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Friday, September 30, 2022
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Volkswagen ID 4 GTX

There is some debate about whether Volkswagen gave birth to the very first hot hatchback when it launched the Mk1 Golf GTI in June 1976, but we can certainly agree that it was the point of origin of one of the world’s defining performance sub-brands.

This is a fast-car dynasty that, now 45 years young and having a history longer than that of any BMW M car, can probably be forgiven for siring a few stray offshoots. Still, perhaps the subject of this week’s road test will be the start of something even longer-lasting and more significant for Wolfsburg than the GTI badge now is. Welcome, then, VW’s very first all-electric performance model: the ID 4 GTX.

With this car, VW is extending its world-famous GTI brand in a similar way that it did with the Mk7 Golf GTE in 2014; with the Mk5 Polo BlueGT of 2012 (remember that?); and with the Golf GTD diesel, which has a history stretching all the way back to 1982. The company is, in its own words, trying to demonstrate that “sustainability and sportiness need not be mutually exclusive” when it comes to the latest breed of zero-emissions family car.

That may be a fact in need of little demonstration to anyone who’s been paying attention to the kinds of electric car being brought to market these past few years by Tesla, Polestar, BMW and others, of course; and they would argue that VW is therefore only joining the electric performance car party here rather than starting it. Even so, when Wolfsburg commits to a concept like this, it doesn’t often do so on a whim, and it certainly hasn’t here. GTX derivatives of several of ID-branded cars are confirmed to or rumoured to be in the pipeline, from the ID 5 crossover coupé down to the ID Life city car.

Stand by to find out exactly what kind of exciting driving experience a GTX badge emblazoned on a bootlid, seatback or steering wheel promises, then. Is this just another modern VW trim level or does it distinguish a car that feels genuinely special?

The ID 4 line-up at a glance

The ID 4 currently comes in four mechanical flavours, each with a different combination of battery size and power output. Pure and Pure Performance models use the smaller, 52kWh pack and have outputs of 146bhp and 167bhp respectively. Only at Pro Performance grade does the 77kWh battery make an appearance to extend the ID 4’s official range beyond 320 miles.

The top-line GTX essentially then takes the Pro Performance and adds an extra electric motor and gearbox for the front axle. This increases the ID 4’s power by about half again, to 295bhp, though range drops slightly.

Let’s start with the big news: the ID 4 GTX is the first car in Volkswagen’s electric stable to benefit from four-wheel drive, courtesy of the asynchronous motor integrated into the front axle. Yes, other brands in the wider Volkswagen Group have been here before with the MEB platform, but the GTX is the first VW to do so. That feels significant in light of the success the marque has had with models such as the Golf R.

In terms of set-up, a performance-oriented front induction motor makes 107bhp, and by combining that with another motor on the rear axle (of the permanently excited synchronous variety, whose efficiency and consistent power delivery make it better for everyday driving), the GTX musters 295bhp and 348lb ft. That makes the car almost half as powerful again as the next model down the ID 4 hierarchy. However, by doubling the motor and gearbox count, the GTX is also the heaviest car in the range, at 2149kg.

Much of that weight comes from the underfloor battery pack, whose usable capacity of 77kWh yields an official range of 301 miles in GTX guise and 291 miles in range-topping, equipment-rich GTX Max form. So the most expensive model in the ID 4 line-up is not in fact the most long-legged. For that accolade, you have to look down to the single-motor ID 4 Life in Pro Performance guise, which manages 322 miles.

Responsible for supporting the mass is a sports suspension set-up that sits the GTX 15mm lower than the regular ID 4 but uses the same MacPherson-strut architecture at the front, with five links to control the rear wheels. Passive dampers come as standard, although Max models such as our test car have VW’s highly configurable DCC dampers. The GTX also benefits from VW’s front-axle XDS ‘differential lock’, which was pioneered on earlier generations of Golf GT. In truth, there’s nothing ‘locking’ about it. Instead, when the ESP system detects wheelspin, it uses the targeted application of the brakes to simulate the effects of a limited-slip differential. Knitting everything together is a new Vehicle Dynamics Manager, which apportions propulsive duties and dictates the behaviour of the dampers and effect of the XDS.

Visually, the ID 4 follows the same grown-up yet somewhat cartoonish design as the ID 3, although with its lower ride height, larger wheels and sporting details, the GTX musters a little more presence than its siblings. Its footprint is marginally shorter but wider than that of the current BMW 3 Series and other D-segment saloons.

In the same vein as the exterior, the ID 4’s cabin will feel familiar to anyone already acquainted with the ID 3 but radical if your experience of Volkswagen crossovers extends only to the likes of the Tiguan.

