Volkswagen gears up to finally go Tesla-hunting with its first all-electric saloon, the ID 7

Electrification has turned a few things on its head. You know how you can describe any hatchback to a less car-savvy acquaintance as ‘basically like a VW Golf’; ‘like a VW Golf, but a bit bigger’, or ‘like a VW Golf, but posher’? Well, here’s the new Volkswagen ID 7, and how might one describe it?

It’s like a Tesla Model 3, but from Volkswagen, in the same way that a Hyundai Ioniq 6 and a Polestar 2 are like a Model 3, but from Hyundai or that brand that’s Volvo, but not Volvo. Gosh, these new brands are getting complicated.

At least the VW ID 7 recipe is fairly simple. It’s a big five-door electric car based on the Volkswagen Group’s MEB platform. Think VW ID 4 but more saloony.

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It’s rather more than the same old bones in a more aerodynamic body, because it introduces a couple of major improvements. Although it is jolly aerodynamic, with a drag coefficient of 0.23.

There’s a new rear drive unit – containing a revised motor, gearbox and inverter – that’s supposed to be both more efficient and more powerful, at 282bhp. In time, there will also be an ID 7 GTX with an extra motor up front for four-wheel drive and 335bhp.

As usual, Volkswagen hasn't bothered with a front luggage compartment. Meanwhile, Tesla still shows the way in this respect with a generous 'frunk' that can be opened at the tap of a button.

Two battery sizes are available. The Pro car has a 77kWh pack familiar from the ID 4, while the Pro S has an 86kWh one.

Charging speeds have been boosted, too, up to 170kW for the Pro and 200kW for the Pro S.

The result, on the WLTP test cycle, is 386 miles on a charge for the Pro. That’s in the same ballpark as the equivalent Ioniq 6, 2, BMW i4 and, yes, Model 3.

If you need to go even farther, the Pro S should deliver up to 435 miles. That’s what you get when you don’t have a big SUV body beating the air out of the way.

Mind you, the ID 7 isn’t a small car. I encountered plenty of Model 3s on my test drive, and the American car suddenly looks quite compact. At 4960mm long, the ID 7 is the biggest of its group. It’s actually closer to the BMW i5 and Mercedes-Benz EQE.

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That’s quite obvious inside. The Ioniq 6 wows you with its sheer amount of leg room, but a high floor and a low roof don’t make it all that great to spend time in. Not so in the ID 7. There’s marginally less leg room, but you can properly relax in the back, because you’re not forced into an awkward position.

The same goes for the front. While you don’t sit quite as low as you would do in a combustion-engined saloon, you don’t get the sensation of being hemmed in, as in the Ioniq 6, or of sitting in a bathtub, as in the EQE.

Almost all secondary controls are handled by the screen now, which isn't ideal, but at least the interface now responds quickly and has plenty of shortcut buttons at the top.

And unlike with the Ioniq 6 and Model 3, the boot (532 litres with a decent amount of space under the floor) is accessed via a big hatch, rather than a saloon bootlid.

I didn’t count just how many times the word ‘premium’ featured in the pre-drive briefing, but if it had been a drinking game, driving would have been inadvisable. This suggests that Volkswagen wants to take on BMW as much as Tesla.

In short, the ID 7 doesn’t quite feel on the same level as the BMW. For that, there are too many prosaic materials in prominent places and the design takes too many pages out of Tesla’s book of button-extermination.

Volkswagen proudly announced that its maligned touch-sensitive climate control bar now lights up in the dark. Well done, slow hand clap, etc. It’s still suboptimal, and the haptic controls on the steering wheel remain just as easy to press by accident and as hard to press on purpose as they always have been.

The infotainment touchscreen has even more to do than before, so we’re thankful that it has had a major upgrade. A faster processor means it responds instantly, and while the overhauled interface still isn’t the most logical around, most of the important functions are no more than two taps away.

On the upside, there are plenty of good features. Volkswagen tends to make good use of the flat floor in EVs, and that’s no different here: you will never be short of interior storage. The optional panoramic sunroof becomes transparent or opaque at the swipe of a touch-sensitive surface. Compared with a blind that slowly motors back and forth, this solution is much quicker and saves head room.

