Volvo was a very early and enthusiastic adopter of EV technology; the XC90 T8 plug-in hybrid was launched way back in 2014, for example (and basically the same model is still on sale today).
But it’s taken the Swedish-Chinese brand longer than expected to pitch into the burgeoning battery electric vehicle (BEV) arena. A pure-electric revamp of the cute XC40 compact SUV is what’s really kicked the brand's zero-emissions effort off; that and a closely related coupe version called C40, which unlike the XC40 is only available as a BEV.
It’s really all happening, and we reckon that’s as good a time as any to find out what it’s like to live with a new-generation electric Volvo, give Volvos are famously lovely to live with in a general sense.
So meet our new XC40 Ultimate Recharge, in a rather awesome shade of Sage Green. We’ve gone for the XC40 rather than the C40 because it’s a little more practical (read Volvo-boxy) and frankly, we reckon it still looks cooler than the curvaceous coupe version.
Us being us, we’re not being entirely sensible about it.
We’ve gone for the top Ultimate P8 version, which means dual motors, a frankly ridiculous 300kW/600Nm and 0-100km/h in 4.9sec. All in a fashion-colour, safe family SUV that attracts sneers from Holden Commodore V8s at the traffic lights.
At $99,900 this is a big $14k step up from the Pure P6, which looks almost identical. But the entry model has a mere 170kW/330Nm and FWD, which is still plenty for such a vehicle. But not 300kW… us being us.
We’ll be spending a few months in the XC40, with a blend of long-distance Auckland-Hamilton commuting (all the better to put that claimed 438km range to the test), urban excitement (did we mention it has 300kW?) and maybe even a little… lifestyling, thanks to the car arriving with some choice accessories.
We won’t wear you down with a blow-by-blow of this car’s specification, because it’s actually identical to the car we reviewed in December last year, right down to the colour. Not the exact same car, but identical nonetheless. So feel free to brush up on the basics there.
For now, we’ve kicked off with a couple of weeks’ city commuting and getting to know the little Volvo in a more intimate sense. And experimenting with the Volvo-branded bike rack, which is not easy to reach up onto with the bike in hand (that’s a problem with all SUVs of course), but it’s a doddle to hook up, with one clamp and a strap for each wheel. Volvo-branded but actually Thule, so no surprise it works so well.
BEVs are quiet and the XC40 especially so, so the opportunity cost on the motorway so far has been a bit of a whistle from the rack at 80-100km/h, especially when crossing the Auckland Harbour Bridge. Nothing we didn’t expect.
But we’re keen to find out what the bike rack does to the range.
The plan is to have our office super-commuter run it a bit with the rack on, then half-way through our term remove the extra hardware (easy to do) and see what happens.
It’s certainly making the daily commute a more feelgood experience. The full Google integration is brilliant, albeit a bit temperamental – we’ve had to do a full reboot once already (an easy fix though). The key thing for us as a team is to remember to sign out our individual Google accounts when we pass over the car, otherwise the more questionable characters in the office have access to others’ personal info. Not a problem for actual owners.
The cabin is touchy feely, the seats fantastic (that’s another Volvo thing) and it’s clearly a car to just relax and enjoy.
There aren’t really drive modes to play with, although you can curate the driver-assists a little: the automated steering can be fussy on narrow motorway lanes so we’ve switched that off, you can make the steering a little firmer and you can also choose between fairly aggressive one-pedal driving or a more natural feel.
We’ve been switching back and forth, although this is all stuff you have to go into sub-menus to find. Volvo’s modern ethos is really to set and forget (and drive).
The XC40 is also impressively practical: an adjustable boot floor at the back and even though it’s ostensibly a BEV conversion of an ICE car, it has a “frunk” under the bonnet that’s ideal for storing the two cables (home charger and Type 2 to Type 2 for public stations).
The bike rack has also revealed itself to have an extra EV function: my garage has roof-mounted plugs and the rack is just the right height to secure the charging hardware while it’s plugged in; otherwise, it would be pulling on the plug. Onward and upward.
VOLVO XC40 ULTIMATE RECHARGE
ENGINE: 78kWh battery with dual electric motors
GEARBOX: Single-speed automatic, AWD
0-100KM/H: 4.9 seconds
CONSUMPTION: 23.8-25.0kWh/100km (WLTP), range 439km (3P-WLTP)