From the outside, the C40 is a whole new thing for Volvo, so potentially a bit hard to get your head around. It’s a very on-point coupe-style crossover for a start, rather than the more traditional wagon-ish SUVs we’re used to seeing from the Swedish maker.
It’s also a battery electric vehicle (BEV) – “pure electric” if you like – the first-ever Volvo to be launched with no combustion engine option. That makes it a milestone model for a brand that’s aiming for half of sales to be BEV by 2025 and a fully electric lineup by 2030.
But allow us to simplify just a little. Under that svelte profile, the C40 is essentially a coupe version of the familiar XC40 compact-SUV (see Gallery below) – Volvo’s rather appealing “tough little robot”. Handily, the XC40 is also now available as a BEV (although the petrol engines also continue in that one), so it’s all starting to make sense, right?
You’re looking at the C40 Recharge Pure here: “Recharge” being Volvo’s brand for plug-in vehicles and Pure signifying a 69kWh battery and 170kW/330Nm single electric motor: all good for 438km range (WLTP) and 0-100km/h in 7.4 seconds. Maximum charge rate is a swift 150kW.
There’s also a C40 Recharge Ultimate, with 78kWh, two motors (300kW/660Nm) and 0-100km/h in 4.7 seconds. The Swedes are getting serious about electric performance, with a serious price to match: $100,900 for the go-fast version.
The single-motor Pure is $85,900, which you’ll note is a snip over the $80k cap that would secure buyers the Government’s $8625 Clean Car Discount. Volvo’s local people just couldn’t make the spec work to get it under eighty, apparently. Shame; so close. The XC40 Recharge is $2k cheaper, but still no Discount.
That’s right, the C40 coupe costs more than the XC40, despite being less spacious. Because it’s more stylish and that’s how coupes work. Less is more.
It’s recognisably 40-series at the front, although the C40 gets a completely new rear including some extravagant tail lights and aero-style vents over the rear window, with a lip spoiler below.
The interior, which leans heavily on recycled/vegan materials (as is the fashion), is also recognisably 40-series and nothing wrong with that. Volvo does great interiors and the novel dashboard relief of a Gothenburg map, introduced on the XC40, is back for this car.
You do sit strangely high in the C40, which is both good and bad. Good because it gives you the impression this is a much larger SUV than it really is (a mere 4.4m long), bad because taller drivers will feel quite “perched” until they get used to it.
The C40 is all Googled up: fully integrated Android operating system and live with an embedded SIM, so over the air (OTA) updates will be coming your way. Google voice recognition and mapping is brilliant of course and that all works regardless of whether you’re signed in or Bluetooth-connected, but you’ll get the full experience if you’re logged in with a personal Google account – more personalisation and car-to-user connection.
The data services are covered under the purchase price of the car for four years; after that, you’ll be up for a subscription of some kind.
But Apple people will also be stoked to learn that unlike earlier Google Volvos (the XC60 we reviewed earlier this year, for example), the C40 now also allows for CarPlay connectivity – albeit via a cable only. And it works well, too.
The C40 is beautifully finished inside, very minimalist and not as space-constricted as you’d think: read headroom is fine and the boot is only 14 litres smaller than the XC40, although it’s a bit shallow. There’s also a handy 31-litre frunk under the bonnet, so make it 469l total. It’s a handy/tidy place to keep those cables, at least.
Simplicity is the order of the day in the driving experience as well. There are steering weight options (normal or surprisingly substantial) and one-pedal driving is the default – also surprisingly aggressive, but you can turn it off in the settings menu of the portrait infotainment screen.
Other than that, you simply get in and drive: no fancy configuration options or sport settings. It has a premium feel, partly because it’s very refined (it’s hard for poor NVH to hide in a BEV) and partly because it’s very substantial on the road, with a kerb weight of over two tonnes.
It’s all really… nice, which is exactly what you’d expect from a Volvo. But it’s also quite taut-feeling, which bodes well for the fast and grippy character of the dual-motor Ultimate.
The elephant in the room is Volvo’s sister brand Polestar. We’re continually told the two are nothing to do with each other, totally separate, but somebody should have kept Volvo’s “Thor’s Hammer” headlights locked away if that’s truly the case.
The Polestar 2 is on the same platform as the 40-series BEV (same BEV powertrains too) and you can indeed have one under $80k, albeit in a slightly lower specification.
The Polestar 2 is more of a genre-fluid sedan, so the Volvo C40 is conceptually a step or two up (SUV, then SUV-coupe). It might all make more sense when the Polestar 3 SUV arrives next year: it’ll be more upmarket again, with a minimum of 360kW/840Nm.
Yes, they’re different brands and so on, but Polestar 2 to Volvo C40 to Polestar 3 seems like a suspiciously well-thought-out BEV walk-up.
VOLVO C40 RECHARGE PLUS
ENGINE: 69kWh battery with single electric motor
GEARBOX: Single-speed automatic, FWD
CONSUMPTION: 19.3-18.0kWh/100km (WLTP), range 415-438km