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Swedish firm’s first exclusively electric car is a swish version of the XC40 Recharge

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When you think of an electric Volvo, the first car that springs to mind could easily enough not be a Volvo at all, but the Polestar 2.

After all, the two brands are very closely related, so much so that the Polestar 2 was originally intended to be a Volvo, until it was decided Polestar should be an electric brand in its own right and needed a volume model to follow the Polestar 1 plug-in hybrid coupé.

Having 402bhp in a relatively compact SUV is certainly amusing, but you wouldn’t feel short- changed with the 228bhp front-wheel-drive model.

While the Polestar 2 looks quite a lot like a Volvo and feels quite a lot like a Volvo, future Polestars are planned to gain a much more distinct identity. Meanwhile, Volvo itself is going electric as well. So far, it has built up an extensive range of mild and plug-in hybrids, but we’re still waiting for the big wave of EVs.

The Swedes have dipped their toe in the water with the Volvo XC40 Recharge, but now it’s the turn of the Volvo C40, which is the “first Volvo model in history designed as pure electric only”. 

That statement is true in that the C40 is only available as an EV, but it is also overstating the facts somewhat. The C40 is ultimately a ‘coupé’ version of the XC40, with some facelift tweaks that will appear on the regular XC40 as well.

Future electric Volvos are likely to get a lot bolder. The designs for the pure-electric and hybrid models will diverge, and the alphanumeric names are likely to be scrapped in favour of more personal monikers. The C40, then, is a transitional model for Volvo but a significant one.

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The Volvo C40 Recharge line-up at a glance

Volvo’s naming scheme has eclipsed Audi ’s in the past few years as the most impenetrable, due to the ever- changing meaning of Ps, Ds, Ts and Recharges. For the EV-only C40, it’s nice and simple at least, as it’s limited to the single-motor front-wheel- drive Recharge and the dual-motor all-wheel-drive Recharge Twin.

The trim levels are simple enough, too. The basic Core is available only on the Recharge. Plus and Ultimate are available on both versions.

EnginesPowerFrom
Recharge228bhp£44,800
Recharge Twin402bhp£55,550

DESIGN & STYLING

02 Volvo C40 Recharge RoadTest 2022 frontcornering

We might call it a Volvo Volvo XC40 coupé, and the C-name suggests the same, but nowhere in its literature does Volvo actually refer to the Volvo C40 as a coupé, instead preferring to call it a crossover.

Whatever the case, it’s clear that the main difference between the C40 and electric versions of the XC40 is its sloping roofline. You choose the C40 over its squarer brother – and pay the roughly £1300 premium – because you like the design.

The XC40’s front works remarkably well with a blanked-off grille. The ‘Thor’s hammer’ LED running lights still look distinctive, and the matrix headlights are effective. Tweaked headlights will appear on facelifted XC40s too.

Whether you actually do or not is a matter of personal preference, but most testers and photographers agreed that the C40 is one of the more cohesive coupé-SUVs, its big wheels and tall rear deck providing a squat muscularity that’s missing from most others. The boot spoiler and segmented rear lights running up the D-pillar are neat touches, too.

Underneath, it’s the same as the XC40, meaning the C40 is based on the CMA platform that’s also found under the Polestar 2. This architecture was designed from the outset to house a big battery pack and a pair of electric motors, but it still has to accommodate the XC40’s petrol and diesel engines, too (even if diesel has been eliminated from the XC40 range).

That means it doesn’t use its footprint quite as efficiently as, say, a Tesla Model Y, but Volvo still manages to cram in a 78kWh battery pack (of which 75kWh is usable) and reserve enough space for a modest ‘frunk’ under the bonnet. In the dual-motor Recharge Twin, that battery feeds two identical 201bhp motors for a total of 402bhp.

A cheaper, front-wheel-drive Recharge with 228bhp and a 69kWh (67kWh usable) battery is available too, and only gives up five miles of range to the Twin: it manages 269 instead of 274 miles.

Squeezing 274 miles out of a 75kWh battery doesn’t exactly set new standards for efficiency. Even Volvo’s own claim of 2.8mpkWh compares unfavourably with the Hyundai Ioniq 5’s 3.3mpkWh, let alone the Model Y’s 3.7mpkWh.

