 horsepower more acceptable than I did on my first drive over the summer. Yes, there’s one rate of acceleration, but not having to work a gasoline engine into the peak of its power band means the ID.4 feels a bit more perky than you’d think. Ride quality was generally good and the front seats were comfortable enough. Steering feel was lacking, but this is more of an electric Tiguan than an electric GTI anyway.

2021 VW ID.4

Though I drove the ID.4 exclusively in ‘B’ to give me as much regenerative braking as possible, I still had to use the brake pedal to stop the car. Volkswagen doesn’t have the car set up to offer true one-pedal driving, which I missed from other EVs. Pedal feel is strange, very artificial with an ever-changing bite point. It was tough to be smooth when I hit traffic.

Volkswagen includes “Travel Assist” on the ID.4, a highway-focused driver-assistance package that was quite good. It did a great job with lane centering and lane tracing – following curves in the road – though the closest following distance to another car was far too long for I-95 maniacs.

Our charging experience was also flawless. Both stops were at Electrify America stations that immediately spun up to the ID.4’s maximum charging speed of 125 kW. Volkswagen includes three years of unlimited-mileage charging stops at Electrify America stations with a new ID.4 purchase, a nice perk. I found the overall range of the ID.4 to be in line with VW’s claims, without resorting to any hypermiling tactics. I kept up with traffic, ran the heat and air conditioning, used the heated seats, cranked the sound system, and the range of the ID.4 was spot on.

It was all “easy.”

2021 VW ID.4

Human-Machine Interface, aka Where the ID.4 Falls Apart

Less easy than actually driving the 2021 Volkswagen ID.4 is interacting with it. There are a minimum of actual, real, clicky buttons inside the ID.4 – a few to adjust each front seat and a few more for the windows. Literally everything else in the ID.4 is some form of touch-sensitive control.

Touch controls are unsafe. I’ve made that clear in many other reviews of vehicles that employ large touchscreens as a cheap alternative to expensive development and certification efforts of buttons and knobs. Volkswagen is not alone in using a big touchscreen to control many elements of the car. It works, and it distracts while you’re on the move.

Where VW differs is with other controls. Drive modes, parking assistance, hazard lights, door locks, headlamps, defroster, panoramic roof shade… all touch. The defrost controls aren’t by other climate controls, but instead below… the headlight buttons.

2021 VW ID.4 interior

One wild control can be found on the driver’s door panel. Instead of four window switches for four windows, Volkswagen provides two switches and a touch-sensitive spot marked “REAR.” While driving, you’re supposed to look down, press “REAR” a few times until it detects your finger and turns orange, and then the front window switches operate the rear windows.

Things are better on the steering wheel. It’s still full of touch-sensitive controls, but here Volkswagen employed haptic feedback, which provides actual bzzzrt feelings to your fingers as you press in on a piece of black plastic.

If nothing else, every control I’ve mentioned is backlit at night. You can’t use them easily without taking your eyes off the road, but you can see where to jab your finger in the dark.

At least, you can unless you want to adjust the temperature or volume. There’s a small strip below the center touchscreen that hosts those controls, and they are inexplicably dark at night.

The ID.4 is totally fine as An Car. I see why a lot of people could be drawn to it, especially as their first electric vehicle. It’s simple on the surface, unassuming, almost friendly. But the Human-Machine Interface – the way you as a driver make the car do what you want – is remarkably disjointed and unpredictable. It comes across as innovation for innovation’s sake, and it’s a rough experience at night in pouring rain or at 75 miles per hour on the highway.

2021 VW ID.4 CarPlay

Final Thoughts

I desperately wanted to like this ID.4 more than I did. It’s affordable enough, as EVs go right now. It drives well enough for what it is. It looks good enough, inside and out. It was a pretty good road-tripper, between the seats and the sound system and the range. Nothing was super-standout, but many parts of the ID.4 were exactly as they should be. Attainable and approachable.

It’s a shame, then, that the way you interact with the ID.4 beyond the most basic throttle-brake-steering maneuvers is so convoluted.

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