VW gives ID.4 ‘Fair’ Minnesota intro — with corn dogs

May 21, 2021 by
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Features, Autos 

A pair of Tiguans flank the entrance to the Twin Cities Auto Show, at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds.

By John Gilbert

SAINT PAUL, MN. — As I drove around some of the interior streets of the mostly-deserted Minnesota State Fairgrounds in a remarkable new Volkswagen ID.4 that can only be described as electrifying, an inescapable thought hit me. The annual Twin Cities Auto Show and the Minnesota State Fair, were two Minnesota institutions that were among all the things cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic in the past year. But brilliant ideas can arise out of such unfortunate circumstances.

That is the case this year — or at least this week — when any interested Minnesotans can act hastily and capitalize on both before May 23. No, the state fair hasn’t been moved from fall to the beginning of summer, but the auto show has moved from the wintry throes of mid-March to mid-May by taking over the spacious state fairgrounds from May 15 through Sunday, May 23.

The ID.4 is Volkswagen’s new all-electric compact SUV, with power, range, technology, and affordably prices about $40,000.

That is the reason that I was able to get a brief and impromptu drive in the new all-electric Volkswagen ID.4, although the usual advantage an auto media guy might have over the normal consumers is eliminated because anybody can sign up to test drive any of assorted electric vehicles that are not only on display but parked in position where official chaperones can accompany you on a mile or two drive around the city within a city that is the fairgrounds.

It turns out, the coincidence is that the official “car of the show” this year is the Volkswagen Tiguan, which is an interesting choice because right during this week, Volkswagen held a Zoom introduction of the new Tiguan Allspace, a redesigned pair of SUVs that are sure to become big sellers. A couple of the current Tiguans are paried under the arches at the north entrance to the show at the fairgrounds.

But while the Twin Cities dealers put on the annual show in Minnesota, and allow all sorts of customized and detailed specialty models that a manufacturers show such as Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles or New York would never allow, and they continue to push hard for big trucks and SUVs, insisting Minnesotans prefer those to haul trailers to cabins, there is no overlooking the charge — you should pardon the expressiuon — toward electriic vehicles (EVs).

Another irony of the whole scene is that while there were all sorts of fabulous big trucks all over that segment of the expansive fairgrounds grounds, Ford was unveiling its new Lightning, resurrecting the name to define its new all-electric model of the top-selling F-150 pickup. There were none to be found, nor were there the Tesla pickup, or the new GMC electric pickup. But they’re coming.

Ford stopped making cars, other than th eMjustang, but it cleverly made a sleek 4-door electric model called the Mustang-e.

Around various corners there were some interesting new vehicles, and we wanted to spend a couple of hours examining them. But the electric cars stole the show. Ford has several of its new Mustang-e models, all of which look better in person than in pictures, and you could make a special trip to the Ford exhibition to sign up to drive one of the low, sleek 4-door Mustangs. Meanwhile, various EVs were on display near the main sign-up booth where you can choose which one you want to drive, and after a short wait has a short line and then you get a call when your turn is due.

Available when we were there were a few high-tech hybrids, but there also were some pure EVs: Kia Niros, Mitsubishis, and the one I was waiting for, the Volkswagen ID.4.

The Kia Niros parked end to end can be hybrid, plug-in hybrid or pure EV.

First advice is to be prepared for a surprise. Electric power hits full torque at 0 RPMs — as in, zero — which is why they are so swift taking off. The battery packs add weight, but if placed right can enhance weight distribution and actually make the heavier car handle better.The VW ID.4 we drove had its engine in the rear, and was 2-wheel drive, with those 2 being the rear wheels. The coming model with all-wheel-drive will be a huge hit in Northern Minnesota.

The new VW ID.4 is a high-styled compact SUV that is out now, and it looks sleeker and more stylish than everything from the VW wagons to SUVs.

After I climbed behind the wheel of the ID.4, the fellow assigned to keep signees waiting their turn for the ID.4s got into the passenger seat and my wife (and assistant) Joan climbed into the spacious rear seat. This was not a normal VW, which I could tell as soon as I got behind the wheel. You don’t need a key, you don’t even need to start the engine, because there is no engine.

You just grip the wheel and go. When it’s electric power that is moving your car, it’s a “motor,” not an “engine,” thank you.

