Our choice of vehicles for this SUV comparison test is bound to raise eyebrows. Shouldn’t we compare the new battery-powered 2021 Volkswagen ID4 with another electric car? That’s how our industry has been doing things, but the time is rapidly approaching when Jane and John Consumer will routinely consider electric as an alternative to internal combustion power. It’s time to start treating electric vehicles like mainstream cars, so let’s compare the ID4 with one of the best eco-friendly crossovers on the market, the 2021 Honda CR-V Hybrid.
Why the Honda? Well, the ID4 is nearly identical to the CR-V Hybrid in dimensions, performance, and—for the moment, at least—price. The limited-run ID4 1st Edition trim is basically the top-of-the-line Pro S with the optional Gradient package, plus some unique trim and a $2,000 discount. Factor in the $7,500 federal tax credit, and our tester prices out to $37,960—just $40 more than the 2021 Honda CR-V Hybrid Touring with optional Platinum White Pearl paint.
Besides, the ID4 might not compare well against some of the flashier EVs on the market because it doesn’t have the spleen-flattening acceleration, bladder-busting range, or reimagined interior of a dual-motor Tesla. (That stuff is coming.) Yes, the ID4 is futuristic, but it’s not just an expensive toy for well-heeled techno-mavens. The ID4 is meant to be a day-in-day-out eco-friendly utility vehicle, just like the CR-V Hybrid.
Electric VW vs. Electrified Honda
As we write this, only 2 percent of Americans drive electric cars, so we’re going to ask the remaining 98 percent to take a couple of things as read. First, let’s pretend range anxiety doesn’t exist. The ID4’s 250-mile range (its EPA-rated figure and, based on our experience, a reliable real-world number) is barely half of what the Honda can do, but remember EV owners can plug in at night and have a full “tank” every morning. Long-distance travel in an electric car is now a possibility, if an inconvenient one.
Once you get over that one basic difference—plug versus pump—the ID4 and CR-V start to overlap in more ways than you might imagine. And picking the best between them proved difficult. Executive summary: The Honda is a bit more utilitarian and practical, and the Volkswagen is a bit more futuristic and fun.
Styling, Outside and In
Kudos to VW for designing its vehicle of the future accordingly. The ID4’s clean styling, with its flush door handles and low stance, makes the CR-V look downright dowdy. Inside, the ID4 doubles down on its car-of-the-future vibe. In place of the staid and sensible gauges VW has used for years, the ID4 has a small pod attached to its steering wheel that houses a minimalist instrument panel, with speed, range, adaptive cruise status, and next-turn directions displayed on a small screen. Attached to it like Van Gogh’s remaining ear is the shifter: Twist for drive or reverse, press the button for park. At center-dash is the infotainment and climate screen. There’s a small button on the steering column marked “Engine Start” (old habits die hard, apparently), but in normal operation you’ll never use it; with the key fob on your person, you unlock the ID4 by squeezing the door handle and start it by getting in and stepping on the brake. Putting the car in park and getting out shuts it off.
By comparison, the CR-V’s interior seems almost quaint, its faux wood trim a throwback to the 2020s. The Honda’s digital instrument cluster looks massive compared to the VW’s. Not that we disliked it; after the VW’s sci-fi interior, it was nice to get back to the period-piece Honda and find all the controls more or less where we expect them. Aside from its perennially annoying touchscreen stereo, the CR-V is as user-friendly as can be.
The driving experience is remarkably similar. EVs feel very different to drive than typical internal combustion vehicles, but the CR-V Hybrid is not typical. Honda’s EarthDreams hybrid system uses an engine to generate electricity (with a small battery buffer) and an electric motor to drive the wheels. The engine seamlessly connects to drive the wheels directly under certain steady-state or light acceleration conditions above 40 mph. This all means the CR-V Hybrid delivers the same smooth, linear, shift-free acceleration as the ID4.
Regenerative braking is another interesting similarity. The Honda uses steering wheel paddles to select up to four levels of regen, making it easy to control your speed (and juice up the battery) on long downhill drives. The ID4 has a single “B” mode that, despite our predictions of inadequacy, was the Goldilocks setting, slowing the car significantly but never jarringly. In fact, it required barely any conscious adaptation on our part.
You won’t feel the Honda’s engine, but you’ll sure as hell hear it. The engine either drones or moans, and if you should ask the CR-V Hybrid to do anything extraordinarily challenging—like, say, drive up a hill—the 2.0-liter screams as if it’s being tortured. A fast run through curvy roads had us clamoring for the ID4’s relative silence. We say “relative” because the ID4, like the Honda, admits plenty of wind noise at highway speeds. Stranger still is how much sound the ID4 driver hears from surrounding cars, ambient noise the Honda’s shouty engine drowns out.
