I start this article by saying it has been a long time in the making... I've wanted to write this for many months but as each week with the car passed and yet another issue arose I realised that I needed to see this through to the end. Buckle up ;)
The story begins in the middle of 2022 where I decided I wanted to switch to an electric vehicle. The rationale wasn't complex and came down to the following:
- Trying to do my part for the environment
- Love the ideology of charging at home / not constrained to petrol stations
- Something new to me
Fast-forward to April 2023 (the expected delivery date), where a BMW dealership informed me that they hadn't placed the order and no vehicle was waiting for me. Frustrated, yes. Angry, very yes. I'd waited over 7 months only to be told that the dealership had done nothing with my order, and I'd driven an uncomfortable unreliable car for the duration.
Once my head was back in the right space I went back to cars I had test driven and decided that the VW iD.4 would be the one to go for. This time around a second-hand car (to avoid the wait), and with the drawback that the interior difference between what I originally wanted and what I had now chosen was significant.
One week later and a shiny car arrives outside my house, ready for me to take it for the first real drive. As you can see in the picture it looks great sideways on, unfortunately the roof had been polished to oblivion and when stood next to the car you could see scratch/swirl marks on the roof (something I had thought of sorting myself at a later date).
A quick drive around the estate went well, with the car being quick off the line (it was the GTX model), though the infotainment wasn't what I expected. A quick check revealed that despite the dealership assuring me twice prior to the sale that the software had been upgraded to the latest version available, it hadn't. This older software resulted in many months of issues (detailed below).
Charging at home using a 3-pin socket (while the EV charger was awaiting fitment) worked well, and while slow, it always charged the vehicle without issue (credit to the charger). As you can imagine charging when away from home didn't work as expected, and came with interesting quirks.
First, you soon learn that the range they tell you an EV can achieve is subject to the following conditions:
- Having an ambient temperature of around 25 degrees Celsius
- Staying at 50MPH or below (ideally, driving in a city)
- Having nothing that resembles additional weight
- Staying 6 inches behind a moving lorry at all times
- Always driving downhill
Second, you learn that charging isn't always friendly (both due to chargers and other people). On multiple occasions charging the vehicle would not work (yet for other cars pulling up immediately after me it would), or the charge would work but at a very slow speed. Worse, when there are queues for chargers in places that aren't designed to handle queues. In some cases people are friendly and remember the order they arrived, in others it gets nasty as people seemingly believe they have priority and you are impacting their life. All of this is coupled with a frustration that the car doesn't preheat the battery prior to charging (even if navigating to a charger via the built-in map). This results in painfully slow charging until the battery has reached the correct temperature.
Third, you realise just how many charging apps you need. On my phone I still have a full page of charging apps that are required depending on which charger you visit / where you are in the country. Some work great (even working offline), while others require the moon to be in the correct position to function. A dishonourable mention to the WeCharge service offered by VW for the vehicle, which never worked throughout the entire time I owed the car.
In truth, all of the above could (and will be by some) considered as "first-world problems" that should have been known beforehand / are the writers fault for not researching properly. A fair point, but with the multiple test-drives and research performed before attempting the first purchase, and a lot of reading for the iD.4, I suspect I did more than the average person would have.
Changing perspective for a moment, rather than what can be considered annoyances let's examine general reliability / safety. While I don't deny I covered many miles in the vehicle without incurring my own death, the car has a lot to answer for...
The first offender comes in the form of the adaptive cruise control. For those who spend 3+ hours daily on a motorway you soon realise that having a car that can safely pace the car in front makes the drive much easier. Unfortunately VW were having a bad day/week/month/yeah when they implemented this feature as it suffers from two significant problems:
- It doesn't work in heavy rain (it shuts off)
- The sensor occasionally misreads (in both directions)
While the former might not seem significant, I've had many cars over the years and this is the only one that when the read is somewhat heavy it decides to shut itself off. Not an issue you may think, but when doing 70MPH on a motorway and having the car enter regen-braking mode with no warning it isn't good.
The latter is what IMHO should be considered life-threatening, enough so I fed this back to VW regarding how they were going to get people killed. On the one hand, when pacing another vehicle (from 50MPH to 70MPH), occasionally it reads the distance as being further away than it is. When the vehicle in front breaks hard (but not an emergency stop) the system continues past the point of safe breaking whereby it not only doesn't break hard enough (no ABS kick-in) but it decides not to try any harder (allowing you to crash).
If that wasn't bad enough, the worst that I have encountered (more than 10 times) is where despite it being a clear/flat/dry road ahead it determines that there is an object immediately in front of you and that an emergency stop is required. The worst occasion of this was on the M1 whereby despite there being no cars in front of me for at least 1 mile it decided an emergency stop was required to avoid hitting a vehicle. Not only was this outright dangerous, the cars behind me had to slam their brakes on to avoid creating an accident.
Moving past the ACC system trying to kill you comes the technology fails that plague the vehicle. On multiple occasions for each I've had the following happen:
- Electric window control failure (with the drivers window down in the rain)
- Drivetrain failure (where you can't put the vehicle into gear)
- Infotainment system crash
- Speedometer failure (where the car would drive but no speedo would show)
- Connectivity loss for entire journeys (no remote status check / scheduled heating)
Hardware issues also plagued the car (one of which was at my expense). The rear light-bar across the boot got progressively worse, rattling on any drive and potentially leaking water into the boot-space. The wheel arch was a sore point for me after encountering the trim break the clips when driving at sensible speeds through puddled roads. Speaking to a different VW dealership revealed that this is a known issue due to the design of the wheel arch / where the water attempts to go and that there isn't a fix (only a replacement part that the customer has to pay for).
With all of the above, the months went by and I continued to drive the vehicle, hoping that a future software update would fix things. The day finally came whereby I managed to get an early booking (given the ongoing issues) to get the software upgraded to v3.2. For once I finally had hope that the vehicle was going to be returned to me in a better state.
In a word, no... The software update was performed and the battery pack measured / a module replaced (so far so good). I handed back the iD.3 they had lent me (complete with older software than I purchased my vehicle with), and drove home only to encounter another random emergency stop on the way. While the infotainment looked better, the same issues were still present, the range (after doing yet more long drives) hadn't improved at all, and the remote control of the vehicle was even worse.
I drove for a few more months before enough was enough, cutting my losses (with a depreciation of over 30K, thanks VW for being known for crappy software and more lies of vehicle functionality). My final week with the vehicle was so frustrating that my partner did the final drive to the point of sale (I couldn't stomach it anymore).
As for what I traded to, a used diesel that cost £12K less than what I originally paid for the iD.4, and the difference between them was like switching from drinking saltwater to a crisp refreshing beer. I realised that I had convinced myself through the months that the car hadn't been that bad and that it had still managed to get me from A to B, while in truth it was an awful vehicle that took all joy out of driving.
With everything I've said in this article, I know I will try another EV in the coming years (I have no doubt on this). Given what I've experienced it won't be a VW, and realistically if BMW could improve the efficiency/range of the i4 I will probably go for one of those. This article isn't written to put people off all EV's available today, it's a cautionary tale written in the hope of getting people really think about what they are giving up / what the compromises are before sealing the deal.