“How do I shift?” I asked. Easy. Just twist the end of the knob protruding fro the right of the steering column. Twist it this way and you get Drive, twist it that way, Reverse. And in the middle is Neutral. To put it in Park, you stop, then push in the knob on the tip of the same stalk.

“You’re all set to go,” our guide said. I turned the steering wheel, pulled out, and stepped on the “gas” pedal, and zip, we were off. Silently. He gave us strict directions around the fairgrounds streets, stopping here, turning there. “And when you get to that stop sign, take off as fast as you want,” He said. I wanted. I stepped hard on the pedal anticipating what would happen. Zap! We took off swiftly, but silently. The ID.4 steers and handles well, and it is really fun to drive.

My test-drive was brief, but it was one of several you could sign up for if you visit the show at the fairgrounds. With any luck, this week’s show will start a trend, and move to the fairgrounds every year henceforth. Much better timing than mid-March, the same week as the state hockey tournament.

The idea was to bring in all the new cars and trucks and SUVs the industry has to offer, and place them strategically inside the fairgrounds. Naturally, it wouldn’t take up that much of the fairgrounds, just a couple small areas near the grandstand.

Nissan has redesigned the compact SUV Rogue, its top-selling vehicle.

The best idea was to invite a few concessionaires. Yes, if you love going to the fair, one of the main reasons might be the food. You can compare Pronto Pups and Corn Dogs, because they have both open. And Sweet Martha’s hot chocolate chip cookies with ice cold milk, as well as a few other concession stands. Although, once you have corn dogs and hot cookies, who cares about the other stuff?

But we do care about the cars, and I was pleasantly surprised at how many people were lined up at the gates to get in as soon as the Saturday morning media-day hours ended and the show opened.

There is one other great idea involved: Free Parking! Yes, if you drive onto the grounds and follow the gents in their outfits, waving flags, you will be directed to a couple huge free parking lots, from which you can stroll into the grounds and do some serious car scrutinizing.

The electric cars and high-mileage hybrids blend in well with the normal vehicles, but this is the year of transition. Some of the more conservative Twin Cities dealers guys may not be too thrilled about it, but you can’t stop progress. A couple years ago, show decided to take a big truck and SUV focus, because we buy more of those on a percentage basis than anywhere else in the country, to haul our boats and camping gear. As all the ideas in the world go, that was one of them. Reaction was OK, but even then customers were mostly curious about the newest alternative energy vehicles and the approaching electric-car revolution.

There has even been grumbling that our Minnesota dealers will never sell electric vehicles, because they can’t get enough of them, and the infrastructure isn’t there. But it’s coming. Most electric vehicles are sold in California and on the coasts, but Governor Tim Walz has the right idea to go after the infrastructure for Minnesota. People who fear the EV arrival don’t realize how much demand there already is for them. Charging stations and high-speed charging stations are already in place or going in, right here in flyover land.

Beyond that, battery makers are making enormous technological advances, and automakers are building higher tech cars and SUVs and, yes, pickup trucks, to catch up.

Toyota’s traditional lead in hybrid technology is now being swarmed by competitors who are vaulting right past hybrids to pure EVs. Tesla, of course, is up front in that chase, but the onrushing concepts of Hyundai, Kia, Honda, Volkswagen, Audi, Nissan, Mazda, Volvo, Jaguar, Mini, and Fiat are coming on fast.

That’s why the Twin Cities show is so timely. In a nod to past tradition, the “Car of the Show” this year is the Volkswagen Tiguan — a compact but conventional SUV that is sturdy and durable for family use, and it leads in perfectly — if unintentionally — to Volkswagen’s incredible future.

Volkswagen is a German company that makes some of the most durable and potent and efficient engines in the world. The company’s 2.0-liter 4-cylinder is good as it sits and fantastic if you turbocharge it. It has been tweaked to power the GTI hot-rod hatch version of the Golf, and it also can be used in the Jetta 4-door, the Passat midsize near-luxury sedan, and on into the Arteon, and the SUVs like the Tiguan.

While also building a strong and unique VR-6 when more power is needed, VW has built a smaller 4-cylinder, at 1.4 liters, that is both adequately powerful with a turbo and extremely fuel-efficient in, say, the Jetta.

Every time you climb into any Volkswagen, you eel as though you’ve surrounded yourself in solid, German engineering. They are strong, durable and can be tased around like sports cars, if you choose.

