By Andrew Allport
Last year at this time, I was shopping for a new car. I really wanted to buy an EV, but the choices were so limited that I found myself considering buying a cheap used ICE car to get through the winter and into 2023, when it seemed there would be more options. I had tried to buy an EV for over a year—I was languishing on the wait list for a Ford F-150 Lightning, and I talked to a Rivian owner parked at the grocery store; there were some Leafs (Leaves?) for sale at the local dealership, and of course Tesla was continuing to take orders, but I was looking for something more normal, less cutting edge. I wanted a car that would be big enough for a family of four, could perform decently in snow, and didn’t look or feel ostentatiously futuristic.
The last car I’d bought was a 2011 VW Jetta Wagon, which I bought solely on the basis of its backseat legroom, since at the time I had two titanic carseats for my two infants. I remembered liking everything about that car, except the fact that VW turned out to be skirting the EPA pollution rules and was fined billions of dollars. Three years after I bought it, they took it back for more or less the same price.
So while I did not have much brand loyalty to Volkswagen, their new EV, the weirdly named ID4, looked intriguing. It looked pretty similar to the rest of their cars, and it claimed to have a range of over 250 miles. That would be enough to go on nearly any day trip I could think of from our house, including Telluride, Wolf Creek, or Farmington. Best of all, it was one of very few non-Tesla EVs with AWD. I found one for sale in Colorado Springs that offered free delivery, free returns, and a trial period of seven days, and decided to buy it.
The delivery was without incident. The car was, as I’d hoped, quite normal. I was able to easily find a roof rack and used my existing bike rack (this is Durango, after all) to load it up with gear. I was also able to find snow tires locally and installed them just as the first big storm cycle came. Every Saturday, December through March, I drove it to Purgatory to drop my kids at ski team, and it was capable on the 550—and the icy parking lot—in all kinds of weather, including whiteout conditions. We drove to Wolf Creek for a big storm, and took multiple trips to Telluride, where the town’s EV chargers are plentiful and convenient. In all cases, the performance of the ID4 was incredibly reliable. In fact, one aspect of EVs that is particularly nice in snowy mountain conditions is the regenerative braking feature, which acts to slow the car coming down steep descents without the need for downshifting or braking.
The interior of the ID4 is pretty bland. I didn’t upgrade to leather, so the cloth seats are exactly what you’d expect. The legroom for the backseat is capacious—even I, a gangly 6’2”have no problem sitting in the back. Part of the roominess comes from a lack of divider in the middle; the middle seat has just as much room as the other two. The driving interface is very minimal compared to ICE cars and even to many EVs. There are only a few buttons and a single shifter, which frees up space between the driver and front passenger, where you can put all manner of things (I personally love it for my carbage can).
The driving experience of the ID4 is also pretty bland, depending on your expectations. Although it can do the crazy EV acceleration thing (0 to 60 MPH in 5 seconds) if you really floor it, for the most part it doesn’t encourage the kind of driving that car magazines seem to appreciate. If you’re considering the ID4, you’re probably looking at similar AWD models from Tesla and Kia. (Editor’s Note: The Ford Mustang is also available in AWD.) My impression after driving all of these is that the ID4 feels and looks in all respects much more like a normal car. The vaunted Tesla acceleration makes my family sick, and I find the camera feeds distracting. Also, the Model Y isn’t substantially larger, costs quite a bit more, and makes much more of a statement. The Kia is also more punchy, sleeker, and what car review sites describe as “exciting to drive.” I am usually driving snowy roads with a spouse, dog, and two kids hopped up on Kit-Kats and arguing over playing Red Hot Chile Peppers vs. Metallica, so I have plenty of baseline excitement; to me, the ID4 is a perfect solution for someone who grudgingly accepts the need for a car at all. Its “Travel Assist” function, which keeps the car in its lane while traveling a set speed and distance from other traffic, gives me even more brainpower to settle backseat disputes or snag an errant candy wrapper.