Neither car is particularly quick. The ID4 we drove features a single 201-hp motor mounted to the rear axle, and our test team clocked it to 60 in 7.4 seconds, a perfectly fine performance for an everyday SUV. Despite having slightly more power and 939 fewer pounds to haul around, the CR-V trailed the Volkswagen to 60 by 0.1 second. EVs often feel like they run out of steam at higher speeds, but here it was the CR-V that struggled with top-end acceleration. Passing on a two-laner feels dicier in the CR-V than in the ID4.
Still, both powertrains delivered on their promises: If we kept to the speed limits at all times, the ID4 would exceed its 250-mile range, and the CR-V would come respectably close to its 38-mpg EPA combined rating.
How They Drive
Both crossovers ride relatively comfortably on smooth asphalt but start bouncing around on bumpy roads. The CR-V has a not entirely unpleasant pogo-stick quality while the ID4 jiggles its passengers at an accelerated frequency, which we assume is a result of stiff shocks trying to control the inertia of the heavy battery pack under the car’s floor.
That heavy battery proved to be both boon and bane on our twisty mountain test route. The ID4 feels like the sports car of this duo, with strong grip and magnificent stability thanks to its low center of gravity. But with weight comes inertia, and one particularly nasty mid-corner bump sent the ID4 into oscillations its dampers had trouble reining in. The less-capable Honda sailed through the same corner with far less drama.
We had hoped that the ID4’s rear-drive layout would allow for a little tail-out action (because isn’t that what every family wants from their crossover?), and while we could feel the chassis trying to rotate, the stability control wouldn’t let it—and there’s no way to shut the system off. Still, on broad, fast curves, the ID4 feels steady and confident, just what we expect from a German car.
With notably lower levels of power and grip, the CR-V Hybrid struggled (and ultimately failed) to close the gap between itself and the rapidly disappearing Volkswagen. Though body lean is well controlled, there is quite a bit of vertical body travel, which makes for some rather interesting moments when one side of the road rises and the other falls. Our knuckles may have been a bit paler than usual on some of the trickier bits of road.
That said, despite its bouncy ride and limited grip, the Honda displays an underlying competence. Some CUVs cover their eyes and surrender to understeer when driven too fast, but the CR-V Hybrid tries its hardest with the limited resources it has. Driving it fast was its own perverse sort of pleasure, the kind of rule-breaking satisfaction one gets when cutting class or sneaking into a second movie
Let’s Talk Practicality
We’ll assume most sport-utility buyers care more about utility than sport, and here is where the Honda has an edge. Passenger ingress is marginally easier; the VW may look lower to the ground, but that big battery pack raises the floor to a similar height as the CR-V’s. Both back seats are comfortable, but the Honda feels a little more spacious, with 2.8 inches more legroom plus toe space under the front seats that the ID4 lacks. But for those who get claustrophobic, the ID4’s panoramic glass roof provides more relief than the Honda’s small single-pane sunroof.
The CR-V’s cargo bay at first glance looks like an airplane hangar compared to the ID4’s trunk, but break out the tape measure (which you do all the time, right?), and you’ll find the ID4’s cargo opening is about the same height and slightly wider. The ID4 conceals some of its cargo space under a removable false floor, which provides a flat surface when the seats are folded down, but the VW’s rakish roof is the real problem—the CR-V’s closer-to-vertical tailgate provides more space. The Honda’s load floor is lower, as well, and we like the handles that let you drop the rear seatbacks from inside the cargo bay.
We must talk about stereos. The Volkswagen’s infotainment system is designed to work like a tablet, and although it can be confusing at first, it’s fairly straightforward to use once you understand its logic. The touchscreen also handles climate controls, adding a layer of complication over the CR-V, but the Honda’s stereo and navigation system still frustrates us. It takes several button presses to move between common functions, and the voice recognition system strikes us as both patronizing and deliberately obtuse. Sound quality from the Honda’s stereo was better, though, particularly at higher volumes.
The Winner, but Only by a Smidge
The object of our comparison tests is to pick a definitive winner, and here we struggle, not because the Volkswagen ID4 and Honda CR-V Hybrid are so different but because they are so similar. We were surprised to learn these two divergent SUVs have so many strengths (and a few weaknesses) in common.
The ID4 looks better looking and is more fun to drive, but its rear-drive layout is a potential detriment to those who live where it rains and snows. That fact, plus the CR-V’s roomier back seat and upright cargo bay—and the fact that it delivers all-wheel drive for the price of the RWD VW—makes the Honda the winner in this comparison test, by the narrowest of margins. VW was able to create an electric SUV nearly as good as, and in many ways better than, one of the best gasoline-fueled SUVs on the market, which is an impressive feat. The ID4 has what it takes to go up against conventional SUVs, right out of the gate.
