Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: March 1, 2021
Electric mobility is the way of the future and many automotive manufacturers have already seen the light and adjusted their R&D plans accordingly. Volvo has taken action earlier than most, and is currently the only mainstream automaker offering electric options on all of their models, from the V60 wagon to the XC90 seven-seater SUV. Volvo actually sells the most plug-in electric vehicles in Canada, and aims to be a climate neutral company by 2040. By 2025, they want 50% of their sales to be fully-electric cars, while the other half are hybrids.
The Volvo XC40 Recharge is the Swedish brand’s vanguard into this electric future. You will soon see that Recharge badge slapped onto many of their vehicles, as it refers to anything with an electric plug. Why did they choose the XC40 to spearhead the EV charge? Well it’s a popular size, a well-packaged SUV, and Volvo actually engineered it from the ground-up to be an EV from the very beginning.
So what kind of juice is the XC40 Recharge packing? Well it has two identical electric motors, one on each axle to create a permanent all-wheel drive system, and there’s a 78 kWh lithium ion battery running the show, allowing for a total driving range of 335 km. That’s not enough to match the Tesla Model 3 or even the outgoing Chevrolet Bolt, but it is on par with other EVs like the Nissan LEAF and Porsche Taycan.
Charge time varies by type of charger. Volvo quotes a 0-80% top up with a 150kW fast DC charger at 40 minutes, while a Level 2 home charger will take about 8 hours. Output is a healthy 402 hp and 486 lb-ft combined, allowing the XC40 Recharge to sprint from 0-100 km/h in 4.9 seconds. Why isn’t it any faster you might ask, despite the impressive output in the 400s? Because it weighs a staggering 2,150 kg, which is 468 kg more than the standard XC40. If those numbers don’t mean anything to you, it’s like stuffing a large grand piano in the trunk but in this case, the floor bed.
The XC40 Recharge is instantly recognizable as a Volvo with its sleek Y-shaped headlights, tall rear lights, and contrasting black roof, but there are subtle cues that distinguish it from its fossil fuel burning brethren. Obviously, there are no tailpipes running out back, but the front grill is also solid and body-coloured since it doesn’t need air intakes to cool any combustion engine. You can spot the Recharge badges along the C-pillar, tailgate, and sill plates, a charging port above the driver’s side rear wheel, as well as unique 19- and 20-inch wheels and exclusive Sage Green paint that you won’t find on any other Volvo.
Inside there are fewer noticeable differences from the regular XC40. There is a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and all the clever storage solutions like the removable trash bin and integrated bag hook that made the standard XC40 such a clever piece of engineering. The 9-inch center touchscreen is carried over but the infotainment system is brand new, and is powered by an Android operating system. With it, you can access the Google Play store where you can find downloadable apps for your XC40, use Google Maps to find your way home, and Google Voice and Google Assistance to ask the vehicle to turn up the temperature or find your favourite song on Spotify. That’s right - it works just like your Google Home. Volvo will also throw on 4 years of free data usage with each purchase. Apple fans have no fear - you can still hook up Apple CarPlay and use your iPhone as usual.
Without an engine at the front, Volvo was keen to utilize that space as a storage trunk, as well as load more structural reinforcement to better absorb impacts. It adds to an already well-packaged and functional interior. There is a good amount of rear seat headroom for my six-foot figure, and porting to an EV did not hinder any of that since engineers designed this XC40 from the beginning to accommodate batteries and motors. Volvo has always prided themselves as a safety-first company, and have included a suite of driver assistance features as standard fare. That includes lane keep assist, front and rear collision detection, and blind spot monitoring. You will have to pay extra for their adaptive cruise control and 360-degree camera, though.
Our test drive of the XC40 Recharge was limited to a short five-hour stint around familiar local roads. What impressed us most out of the bat was how normal it felt to drive. The light steering is tactile and faithful to rotation, pedal feedback is linear enough to pass as regular hydraulic brakes, and there is so much accessible torque that it makes it easy, instant, and effortless to drive. There’s no waiting around for a CVT to buzz up the RPMs or for a gearbox to whizz down five gears. Acceleration is there the moment you press the gas pedal - well I guess we can’t call it a gas pedal anymore - and you better hold on tight. Turning on the full afterburner means this XC40 Recharge will scoot forward faster than a Jaguar F-Type V6.
It can be a double-edged sword, though. Without exhaust cues and engine whine, it’s difficult to gauge just how quickly you are going if you aren’t paying attention to the speedometer. Many times we thought we were going the speed limit, only to realize that we were way above it. Again, the instant torque and silent ride add to that loss of speed perception.
The ride is not harsh but the XC40 seems to hug every bump and undulation on the road, forcing the springs to oscillate more than a luxury SUV should, and its substantial weight exacerbates that lofty feeling. Still, we enjoyed the XC40’s all-weather traction and surefootedness as we soldiered through snowy and slushy conditions. With the battery mounted low to the floor and integrated into the center tunnel, the low center of gravity lends it some athleticism around corners, and there’s a willingness to rotate that we didn’t find with the standard XC40.
The XC40 Recharge offers one-pedal driving with a strong regenerative braking feature. It’s selectable via the menu screens, and there are really only two settings: on and off. When off, the XC40 will glide with little rolling resistance and lose coasting speed at a very minimal rate. When it’s on, the heavy deceleration on throttle lift is strong, but modulate it carefully and it becomes very easy to one-pedal drive it.
How much range did we get? With the weather hovering around 0-degrees Celsius, the cabin temperature set to 20C, and the heated seats and wheel set to their maximum settings, we achieved a real world range of 248 km. Half of it was coasting on the highway, the other half in city traffic. That’s nearly one-third off of the claimed 335 km range but understandable and expected given the weather conditions.
It will be tough to go back to the regular XC40 after this EV experience, and the Recharge should make for an appealing alternative for those shopping for an urban city commuter with a decent amount of electric range, cargo space, and the latest Google UI. It might be a deal breaker for those that commute long distances, especially in the winter where the range is handicapped by the cold, but there’s enough to like here with the XC40 Recharge to be truly excited about Volvo’s electrified future.
Model: 2021 Volvo XC40 P8 AWD Recharge
Paint Type: Sage Green
Base Price: $64,950
Price as Tested: $71,200
Powertrain: Twin-electric motors, 78 kWh lithium-ion battery
Horsepower: 402 hp
Torque: 486 lb-ft
Drive Configuration: AWD
Official Range: 335 km
Observed Range: 248 km