Getting ready for snow: All-wheel-drive BEVs for under $50,000
Not so long ago, battery electric vehicles (BEVs, or all-electric cars) were considered dodgy in snow and ice. True, the front-wheel drive (FWD) battery pioneers such as the Volt were heavy and enjoyed a very low center of gravity, giving them exceptionally good traction in snow. But FWD cars are just not as good as an all-wheel-drive vehicle (AWD) such as the Colorado classic, the Subaru Outback. Now there are seven AWD BEVs at moderate price points; BEV drivers no longer have to fear the flakes. On the horizon (teased for model year 2023), is the all-electric Subaru Solterra (only the name is final), which will also be sold as the unpronounceable Toyota bZ4X.
My purchase price cutoff for this article ($50,000 including destination charges and subtracting tax breaks) is arbitrary, but should appeal to many middle-class buyers. Note that to fully qualify for the federal tax break one needs to have income sufficient to pay at least $7500 in federal taxes. State tax breaks vary by state, and many Colorado drivers will qualify for a $2500 additional discount on their state income taxes (these prices do not reflect dealer discounts).
Because cars vary so much in price according to build (AWD v. FWD, range, seat heaters, trim packages, etc.), this article treats each different “build” as a different model, though model names overlap. Starting at the lowest price, the seven moderately priced AWD cars are:
Volkswagen ID.4 AWD Pro, 19” wheels $37,400
Ford Mustang Mach-E Select, Std. Range AWD $39,200
Volkswagen ID.4 AWD Pro S, 19” wheels $41,900
Audi Q4 e-tron 50 quattro 19” wheels $43,500
Audi Q4 e-tron Sportback 50 quattro 20” wheels $46,300
Ford Mustang Mach-E Premium, Ext. Range AWD $49,000
Volvo XC40 Recharge $49,000
Curiously, Tesla has no entry (Tesla and GM no longer qualify for the federal tax break). Note that the Audi Q4 e-tron is a 2022 model about to be introduced, and it is not to be confused with the substantially larger and more expensive e-tron, e-tron S, or e-tron GT.
This suite of vehicles appears to have matured well beyond the wild-west offerings of say pickup trucks, in that they are neatly matched to each other. They have very similar specifications with regard to vehicle size, range, charging times, number of seats, autonomous driving, and so forth. The specifications are more or less exactly identical in terms of number of motors (2), number of seats (5), width (73-74” with mirrors folded), cargo space (30 cubic feet with the rear seats in use, 60 cubic feet with the seats folded down), maximum level II (home) charge rate (10.5 kW), maximum level III (DC fast charging) rate (125-150 kW), and battery warranty (8 y or 100 K miles, whichever comes first).
The primary functional differences are relatively slight: range (211 to 270 miles), 0-60 mph time (4.7 – 5.8 sec), length (174-186 inches), ground clearance (5.7 – 8.1 inches; none is a great candidate for off-roading), towing capacity (none to 2700 pounds), autonomous driving (myriad details), front row seat heaters (standard or an option), and dealership presence in the Four Corners (none to several).
Range: The Mach-E with standard range is the lowest (211 mi.); the Mach-E with the extended range is the highest (270 mi.). The others are nearly identical (223-249: Volvo to ID.4 AWD Pro).
Acceleration (0-60 mph): Different sources give different values, but the Volvo XC40 Recharge and extended range Mach-E are slightly better (4.7-4.8 sec) than the others (mostly around 5.7 sec). These are not exceptionally high performance vehicles, but they do better than almost any stock ICE (internal combustion engine) car, and besides, who needs to lay rubber on snow?
Length: The outlier is the slightly shorter Volvo, which should be easier to park (174.2”) compared to the others (181-186”).
Ground clearance: These vehicles are usually described as “crossovers” rather than compact SUVs, and they are very well equipped for driving on snowy roads, but they are not really meant for off-roading. The VWs and Volvo have enough clearance (8.1-8.2”) to manage some fairly rough roads (Kennebec Pass?), but the others should probably stay on the highway (5.7”).
Towing capacity: Third parties claim that all of these cars can tow at least 2000 pounds, but Ford makes no claim that the Mach-E can tow. The nominal winners are the VWs, which are said to tow 2700 pounds, a respectable small mobile home, boat, or utility trailer.
Autonomous driving: None of these vehicles come with Tesla-level claims to autonomous driving. The manufacturers represented here each use different terms to describe their proprietary features, but automatic braking, lane holding, and smart cruise control seem to be standard. The extended range Mach-E also offers automated parking. Over-the-air software updates are promised by Volvo, but none of the other manufacturers make such a claim on their websites. A third party asserts that the Mach-E will have this capability.
Front-row seat heaters: These seem to be standard on the VWs, the Audis, and the extended range Mach-E. I think they can be obtained as an option on all. Similarly, powered tailgate lifters are available, at least as an option, on most models featured here.
Local dealerships: Only Ford has dealerships (4) in the Four Corners area. To obtain a VW, one needs to go to Grand Junction, Santa Fe, Flagstaff, or St. George. For Audis, it is Glenwood Springs or Albuquerque. The nearest Volvo car dealership is in Albuquerque or Colorado Springs.
Summary of the Volkswagen ID.4s: The Pro variant is the most economical, has the highest clearance, tows the greatest weight, and has the smallest turning radius. The Pro S variant adds a sun roof, a larger center display, and has numerous small feature upgrades. Neither is likely to turn heads, but they get the job done.
Summary of the Mach-Es: The standard range variant is very economical, though it has the shortest range (211 mi.), least towing capacity (none, though a third party claims up to 3500 pounds, which seems unrealistic), and lowest clearance (5.7”). The extended range variant has the highest range (270 mi), and nearly the fastest acceleration (4.8 sec), a sunroof, 360-degree cameras, and a heated steering wheel. The Ford dealership network is the best. Both models come with a NEMA 14-50 cord, enabling 240 V charging from any compatible outlet (many homes, and most campgrounds with full hookups). The frunk is very small, and there is no spare tire. Ford is the only manufacturer whose web site states what their threshold is for triggering a battery warranty claim (capacity < 70% of new). Women drivers have reported the Mach-E to be a guy magnet, which encapsulates the attribute that will most likely endear this car to buyers: legendary styling.
Summary of the Audis: I usually associated Audi with luxury cars, but these two are very economically priced (their innards are shared with the VWs), and conservative in features (minimal autonomous driving, for example). Their specifications are usually in the middle of the pack. I think the regeneration paddles on the steering column of the Sportback will be a hit (drivers can increase or decrease regenerative braking with a flick of the hand on the steering wheel). Both models come with heated front seats and powered tailgate; the Sportback variant adds a heated steering wheel and leather upholstery. I suspect that the small number of buyers in our remote area, and the distance to dealers will be negatives for uptake in the Four Corners.
Summary of Volvo: Volvo has earned its reputation on the strength of safety features. While I did not tabulate any particular safety feature that sets the Volvo XC40 Recharge ahead of the listed competitors, the safety features of this model seem first rate (including automatic braking, lane holding). Acceleration is slightly faster than the Mach-E (4.7 v. 4.8 sec). The 8.1” clearance is notably high, and the total length shortest (cargo area is correspondingly small: 25 cu ft with rear seats up; 57.5 cu ft with the rear seats down). Volvo asserts a towing capacity of 2000 pounds, but third parties claim as much as 3300 pounds. This car will be a comfortable purchase for any Volvo fan, though it may require a trip to Colorado Springs or Albuquerque. Fast chargers are at present scarce between here and Albuquerque.