Autumn 2020

Volkswagen ID.4

With the rise of EV, minimalist interiors augmented by updatable screens are quickly becoming de rigueur for car interiors. Volkswagen pairs the former with its renowned build quality for the ID.4

You know you’re speaking to a German designer when he compares the size of something to a “big beer tray”. The beer-tray sized object in question is the mirror for the augmented reality head-up display in the ID.4 electric SUV and its presence embodies what VW Group head of design Klaus Zyciora (formerly Bischoff) wanted to achieve with the interior of what will be a key car for VW’s electric ambitions globally.

The ID.4 is the second VW car on the group’s MEB electric platform following the ID.3 hatchback and while there’s a lot of carryover inside there are important differences that mark the step up in size. It has a different IP (instrument panel) and door architecture from the ID.3. There’s also a jump up in size for the touchscreen, which is now a maximum of 12 inches instead of 10 for the ID.3. “We’re talking about an SUV so we wanted to create a different feeling,” Zyciora tells Interior Motives. “ID.4 is a class size up, so you need to bring into the game more elements and a different feeling for comfort and value.”

In the ID.3, for example, the top of the dashboard curves away on the passenger side to drum home the idea that building on a dedicated electric platform frees up more space. With the ID.4, that living room feeling that Zyciora wanted is already enhanced by the extra height of the SUV shape, so the dashboard is straighter and visually more stretched out ‑ a feeling accentuated by decorative elements that enfold the farthest air vent and stretch across to the central screen.

The absence of an internal combustion engine allowed VW’s engineers on both the ID.4 and ID.3 to push the air conditioning system further forward and repackage some of the safety systems. Now they had room to fit the 400mmx350mm mirror that VW needed for its augmented reality head-up display. The HUD projects information such as turn directions seemingly 10m ahead onto the road, something you can only do if you can fold that 10m into a big enough mirror. “It consumes space that was only possible to find with an electric platform,” says Zyciora. Either that or package it into a platform the length of a Mercedes S-class, currently the only other car offering an augmented reality HUD screen. The HUD display, available on the top models, is a marker for what the ID.4 represents – a futuristic car packed with the latest technology. It’s not the only one. Moving almost all buttons on to the screen, most notably the heating and ventilation controls, is a big leap for a maker of practical cars.

But it had to be done, especially in a car aimed at the US and China. “There’s a good reason for it. It means you can add features and design iterations over the lifetime of the product. If it’s a switch you can’t alter it,” Zycoria says. Over-the-air updates allow VW to continue to tweak the design of the twin screens, the lighting, and even the HUD after the car has been sold. It hasn’t been easy. “It’s new territory for VW. It might be we have to learn the hard way but there’s no alternative,” Zyciora says. “Our customers, especially in China and US had a clear wish. You have to have a digital platform, and you have to have something that gets better over the lifespan of the car.”

The ID.4 is an expensive car, topping out at €58,438 ($69,187) for the 1st Max edition in Germany with the biggest 77kWh battery. However, Zyciora insists this is still top-of-volume, not premium and that means VW had to watch the spending. “The cost side on EVs is pushed hard by the cost of the batteries so you need to find the right balance between interior quality and perceived quality and accessibility of the product,” Zyciora says. So VW rejected haptic feedback for the touchscreen. “That was a clear decision, we wanted to drive cost down and haptic feedback is an expensive device,” he says. Also rejected was gesture control. “We learned our lesson there,” Zyciora says, reminding us that it remains an imperfect technology to replace physical buttons. The car does use force feedback for the steering wheel touch control buttons however.

Also saving VW money are the very limited range of options. The ID.4 configurator isn’t online yet, but for ID.3 there are three colour trim options, including one with orange door inserts and a white central screen surround. Top spec ID.4s will come with seating covered with a smart combination of leatherette and ArtVelours – a microfibre made partly from recycled plastic bottles. The lack of options simplifies manufacturing, Zyciora says. “We need to balance the wish of the customer to have an individual car with the demand of getting the complexity and logistics into the zone you can still handle it,” he says. The limited options simplifies the configurator so much VW calls it ‘six steps to happiness’.

There is however plenty of choice of background light colour – 30 to be precise. Zyciora has called light “the new chrome” and uses it liberally in the cabin, including the ID.Light, a strip carried over from the ID.3 that runs under the windscreen and aids the driver through colour changes and differing light pulses, for example to tell you your phone is ringing. Cabin roominess is a big selling point of the MEB-platform cars but VW decided against leaving the space between the front occupants bare, has it had been on the 2016 ID concept, despite the lack of transmission tunnel or gearbox underneath. Storage includes space for a phone to act as an ignition key, as well as charging it wirelessly. The last feature is one also found on the Tesla Model 3, and it’s clear the Californian company’s love of minimalist interiors with focus on updatable screens is a big influence. Pared with VW’s renowned interior quality, the ID.4 is well positioned to give Tesla’s forthcoming Model Y a hard time. If the company’s digital learning curve is handled right, the design team is due a celebratory trip to the beer hall.

Head of design:  Mr. Klaus Zyciora
Interior team leader:  Mr. Tomasz Bachorski
Interior designers:  Mr. Andres Meyer, Mr. Peter Mikulak
Colour and trim leader:  Ms. Oona Scheepers
Colour and trim designers:  Ms. Diana Zynda-Wustrow
UX team leader:  Mr. Gustav Hofmann
UX designers: Ms. Indra Kögler, Mr. Matthias Kuhn
Project manager: Mr. Holger Mertens
Project started / completed:  2016/2017 / 2020
Launch:  September 2020
Dimensions:  4,58 metre lwh over all x 1,85 metre width, x 1,63 metre hide

Text: Nick Gibbs