That disappointing return could be the result of less sophisticated battery management, but as the mechanically similar dual-motor Polestar 2 manages 3.2mpkWh, it most likely has something to do with the C40’s body.

On Millbrook’s scales, the car weighed 2172kg, considerably more than all its rivals. Volvo also quotes a drag coefficient of 0.32, whereas most ground-up EV crossovers are in the mid-0.20s.

INTERIOR

08 Volvo C40 Recharge RoadTest 2022 frontseats

The Volvo C40’s cabin will be immediately familiar to anyone coming from a Volvo Volvo XC40. A bit too familiar. We rated the XC40’s interior highly in 2018 as it was stylish and classy for a £40,000 car. Now that a top-spec C40 is nudging £60,000, you can’t help looking at it differently.

Everything is solidly screwed together, the switches feel nicely damped and the door handles operate with a satisfying mechanical clunk. However, even in 2018 we remarked that there were some cheaper plastics, not just lower down but also in areas that are clearly in view and on the controls you touch.

Volvo could have done much more with the digital gauge cluster. It’s clear, but there are only two views, no customisation options and a limited trip computer.

One might hope for some natural wood trim, but all the decorative trim is plastic. Granted, the way the translucent panels light up at night in the pattern of a topographical map is an original detail, but during the day it looks like fairly plain plastic.

As with a number of recent EVs, the whole interior is leather-free, and the optional wool blend upholstery looks appealingly different. However, our car had the microsuede seats, which just don’t feel particularly expensive.

The material isn’t very breathable either, so it gets a little sweaty on long journeys. The imitation leather on the steering wheel has a similar problem, feeling more like foam rubber than nappa leather.

The space on offer in the C40 predictably mirrors what you get in an XC40, which is decent, though not exceptional for a compact SUV.

Adults can sit in the back and have plenty of knee and head room, but they won’t want to do so for very long, as the rear bench is set fairly low and leaves taller passengers’ thighs unsupported. What’s more, the C40 pales in comparison to the limo-like space that ground-up EVs such as the Tesla Model Y and Kia EV6 offer.

The C40 gives up only 39 litres of boot space to a petrol-powered XC40, and six litres to an Volvo XC40 Recharge, but at 413 litres it’s still smaller than a Kia EV6, or even a BMW iX3.

That sloping roof line may not affect the boot space in any major way, but it severely limits rear visibility. The tall rear deck blocks your sight of traffic following closely, while the roof spoiler does the same for anything in the distance.

Volvo C40 infotainment and sat-nav

At first glance, the C40’s infotainment system may not look all that different from the XC40’s older Sensus set-up, with its four-tiered home screen and similar fonts. However, under the surface it’s a completely new Google-based infotainment system. It’s already in some other Volvos and will eventually replace the older interface in all models, so it better be good.

The screen responds quickly, and once you figure out how to configure the home screen, you can tailor it to your preferences and make pretty good use of the real estate. The built-in navigation is Google Maps, so it deals with traffic well, but the voice guidance isn’t the best.

The biggest annoyance is that there is no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto phone mirroring. There’s Spotify built in, but other media players have to go through Bluetooth, meaning you can only browse media via your phone. Moreover, some of the settings menus are too fiddly.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

16 Volvo C40 Recharge RoadTest 2022 side action

Electrification has quietly made Volvo an unlikely high-performance hero. Want the fastest mid-size plug-in hybrid SUV? The Volvo XC60 T8 has a staggering 448bhp. The Volvo C40, in dual-motor form, does a similar thing. With its 402bhp, it outshines the BMW iX3, Mercedes-Benz EQA 350 and Audi Q4 E-tron 50.

The Tesla Model Y Long Range supposedly has a little more power, but the Volvo still beats it to 60mph by 0.3sec. The gap closes to 70mph, after which the Tesla pulls ahead and stays ahead on account of Volvo’s brand-wide 112mph speed limit.

0-60mph in 4.4sec is staggering for a crossover SUV with no sporting intentions

A 0-60mph time of 4.4sec is staggering for a crossover SUV with no sporting intentions. The 228bhp of the front-wheel-drive Recharge would absolutely suffice for most people, but there is no doubt that having this sort of performance available from an unassuming-looking Volvo family car is highly entertaining. 