In February, I decided to try a family road trip in the ID4. We had a weekend event in Phoenix over Presidents’ Day, so I planned to try and leave on Thursday afternoon, spend the night in Winslow at a hotel with a charger, then drive to Phoenix Friday morning. We left Durango with about 90% of the battery, which seemed like plenty to get us to Gallup (162 miles away), where there was a fast DC charger. The ID4 actually has a great navigation system that finds chargers on your route, and will automatically reroute you if you need to stop earlier. However, this was during a very cold snap—single digits in Durango, and 15 degrees outside of Farmington—and I was dismayed to see the range falling as we drove across the barren rimrock between Newcomb and Naschiti. Finally, we limped into the parking lot of the Gallup Walmart with 1% battery left, and connected the “fast” DC charger.
Outside, it was about 20 degrees and windy. We walked around inside Walmart, used the restroom, and ran around a bit with the dog in a vacant field. All the while, I was obsessively checking my phone to see the status of the charging. For whatever reason, it was not the 30-45 minutes I had hoped for. Rather, it took just over an hour. If you have a lot of shopping to do at Walmart, perhaps this wouldn’t be an issue. For us, it definitely began to get tedious. The rest of the Phoenix trip was less eventful, though you should be aware that if you’re driving on Interstate 40, the fast chargers are basically all at Walmarts: Gallup, Winslow, Flagstaff, Kingman, and so on. There are some Tesla Superchargers as well, but currently you can’t use them (though you can use the Superchargers in Moab and Montrose). On the plus side, the ID4 comes with free charging at all Electrify America chargers, which probably saved about $80 in charging costs on the round trip to Phoenix (minus the money we ended up spending at Walmart).
This experience illustrated two of the main disadvantages of this car, which will likely be similar to any EV in our area: first, your estimated range will vary dramatically (probably up to 50%) depending on temperature. Second, if you are traveling long distances, you should count on stopping during the day for about 30-45 minutes every 200-250 miles (on average). Obviously, the longer the day’s drive, the more this adds up. Salt Lake City might only be one stop, but Jackson Hole might be three. Because these added stops compound as the drive gets longer, it would turn an 11 hour drive into 13 hours, which—at least for me—would be unfeasible. And driving to Jackson Hole in the winter would be impossible. But no EV is going to be a top choice for someone whose main priority is to travel huge distances in a single day. (As a side note, we found it was very easy to drive it in mild weather to Denver and Grand Junction in a single day, with one charging stop.)
Another quick note on charging: when I purchased the ID4, I had already installed a Level 2 charger in my garage. However, there was a problem related to the wiring, and so for the first couple of weeks, I used the public charging infrastructure in and around Durango. I would not recommend this, as it meant constantly taking random car trips that I otherwise wouldn’t have made, simply to park at the Transit Center and charge. Even worse, the chargers at Purgatory were often non-functional, and no one at the mountain had any idea of whose responsibility it was to maintain them. Once I could plug the car in and charge overnight at home, the experience became totally different. If the main negative of EVs is on road trips, the overwhelming advantage is home charging. With an ICE engine you can always find a gas station on your drive, but you also can never fill it up at home and start out with a full tank every morning. I don’t think there’s even a question of the benefit outweighing the disadvantage.
Lastly, some quick math on the costs of ownership. Now, almost exactly a year later, the ID4 is due for its first service (covered by VW). I have put 9,000 miles on the car, and my only costs have been buying snow tires and washer fluid, which you go through faster in an EV because you aren’t using the gas station squeegees. According to the car’s computer, my total energy use has been the 9000 miles divided by 3.1 miles per KhW, which is 2903 KwH. These have varied in cost from free (at the Electrify America stations) to perhaps 40 cents per KwH at the most expensive. However, the vast majority of them have been from home electricity, which is billed at an off-peak rate of 6 cents overnight. That’s about $175 (just under 2 cents per mile), making the first year of operating and maintenance costs about $350. The energy costs of a gasoline-powered car with an efficiency of 30 miles to the gallon (the VW Jetta, for instance) would have been over $1,000 in the same time period, plus the cost of oil changes and fluids. It’s worth remembering that there is a real financial incentive to drive an EV, even if it is sometimes a bit of a headache.