Driving the Volkswagen ID.4 EV Off Road in the Desert

A sinister blow startles me as the ID.4 hits the dry desert land, kicking up a column of silky dust in front of another whoop-dee-doo. I brace myself for a non-occurring frontal scratch and remind myself as I hit the gas, if this EV survived the NORRA Mexican 1000 punishment, it can certainly handle whatever it can dish out.

I’m at the Soggy Dry Lake off-road recreation area, an hour north of Palm Springs, California, and in my mind, I’m hitting an electric vehicle beyond its capabilities. But not me. I’m here because Volkswagen has offered me two specially modified ID.4s and a 1969 Beetle for me to drive through the desert to show that EVs are capable off-roaders, and that Baja Beetles are still great but also difficult to drive compared to. current offers. . All three vehicles easily handle the rough terrain and the pounds of dust that fly off the desert floor in their wake. From what I can tell, the vehicles are not bothered in the least by my driving or my worries.

So as I momentarily worry about the First Edition rear wheel drive (RWD) suspension, I keep crashing into the ground, taking refuge in the knowledge that not only did it complete the NORRA race, it was the first production electric vehicle. in doing it. The road and I are inconsequential for this EV so I’m going faster.

Roberto Baldwin / Tips Clear

A new experience

Until now, electric vehicles have largely been a road affair. Tesla, GM, Hyundai, Ford – all launched electric vehicles intended to reside on asphalt. Outside of electric motorcycle offerings and the Rivian R1T, automakers don’t highlight the off-road capabilities of their electron-powered vehicles. So Volkswagen decided to take their rather tame ID.4 and dump it into the desert, twice, and offered me a chance to test them both.

The second, more colorful ID.4 I get behind the wheel with is the newer ID.4 AWD Pro, an all-wheel-drive version of the electric SUV that offers better traction and more power. She competed in the Rebelle Rally, a women’s rally raid event held in Nevada and California. This psychedelic rainbow on four wheels is more civilized than its cousin NORRA. The radio and the climate control work. It even has the factory seats and seatbelt. But even with the CarPlay capability intact, it’s not your average ID.

Christopher Stahl / Volkswagen

Both ID.4s got huge suspension upgrades and their radiators were moved a few inches higher to increase the angle of approach and help with cooling. That new angle setting is why I was able to tackle a steep pothole without the front of the vehicle scraping the ground. Additional skid plates protect the underside, while a riser increases ground clearance and off-road tires provide better traction.

I drove the normal ID 4. This was a new experience that could only have been achieved with these modifications. An ID.4 straight from the showroom floor would likely have bottomed out every 10 feet and would definitely have had a serious difficulty taking the knotty road to the lake bed. But where the Rebel Rallye ID.4 was comfortable, the NORRA was all business.

With most of the interior removed, the windows replaced with a small plastic slider, and a roll cage that made me regret not practicing yoga as I flexed my arms and legs into unnatural positions to take a seat, the RWD ID.4 took quite a bit. a beating (or so I think) while behind the wheel. Should an electric vehicle jump on a narrow road full of potholes, potholes, and potholes deep enough to swallow a pony? Probably not? But I did it. Over and over, as my body strained but held steady with the five-point seatbelt on the harness.

Christopher Stahl / Volkswagen

Smart nd safe

At the bottom of the lake, Volkswagen set up an autocross course to help me experience the difference between the two vehicles. Sure the NORRA ID.4 felt ready to take over the world, but it was slower off the line and the corners weren’t quite as tight. The Rebelle Rally AWD version was faster and, because all four wheels sank into the dirt, it was better suited for the narrow slalom that Volkswagen had prepared. Yet even with all the aftermarket suspension, tires, and roll cages, there was one thing VWs couldn’t do: break free and skid. Turns out it’s a feature, not a bug (pun intended).

Both ID.4s still had traction and stability controls engaged. Volkswagen says these cannot be defeated from the car and would essentially require someone to enter the digital guts of the vehicle to turn them off. The result was a loss of power when cornering as the vehicle tried to correct a slip that it was about to experience. It was especially frustrating with the RWD variant, as oversteer not only provides a thrilling driving experience, it can be used to maintain momentum through corners.

While the system made desert driving a bit less fun, it’s a good indicator that Volkswagen’s safety systems are ready for even the slickest roads in the real world. The same technology that stifled my ability to wag my tail on a dry lake bed will likely prevent someone driving in the rain from running off the road.

Even with the system on, the colorful AWD ID.4 showed the ruggedness a vehicle would need to handle the rigors of the desert. He felt more civilized on the track and on the bumpy road in the way that the Captain American is more civilized than the Hulk. They both still get the job done, but one is a bit smarter to get the desired result.

All the updates in the world will not change the fact that the ID.4s needed something that gasoline vehicles in competitions did not need, a place to load. For NORRA, a charging station connected to a biodiesel generator was used. When that wasn’t available, the vehicle was towed flat for a short distance until the regenerative system added enough power to get to the next scheduled stop.

Christopher Stahl / Volkswagen

A common thread

Then there was the Beetle. A four-speed, rear-wheel-drive beast from the late ’60s that has probably seen so much off-road that its metal is fused with dust. The idea was to experience the evolution of the VW off-road. From Beetle to ID.4 with rear wheel drive, up to the all-wheel drive version. Sure the inclusion of the Beetle seemed a bit odd considering it was built over half a century ago, but let’s move on, shall we?

Unlike its more safety-focused, distant cousins, the Beetle was mostly on its side while I was behind the wheel. With no traction control, the slippery desert floor kept me turning the wheel from side to side to keep me on course. I also ended up lifting the passenger wheels off the ground multiple times, something the ID.4s likely won’t find anytime soon thanks to the low center of gravity their battery packs give them.

While it was strange to show the evolution from the Beetle to the ID.4, there is a common thread: The Beetle was not built with the off-road in mind. The first Baja Bug is believed to have been built in 1968. As soon as it happened, taking a bug and modifying it to cope with the rigors of dirt became a worldwide phenomenon. It was a vehicle built for everyday use that some turned into something a little crazy. Volkswagen did the same with the two ID.4s that I drove.

Volkswagen’s decision to create ID.4 off-road has less to do with an organic origin story. The company wanted to see what would happen if it took its first long-range electric vehicle to land in the United States and gave it some punch to tackle the dirt. The automaker’s future plans for additional off-road vehicles are unclear. But the seed has been planted. Once off-road and EV enthusiasts see what can be done with suspension upgrades, new wheels and tires, and radiator relocation, other ID.4s and EVs will start to appear at off-road events. All changes made to these VWs are typical of those made to gasoline vehicles.

The off-road, like the roads of the world, is about to undergo an evolution. A dirty world that’s greener, quieter, and, if you can make those pesky stability systems shut down, just the right amount of laterality.

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