There’s no substantial transmission tunnel or expansive centre console laden with switchgear – only a plinth for the cupholders that extends forwards from a generously deep central storage compartment. The instrument ‘binnacle’ is limited to a small digital display, and it goes without cowling for an expansive view forward that’s aided by proper quarter-light panes and a relatively low scuttle. High-spec models such as our GTX Max test car also benefit from having a panoramic roof, which floods the interior with light.

This is a progressive-feeling cabin, albeit one executed with some reassuring familiarity, even if VW’s decision to do away with almost every bit of traditional switchgear and rely on unintuitive touch-sensitive controls is not entirely successful.

The ID 4 doesn’t rely on perception-moulding tricks to create that sense of space, either. Compared with combustion-engined alternatives, it’s genuinely big inside, with the flat floor and compact powertrain allowing the two rows of seats to sit conveniently far apart. The VW’s roofline is also less sloping than that of Ford’s Mustang Mach-E, so taller passengers will prefer it, and only the Hyundai Ioniq 5, with its BMW X5-beating wheelbase, gives those in the back row a more easy-going and relaxing ambience. However, we would have liked a sliding rear bench and proper 40/20/40-split folding, rather than just 60/40, and boot space is only typical for the class, at 543 litres. By comparison, the Mustang Mach-E manages just 402 litres and the Skoda Enyaq (which is built on the same platform as the ID 4) an unbeatable 580 litres.

Almost all of the above applies to whichever ID 4 variant you pick, although the GTX also gets bold stitching, some specific badging and, in Max trim, Top Sports Plus seats, which are similar in design to those found in the Golf R but include more adjustability and a massage function. They’re excellent and, clad in Art Veloursmicrofleece,looksuitably serious but they alone can’t imbue the entire cabin with an overt sporting flavour, and for the most part the GTX feels quite ordinary.

Infotainment and sat-nav

Lower-trim models come with Volkswagen’s 10.0in Discover Pro Navigation infotainment system, though this increases to 12.0in for higher-spec cars. Generally, it works well and is graphically rich. It takes practice to learn how best to navigate and operate it, though, and getting familiar is best done with the car parked. Also, the reservations we had with the Mk8 Golf in terms of usability apply here, too. The touch-sensitivity is inconsistent.

You get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard, both of which can be accessed by either a USB or Bluetooth connection. Also included as standard is wireless phone charging. The system will respond to voice commands, too, albeit not as dependably as we would like. It will retune the radio well enough when you ask it to, thanks to recognition of ‘natural’ commands, but it struggles with addresses and place names.

The instrument binnacle itself is deliberately small but easily legible and can display navigation data. We quite like it.

The straight-line performance of electric cars is frequently – and in our opinion fairly – criticised for being an event preoccupied with raw numbers, and that’s because there often isn’t that much else to talk about. Electric motors are fast-responding and impressively consistent in their power delivery but somewhat lacking in personality. It is the numbers that therefore differentiate two rival cars, both on the spec sheet and when it comes to excitement on the road, and they take on added importance.

You’d think this would mean Volkswagen was extra keen to give the flagship version of its most important electric car some real bite when it comes to acceleration. However, at Millbrook, the ID 4 GTX whispered its way to 60mph in a leisurely 6.2sec – swift enough for easy overtaking on well-sighted roads, but hardly capable of leaving an impression, as quicker versions of the Mustang Mach-E and Tesla Model Y absolutely do.

Perhaps part of the problem is also that VW has chosen to calibrate the accelerator response relatively conservatively, which helps make the GTX undemanding to drive day to day but robs it of the razor-sharp, exciting initiation of roll-on acceleration you find with some rivals. More underwhelming is that, once you’re beyond the initial stab of torque and into the meat of what the two motors can do when their efforts combine, the result is underwhelming, as if all 348lb ft can never get on top of the car’s substantial mass. What’s curious is that this figure isn’t notably poor in comparison to similarly heavy rivals, but the GTX nevertheless feels a little lacklustre every time you really put your foot down.

In general, the GTX seems more set up for everyday usability than driving reward. The brake pedal is soft and imprecise when it comes to shaving off speed before corner entry but it feels perfectly intuitive about town, where you’ll mostly rely on the well-judged regenerative brake force in any case. The car is simply more demure than we’d want it to be.

Manufacturers only get the chance to make their first-ever all-electric sporting derivative once, so you would think they’d be desperate to ensure that car was memorable.

Unfortunately, the ID 4 GTX is nothing of the sort. Okay, it grips well, has a reasonably neutral cornering balance and on adaptive DCC dampers there’s little in the way of superfluous body movement, only control – and mostly the fluid, poised variety at that. But there’s no sense of energy or engagement here.

Even in Sport mode, the accelerator pedal damping is too generous and the dynamic opportunities provided by having an independent electric motor on each axle have been used to improve stability rather than agility. Perhaps that’s as it should be, given this is a family car, but an uninspiring balance has been struck, resulting in a cohesive but dull and nose-led driving experience, with no ‘throttle’ adjustability.