Given Volkswagen’s positioning of the ID 7 as a long-distance EV, what will really make the difference is the seats. Those in my test car were the optional Ergoactive ones, and they’re truly superb. Soft but supportive, with a plush velour upholstery and heating and ventilation (which can run at the same time), they are the opposite of the slightly knobbly seats in the Ioniq 6.

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In terms of the drive, it’s all standard MEB. Once you go over 200bhp, EV power outputs are fairly academic. So 282bhp and 0-62mph in 6.5sec? Yep, that will do nicely.

Volkswagen still doesn’t give you much control over the regenerative braking, with coasting and one-pedal driving modes still absent. You simply have the choice between a well-judged adaptive mode in D and stronger regen in B. The brake pedal feels slightly artificial but progressive enough.

As with other ID models, the ID 7 has drum brakes on the rear axle. Some will mock, but the regen does most of the work anyway, particularly in situations where drums would overheat otherwise, like on a long descent.

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Look at the list of chassis optimisations compared with previous Volkswagens, though, and it looks like the ID 7 is intended to take things to a higher level: there’s recalibrated progressive steering so that it feels more immediate, a new rubber blend for the chassis mounts to better isolate vibrations and new adaptive dampers that can sense the movements of each wheel and adjust the damping accordingly.

As on other Volkswagens with adaptive dampers, you get 15 increments of stiffness to choose from, which rivals the Porsche 911 GT3 RS for sheer number of suspension settings, if not granularity.

VW’s engineers don’t like the EU-mandated ADAS any more than we do. Props to them for putting the speed limit warning and lane keeping assistance top of the settings list and holding off on adding a driver monitor until they have to. The lane keeping assistance is still rubbish, though.

The result is quite good in the context of the ID 7’s rivals, but it doesn’t achieve the total harmoniousness that the best Volkswagens do.

To start with, the ID 7’s noise isolation isn’t quite up to the high standard that I was expecting from this electric pebble.

Then there’s the ride. There’s no doubt that it’s comfortable: it lacks the brittleness of the Ioniq 6 and, when you set the dampers to full soft, it’s far more easy-going than the rather firm 2. But when you do that, bigger bumps and compressions introduce a touch of unpleasant floatiness. Meanwhile, the firmer settings check the body movements in a slightly sudden fashion.

The ID 7 maintains a similar middle-of-the road character in its handling. It feels fairly grippy on its Bridgestone Potenza Sport tyres, its body stays level through fast bends and, with the stability control in its Sport setting, there’s enough rear-drive feel to keep things interesting should you wish.

With the system on, it struggled to rein in the power on wet and slippery French roads, and the traction control wasn’t always perfectly smooth when I accelerated away from roundabouts.

In addition, the steering is unusually heavy, leaden and short on feedback for a Volkswagen. The firm normally does better in this respect normally does better in this respect, so it would be interesting to try a more basic ID 7 with passive dampers and conventional steering.

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Over a representative route that included motorway and town driving, as well as some spirited mountain-carving, the car’s trip computer indicated a creditable 3.6mpkWh, although I wouldn’t bet against the newly refreshed Model 3 doing even better.

With the 77kWh battery, that makes for a realistic range of 277 miles – not setting any new standards but absolutely at the sharp end of the market.

The ID 7 Pro S promises 435 miles of range. There aren't many EVs, at any price, that could beat that.

With a starting price of £55,570 at launch, Volkswagen has been very ambitious, putting the ID 7 above most rivals. It says that finance deals will be more competitive, with a £3000 deposit contribution.

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For that not-inconsiderable sum of money, you get an electric ‘saloon’ that isn’t as interesting as the Ioniq 6 but is more luxurious; not as complete as the i4 but a little cheaper; not as slick as the 2 but much roomier; and not as much of a white good as the Model 3, in both good and bad ways.

It lacks a bit of star quality, the ID 7, but is actually quite a nicely rounded package.

Unlike the original Golf, it’s late to the party, so the opportunity has quite likely passed, but maybe it does deserve to be the benchmark by which others are judged.