Volkswagen ID4 Pros:
- Futuristic, functional cabin
- Everyday practicality
- Delivers the dynamics we expect from VW
Volkswagen ID4 Cons:
- Busy ride on rough roads
- Rear-wheel drive hobbles it in the snow
- Intimidating stereo
Honda CR-V Pros:
- Remarkable fuel economy for an SUV
- Generous back seat and cargo space
- Enjoyable to drive fast in its own strange way
Honda CR-V Cons:
- Noisy engine
- Apathetic acceleration
- Difficult-to-navigate infotainment system
|POWERTRAIN/CHASSIS||2021 Honda CR-V Hybrid Touring AWD||2021 Volkswagen ID.4 1st Edition|
|DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD||Rear-motor, RWD|
|ENGINE TYPE||I-4, alum block/head, plus AC permanent-magnet electric motor||AC permanent-magnet electric motor|
|VALVETRAIN||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl||NA|
|DISPLACEMENT||121.6 cu in/1,993 cc||NA|
|POWER (SAE NET)||143 hp @ 6,200 rpm (gas)/181 hp (elec)/212 hp (comb)||201 hp|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||129 lb-ft @ 3,500 rpm (gas)/232 lb-ft (elec)||229 lb-ft|
|REDLINE||Not indicated||Not indicated|
|WEIGHT TO POWER||17.5 lb/hp||23.2 lb/hp|
|TRANSMISSION||1-speed automatic||1-speed automatic|
|AXLE/FINAL-DRIVE RATIO||3.89:1/9.55:1 (elec), 3.13:1 (gas, 40-45 mph+)||4.39:1/12.99:1|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR||Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar||Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar|
|BRAKES, F; R||12.6-in vented disc; 12.2-in disc, ABS||13.4-in vented disc; 11.0-in drum, ABS|
|WHEELS||7.5 x 19-in cast aluminum||8.0 x 20-in; 9.0 x 20-in, cast aluminum|
|TIRES||235/55R19 101H (M+S) Continental CrossContact LX Sport||235/50R20 104T; 255/45R20 105T Bridgestone Alenza Sport A/S (M+S)|
|WHEELBASE||104.7 in||108.9 in|
|TRACK, F/R||62.9/63.5 in||62.5/61.6 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||182.1 x 73.0 x 66.5 in||180.5 x 72.9 x 64.4 in|
|GROUND CLEARANCE||8.2 in||7.2 in (mfr est)|
|APPRCH/DEPART ANGLE||18.9/26.0 deg||17.5/21.2 deg|
|TURNING CIRCLE||37.4 ft||33.6 ft|
|CURB WEIGHT||3,720 lb||4,659 lb|
|WEIGHT DIST, F/R||58/42%||47/53%|
|TOWING CAPACITY||Not recommended||2,200 lb|
|HEADROOM, F/R||38.0/39.1 in||41.1/38.4 in|
|LEGROOM, F/R||41.3/40.4 in||41.4/37.6 in|
|SHOULDER ROOM, F/R||57.9/55.6 in||57.5/55.9 in|
|CARGO VOLUME BEH F/R||68.7/33.2 cu ft||64.2/30.3 cu ft|
|ACCELERATION TO MPH|
|0-30||2.9 sec||2.6 sec|
|PASSING, 45-65 MPH||3.9||4.0|
|QUARTER MILE||16.0 sec @ 86.3 mph||15.9 sec @ 86.3 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||115 ft||119 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.81 g (avg)||0.83 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||28.0 sec @ 0.60 g (avg)||27.4 sec @ 0.61 g (avg)|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$37,920||$45,190*|
|AIRBAGS||6: Dual front, front side, f/r curtain||6: Dual front, front side, f/r curtain|
|BASIC WARRANTY||3 yrs/36,000 miles||4 yrs/50,000 miles|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||5 yrs/60,000 miles||4 yrs/50,000 miles|
|BATTERY WARRANTY||8 yrs/100,000 miles (includes hybrid sys)||8 yrs/100,000 miles|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||3 yrs/36,000 miles||3 yrs/36,000 miles|
|FUEL CAPACITY||14.0 gal + 1.4 kWh||77 kWh|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON||40/35/38 mpg||104/89/97 mpg-e|
|EPA EST RANGE||532 miles||250 miles|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||84/96 kW-hrs/100 miles||32/38 kWh/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.52 lb/mile||0.00 lb/mile (at vehicle)|
|RECOMMENDED FUEL||Unleaded regular||240-volt electricity|
|*Before applicable federal and local tax credits.|
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