Even the regular ID 4’s inclination to oversteer very slightly out of damp corners – an enjoyable and well-hidden aspect of its dynamic personality – has been erased with the addition of an electric motor for the front axle, and if you ratchet up the pace on good B-roads, the GTX only seems to favour that front axle increasingly.

The ID 4 GTX therefore scores well for stability but poorly for handling, which in the context of this magazine should probably be labelled ‘enjoyable handling’. The lowered suspension and its revised spring and damper rates give it an impressively dependable feel in all weathers; traction is total (although this is more down to the modest torque outputs than suspension and tyre prowess); and the extra weight in the steering is welcome compared with the floaty sensation experienced in the regular ID 4. But in terms of engagement, there’s daylight between this Volkswagen and our current pick of the class – the Mustang Mach-E – and that’s true whether or not you have the Ford with four- wheel drive or rear-wheel drive.

Track notes

Taking to the Hill Route at Millbrook Proving Ground was the only time our testers felt obliged to put the car into Sport mode and increase the damping force above that preset for Comfort. These changes hardly transformed the GTX, and driven up to and beyond the limits of grip and traction it remained dependably sure-footed but deeply unexciting, smudging into understeer with little to no scope for adjustment with the throttle. The progressive steering rack Volkswagen has fitted to the GTX does at least make for an accurate car and the vertical body control is good.

It means that while you’re unlikely to get much reward from taking the top-billing ID 4 by the scruff, it’ll make fine progress with considered inputs that take into account its weight and relative tallness. Let’s not pretend, though: the GTX is mostly flat-footed in its dynamic character and less at home on the Hill Route than VW’s comparable combustion-engined crossover, the Tiguan R.

Ride comfort and isolation

As well as the calming ambience VW has crafted with the ID 4, the car’s rolling refinement is also a strong suit, even on 20in wheels. The GTX’s aerodynamic design seems to prevent much wind noise building up, and the structure and sound-insulation materials allow only very moderate levels of road roar to enter the cabin.

The GTX also achieves its fluid high-speed gait without much trouble, and while the DCC dampers can be relaxed to quite an extreme extent, we found there’s never any need to venture past the preset for Comfort. In short, it’s an excellent cruiser, and the widely adjustable seats are among the most pleasantin the class, should you ever have reason to drain the battery in one 200-mile-plus sitting.

When Her Majesty’s treasury refocused the UK’s plug-in vehicle grant in March this year, it both encumbered and liberated cars like the ID 4 GTX. British buyers can now get only £2500 off a new electric car, and only on cars worth up to £35,000 before options, which means only the very cheapest ID 4 qualifies. And that has allowed the GTX to be priced freely, of course, without needing to be squeezed in under some arbitrary price threshold.

Too freely, perhaps, for some. Volkswagen offers the car in GTX and GTX Max trims, the latter coming loaded with equipment such as three-zone air conditioning, surround-view parking cameras, adaptive dampers and even an energy-efficient heat pump. The GTX Max starts at more than £55,000, whereas an Audi Q4 E-tron with the same twin-motor powertrain can be had for £4000 less, and comparable rivals from Hyundai and Skoda for less still.

The GTX Max’s saving grace may be that it really is a fully loaded car: besides dealer accessories, of course, there is little you could add to it at extra cost even if you wanted to. A regular GTX is more competitively priced, undercutting Ford’s long-range, twin-motor Mustang Mach-E, although not Polestar’s equivalent 2.

The GTX will rapid charge at the same 125kW rate as any other ID 4 – not awful, although its Hyundai and Kia rivals now approach 250kW at peak. Our testing suggested that a real-world range at a typical 70mph cruise would be almost 240 miles.

For its first electric performance derivative, Volkswagen has deployed familiar weapons from its sporting armoury: larger wheels, a lower ride height, four-wheel drive and restrained visual cues. In short, while the powertrain of the ID 4 GTX is novel, the overarching approach is familiar. And the result? A car that’s well rounded and has substantial everyday appeal, but also one that leaves us uninspired from the driver’s seat in a manner that traditional GTI-badged offerings almost always manage to avoid.

With its independent electric motors and low centre of gravity, the ID 4 GTX was VW’s chance to show us that its electric cars can be genuinely engaging to drive, but that’s simply not the case here. Instead, the GTX majors on long-distance comfort and all-weather dependability, with greater control and performance than a regular ID 4 affords.

For many people, that’ll be an attractive proposition, and in this sense the GTX hits its mark. However, it’s clear that Ford has stolen a march on its German rival when it comes to relatively attainable electric driver’s cars. For now, we’re not sure how well VW’s sporting inclinations will transfer into the electric era after decades of fine GTI models.

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