Hyundai has redone all its SUVs, and the compact Tucson is just about to be introduced.

The new design of the Jetta places it among the bsst entry-level sedans, and it will never feel entry level. The Passat is a willing challenger to any highway-cruising near-luxury car, at a bargain price. And the people’s-car company also owns Audi, which is more of a luxury car-maker, and also advances the corporate engineering and efficiency. The new Audi e-tron is the sleek sedan you see being advertised on satellite TV broadcasts of the Stanley Cup hockey games.

The Tiguan was always a bit stubby, so VW elongated it and added interior room and seating, and for the last couple of years they continued to make the shorter one, too. You can get it with the 4 or V6, but drive one with the 4 before you decide on the larger engine. And the new Allspace is about to hit the market.

All of that is worthy of columns and reviews, but this year, the move is electrifying. Volkswagen, like General Motors, Ford, Jeep, and everybody else, is looking for the most efficient way to go electric. Volkswagen has found the answer with a new and progressive technical company that is building a unique new battery pack and propulsion system, and it is going to build a futuristic plant near Silicon Valley in California for its new facility. Someone asked how they could afford such a fabulously expensive facility, and they said they had strong backing. Someone asked who their chief backer was, and they said, “Volkswagen.”

After the new all-electric ID.4 gains traction, so to speak, VW also will have its new Golf-e and a new version coming of the Microbus in all-electric form. The concept is that the new battery system will consist of low, horizontal plates that can be stacked on top of each other, resulting in tremendous range — over 300 miles on a charge, I’m told — and incredibly fast recharging time.

So I enjoyed the Twin Cities show, seeing the Mazdas, the Lexus models, the new Hyundai Tucson, which isn’t introduced yet, and the new Nissan Rogue, also yet to be introduced, as well as the Mitsubishi comeback vehicles, like the Outlander, Outlander Sport and Cross-Sport. Some of those will be electric, too.

Mazda’s new idea isn’t out yet, but should be a super-hybrid, with a battery pack that will run the car for a lot of miles, and then a “range extender” — which is auto-speak for the gas engine in a hybrid — that will be the return of Mazda’s legendary little rotary engine. That will be a neat stepping stone toward all-electric.

The 2021 Passat has evolved to be a near-luxury bargain sedan for Volkswagen.

We also know that there are pickup trucks coming from General Motors and Ford, and next Hyundai, that are propelled by electric power. They’re coming, and we should be embracing the clean-air, low-cost travel we’re going to be faced with.

As of now, the Twin Cities car show has information noting the presence of the VW ID.4, the Mustang-e, the Niro, Outlander, Volvo XC-40 Recharge, Jaguar I-Pace, Mini Cooper-E, Nissan Leaf, Porsche Taycan, Tesla S and Y models, Auto e-tron, BMW i3, and the Chevrolet Bolt.

That’s a pretty good start, and I’ve driven several of them. But I hadn’t driven the VW ID.4 before last weekend, and now I want one for a week, even more. For a promotion, maybe they should offer free corn dogs with it.


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  • About the Author

    John GilbertJohn Gilbert is a lifetime Minnesotan and career journalist, specializing in cars and sports during and since spending 30 years at the Minneapolis Tribune, now the Star Tribune. More recently, he has continued translating the high-tech world of autos and sharing his passionate insights as a freelance writer/photographer/broadcaster. A member of the prestigious North American Car and Truck of the Year jury since 1993. John can be heard Monday-Friday from 9-11am on 610 KDAL(www.kdal610.com) on the "John Gilbert Show," and writes a column in the Duluth Reader.

    For those who want to keep up with John Gilbert's view of sports, mainly hockey with a Minnesota slant, click on the following:

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  • Exhaust Notes:

    More and more cars are offering steering-wheel paddles to allow drivers manual control over automatic or CVT transmissions. A good idea might be to standardize them. Most allow upshifting by pulling on the right-side paddle and downshifting with the left. But a recent road-test of the new Porsche Panamera, the paddles for the slick PDK direct-sequential gearbox were counter-intuitive -- both the right or left thumb paddles could upshift or downshift, but pushing on either one would upshift, and pulling back on either paddle downshifted. I enjoy using paddles, but I spent the full week trying not to downshift when I wanted to upshift. A little simple standardization would alleviate the problem.

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