Updated: Apr 1
For all the discussion about Tesla founder Elon Musk's recent appearance on NBC's Saturday Night Live, I haven't heard one possible theory: Elon needed a laugh.
2021 will go down in automotive history as the year that the competition came in earnest for Tesla, with two of the largest automakers in the world---Volkswagen and Ford---aiming straight for the heart of the Tesla Model Y with their own all-electric crossover SUVs.
I reviewed the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E on February 10. Now, it's time for the 2021 Volkswagen ID.4 1st Edition.
Similar in basic concept (electric crossover SUV), the two vehicles are considerably different. The VW is smaller overall---180.5 inches long to the Mach-E's 186, with a 108.9 inch wheelbase to the Mach-E's 117. The Ford is 1.1 inches wider than the VW, and 1.4 inches lower.
The 2021 Volkswagen ID.4 is powered by an 82kWh electric motor with an EPA-estimated 250 miles of range per charge. The standard Mach-E setup is rated at 230 miles, but there are options that can get up to 300 miles per charge. With the VW, there's only the one motor.
DC fast charging is not only possible, it's free for the first three years of ownership at Electrify America charging stations (this was part of VW's atonement for the Dieselgate scandal).
The ID.4 has 64.2 cubic feet of cargo space in the rear, to the Mach-E's 59.6. However, the Mustang also has a small front storage space or "frunk", which brings its total to 64.4 cubic feet---narrowly edging out the VW.
Inside, like the Mach-E, the ID.4 avoids the Tesla approach of one giant center screen for all functions and puts a screen for speed, charge and other critical driver information directly ahead of the driver, visible through the top half of the steering wheel, like other vehicles.
Unlike the Ford, VW has attached its driver information screen to the steering column, so that it moves with any adjustments to the wheel. You'll never block any part of the readout. I like that a lot.
Arguably less successful is what is blocked by the upper right part of the wheel. See the letters "D" "N" and "R" just before the inner rim of the wheel? That's the gear selector. You grab it and twist toward the windshield to select "Drive", and back toward you to select "Reverse". "Park" is a button on the side of that----I guess you'd call it a knob. The Mach-E chose to go with a somewhat familiar rotary knob on the console. I can't think of a gear selector like this in any other vehicle, and I have to question the wisdom of re-inventing key driver functions---especially ones connected to safety---in a vehicle that is intended to bring a mass of traditional buyers to EVs.
Also possibly a little too clever are the touchscreen and buttons for the climate control, infotainment and other vehicle systems. Over time, and with some actual reading of the owner's manual, you can figure out the various functions and what can and cannot be done without the touchscreen, but it's not intuitive. Again, in a vehicle intended to be most buyers' first EV, I'd argue the more user-friendly and instantly familiar, the better.
The base price of the 2021 Volkswagen ID.4 is $39,995. Our tester was the top-of-the-line 1st Edition, which starts at $43,995. The window sticker is at the end of this review so you can see for yourself, but among the standard equipment highlights at that price are 20-inch alloy wheels, a panoramic fixed glass roof with power sunshade, a trailer hitch (up to 2,200 pounds capacity), dual-zone automatic climate control and 12-way power front seats.
There were no extra-cost options on our test vehicle, so with $1,195 destination charge, the as-tested price of the 2021 Volkswagen ID.4 1st Edition is $45,190. Volkswagen is new to the EV market, so it qualifies for the $7,500 tax credit per vehicle, effectively bringing the cost down to $37,690 (you should also check possible local, state and utility incentives).
The 2021 Volkswagen ID.4 1st Edition has a significant advantage over the Ford Mustang Mach-E on price, lags in passenger space (both carry five people, but the Mach-E's longer wheelbase and extra width will make rear seat passengers more comfortable) and very nearly ties in terms of standard range and cargo space.
So that leaves user-friendliness. There, I have to give it to the Mustang. Someone who'd never driven an EV, but had been in a Ford in the last ten years, could feel at home in just a couple of minutes.
But---the ID.4 has one ace in the hole. Three years of free charging at VW's Electrify America network of more than 17,000 chargers. Imagine an automaker offering to pick up the tab for three years worth of gasoline or diesel fill-ups. I'm not sure I can pick a winner here. And the boxing match is about to become a brawl as the Hyundai Ioniq 5 and a host of other competitors enter the ring in the next few months. The only thing that's certain is that Tesla is no longer the only game in town and instead of competing with upstarts, they'll be up against companies with decades of auto-building experience and deep resources for marketing.