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Make no mistake, this electric SUV is VW flexing its muscles after several tough years

Like opening one of those brown envelopes from HMRC, climbing aboard the Volkswagen ID 4 for the first time is an ordinary act loaded with trepidation.

Which seems ridiculous, I’ll admit. While this is only the second car after the ID 3 hatchback to be built under the grand banner of Wolfsburg’s ID electric sub-brand, the ID 4 is just (yet?) another crossover, albeit one whose pebble-like curvature hints at something unusual. And as for being an electric crossover, lots of those exist already. Hyundai makes one, as does Ford, as does Vauxhall. So why the suspense?

The white plastic that wraps around the dainty 5.2in digital display also seems to be exactly the same sterile-looking, medicinally reassuring material they use for the cases of MRI scanners

It’s because the ID 4, fresh to UK roads and tested here in £37,800 1st Edition trim, could do more than any other car to shape the market over the next decade, at least in Europe. With dimensions just inside those of the Volvo XC60 in every direction, it taps richly into the crossover zeitgeist. And coming from the one ‘legacy manufacturer’ whose ambitions in the EV sphere trump all others’ (we’re promised 70 new electric models by 2028 and told that 70% of new Volkswagens sold in 2030 will be EVs), its volume potential is simply colossal. If the ID 4 is properly good, you have to imagine that it will light the fires beneath the ID offensive. And if not? Well, the ghost of Dieselgate still lingers.

As for the hardware itself, under a body that’s somehow bulbous and rakish in equal measure (the ID 4 isn’t exactly handsome, but neither is it unattractive) lies the same MEB platform used by the ID 3, only with the wheelbase and tracks extended. In the forseeable future, both Audi (with the Q4 e-Tron) and Skoda (with the Enyaq iV) will also make use of the MEB platform.

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For now, the sole ID 4 derivative is this Pro Performance 1st Edition, which pairs a 201bhp rear-mounted motor with a 77kWh battery for a 310- mile range and 0-62mph in 8.5sec. Expect a 52kWh battery offered with 146bhp or 168bhp motors to arrive later this year, and eventually an ID 4 GTX with four-wheel drive courtesy of another motor on the front axle and more than 300bhp all in. A coupé version, the ID 5, will also sprout.

Inside the VW ID 4 cabin

Beyond the exterior design, the ID 4 further departs from traditional Volkswagen fare within its interior.

The dashboard topography is loosely inspired by that of the Golf but, as with the ID 3, the cockpit is even more minimalistic. The conspicuous lack of buttons and switches might even seem quite shocking to someone coming from, say, a Tiguan. 

In our test car, the white plastic that wraps around the dainty 5.2in digital display also seems to be exactly the same sterile-looking, medicinally reassuring material they use for the cases of MRI scanners (absolutely intentional), and it branches off to form the new gear-selector rocker, à la BMW i3

In addition, the attractive and superbly comfortable 'Style' seats, plus organic shapes in the door-card mouldings, and Volkswagen’s modern reluctance to use much in the way physical switchgear, do create quite a special ambience. And, yes, one that is genuinely very relaxing, not least because the scuttle is relatively low and forward visibility thus effortless. 

Still, there are some quirks I don't get. Why, for example, use a (not particularly) touch-sensitive pad to switch the driver's pair of window switches betwen controlling the front and rear windows, instead of just fitting four switches? 

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And if you see the dashboard putting on a light-show, that’s the new ID. Light concept, which blinks in different colours and patterns to relay everything from satnav directions to charging status to incoming calls. It’s moderately useful at times, but mostly a bit distracting. 

The fundamental ergonomics are excellent, though, and you might not be expecting to find such generous rear leg room. The ID 4 is akin to the Mercedes-Benz E-Class in the back, and overall it’s clear that Volkswagen has brought all its packaging knowhow to bear with this first electric SUV. You really do get an impression of spaciousness. 

How does the VW ID 4 perform on the road?

And to drive? It’s inoffensive but not inert; far from what you might call engaging but very intuitive. Like so many electric cars, the ID 4 could easily have ended up feeling like an appliance, and it does have appliance-like virtues, such as its high perceived quality and its straight-forward driveability.

But there’s also enough character to ensure that it doesn’t leave you cold: neatly tuned control responses, sharp initial performance, interesting little design cues and a sense of maturity on the move. That the ride quality, even on 20in wheels, is mostly fluid and well-mannered elevates the ID 4’s game further.

The ID4 offers a neat, simplified and intuitive electric-car experience. In fact, in the sub-£50,000 bracket, arguably no other EV is as easy to get along with – to adapt to – as this spacious and understated crossover. Plenty of people will try and like it straightaway.  

What'll be interesting to see is how Skoda's Enyaq compares. It'll be cheaper but very similar on paper, and there are areas where VW has perhaps over-simplified the ID4 experience. The regenerative braking, for example, offers only two modes, though many drivers like to choose very strong regen characteristics for true one-pedal driving, or pure coasting. The ID4 can do neither.

Still, this is VW flexing its muscles after several tough years. The envelope contains nothing more sinister than a tax rebate.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - VW ID 4

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First drives