Volvo XC40 Ultimate Recharge review: tough little robot goes pure electric

David Linklater
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Photos / David Linklater


Base price
Boot Capacity
Range (km)
0-100 km/h
  • Ridiculously quick for an urban SUV
  • Gorgeous cabin
  • Great comfort and practicality 
  • Clearly a battery version of an ICE car
  • Fussy steering assistance
  • Weirdly high seating position

Volvo family cars that look pretty suburban but go like stink are a long-running tradition. You might remember the hot R versions of the 850 that kicked off in 1995, especially the wagons. Just think of the new XC40 Recharge P8 as a very 21st century take on an established theme.

We’ve known the XC40 SUV, aka the “tough little robot”, since 2017. Volvo is now transitioning to pure-electric power, aiming to be an exclusively battery electric vehicle (BEV) maker by 2030. The XC40 is coming along on that journey, which brings us to this: the Ultimate Recharge.

The XC40 went to plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) power last year, but that’s now given way to a range of BEVs. There’s the Plus, with a single-motor powertrain that’s mildly brisk, and the top Ultimate dual-motor model, with AWD and the ability to rocket to 100km/h in under five seconds.

The same brace of powertrains is available in the new C40 coupe-SUV, which is based on the XC40. We tested the C40 in single-motor guise earlier this year, so it made perfect sense to move to the fast dual-motor setup for our turn in the XC40. That's our story, anyway.

The Ultimate is a whopping $14k more than the Plus, but you’re getting quite a bit for that money: a 9kWh-bigger battery, an extra 130kW/330Nm (enough to power a whole other car really), AWD and some choice equipment upgrades like Harman Kardon audio with an air ventilated subwoofer, 360-degree camera (which really should be on the Pure as well if we’re honest) and “high-level illumination” that includes a topographical map dash insert that glows gently at night.

It’s the Volvo way to keep things pretty simple. You just get in and drive the XC40 Recharge; there are no fancy drive modes or configurable settings, at least not on the top level of cabin controls. If you’re really keen you can delve into the infotainment settings and adjust steering feel or select an off-road mode, but let’s face it: you probably won’t.

You can switch the Volvo’s one-pedal driving mode off in there as well, and that’s something you may want to consider if you’re after a more mainstream driving experience. Because it’s pretty aggressive.

What’s not aggressive is the initial throttle response and takeoff. Despite the hilariously quick acceleration on tap, the go-pedal is calibrated to be quite gentle and linear at low speed; presumably because Volvo SUV buyers don’t want their heads to smack into those ergonomic head restraints at every set of traffic lights.

Be firm with the throttle, though, and the XC40 really flies. It’s more urban warrior than backroads blaster: the ride is still pretty cushy despite the 20-inch alloys on the Ultimate, and the chassis is soft enough to really get its yaw on if you’re short of steering and throttle finesse on sinewy stretches of road.

It has every piece of electronic driver-assistance you could think of, and most of it works brilliantly. The steering assistance is still really fussy on the motorway, fighting for control way too much of the time; but you can switch it off in the appropriate infotainment sub-menu (we did, straight away).

The XC40 Ultimate is a compact luxury SUV that just happens to have a highly entertaining turn of speed, and we’re okay with that. The cabin certainly gives the right vibe, with minimalist design and lots of tactile material. And tech of course: it's all Googled up, live with full integration (like all Volvos and Polestars) Live, over-the-air updates too, of course.

The Ultimate eschews leather upholstery, as is the fashion for posh BEVs these days: instead it has the “Microtech Vinyl” interior package, which is much, much nicer than it sounds. Including a TPU gearknob. Which is also much nicer than it sounds.

Compact it may be, but the boot is a pretty decent 419 litres and the false floor can also fold up to be a cargo divider, which is truly useful. It might be based on an internal combustion architecture, but the XC40 also something many bespoke BEVs don’t: a “frunk” under the bonnet, which is just 30 litres but the perfect place to keep cables and/or emergency gear.

There is one hangover from the car’s dark ICE past though, and that’s an unnecessary transmission tunnel running through the cabin. It’s not a deal-breaker for rear-seat occupants, but it does undermine the impression of BEV purity.

For the record, the XC40 Ultimate Recharge is more $2000 more expensive than the equivalent C40; you pay more for less (headroom), but that's the way it is with, um, “coupes”. The real elephant in the room is the top Polestar 2 model, on the same platform with exactly the same powertrain, which is $104,900. It’s a different kind of car of course, but you can’t escape the comparison; Polestar is one of the cool new BEV kids on the block, but the XC40 Ultimate Recharge is an appealing take on this BEV tech and a very cool machine in its own right. Especially in our test car’s Sage Green.

ENGINE: 78kWh battery with dual electric motors
POWER: 300kW/660Nm
GEARBOX: Single-speed automatic, AWD
0-100KM/H: 4.9 seconds
CONSUMPTION: 23.8-25.0kWh/100km (WLTP), range 439km (3P-WLTP)
PRICE: $99,900


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