All the more so since the firepower can be deployed any time, with no fuss, no screaming engine, no gearchanges and no wheelspin. All it takes to launch the C40 is to plant your right foot.

As the front and the rear electric motors are equally powerful, a hard launch might elicit the slightest hint of slip from the front wheels as they are unloaded by the prow rising up, but like most dual-motor EVs, the C40 usually just grips and goes.

Other than a speed-limited off-road setting, there are no driving modes, so the C40 always feels quick, but thanks to a long-travel throttle pedal, it is just as easy to drive slowly and steadily, or pootle through town.

Where the C40 could give its driver some more choice is in slowing down. Many modern EVs offer a spectrum of energy regeneration modes, from none at all to adaptive one-pedal driving. Volvo offers just two choices: one-pedal driving with maximum regen, or no regen at all.

That’s frustrating if you prefer a little bit of retardation when lifting off the throttle. Toggling between the two modes isn’t as easy as it should be either: to find the option, you need two taps and a swipe of the screen.

Thankfully, both the one-pedal drive functionality and the brake pedal are well calibrated. In one- pedal mode, the car will come very smoothly to a stop. While the brake pedal feel is clearly artificial, it is at least consistently firm and easy to modulate. Ultimate braking performance is on par with other electric SUVs.

RIDE & HANDLING

17 Volvo C40 Recharge RoadTest 2022 frontstatic

Just like Volvo never refers to the Volvo C40 as a coupé, it never calls it ‘sporty’ or ‘dynamic’ either, which is refreshing. Despite the startling performance of electric SUVs, there is no need for them to try to be sports cars.

Nevertheless, there is something quite satisfying about the way the C40 goes down the road. The springs are relatively soft, but the body is well controlled, giving a sense that the prodigious weight of the car just flattens the biggest bumps in the road surface.

The unassuming C40 can barrel away from its premium rivals on the open road, before steamrollering the surface into submission – effective though not exactly elegant.

The compliant suspension entails some body roll, but not excessively so. Our test car’s Pirelli P Zero tyres afforded it a reasonably high limit of grip in the dry. Which is good, because you won’t know from the steering when it does run out. 

As is fairly typical for recent Volvos, the steering is consistently and reassuringly weighted, but it feeds back no information whatsoever. There is a firm steering feel option that makes the steering heavier, but the sensation is quite artificial and adds little to the experience.

In the wet, the C40 gets a little scrabblier. The front is usually the first to go, but if you boot it on the wrong surface, you can surprise the otherwise conservative stability control and make the back step out.

That sort of inconsistency in a performance car might put you off, but the C40’s limits are high enough that if you run into them regularly, you’re probably missing the point of this 2.2-tonne electric SUV. Drive with some restraint and the C40 can be confidently guided down a B-road with quiet satisfaction, though not excitement.

Volvo C40 Recharge comfort and isolation

If there’s one thing you can expect from an expensive modern Volvo, it’s comfortable seats, and in the C40 they are present and correct. In other areas, the C40 suffers somewhat from its origins as a relatively affordable small SUV, notably in noise isolation. 

Road noise and to a lesser extent wind noise make themselves heard far more in the C40 than in almost any of its rivals. The only car that’s noisier is the Tesla Model Y, and then only by 1dBA. Subjectively, the Volvo is more refined than that, but it’s still a poor show from a brand people might associate with refined travel.

The way the C40 rides is mostly unremarkable. The relatively supple suspension gives a relaxed but well- controlled primary ride over big bumps, but the 20in wheels do crash through potholes and expansion joints, the sharpest of which will send a shudder through the car’s structure. Perhaps not the premium experience one might hope for, but it’s nothing like the bone-shaking Model Y. Given the C40’s composure through the corners and the fashionable 20in wheels, it ultimately strikes a fair balance. 

Volvo C40 Recharge assisted driving notes

Most of the active safety features are very mature, as might be expected from a safety-conscious brand like Volvo, if still not perfect. We never had cause to turn off the lane keeping assistance as it is perfectly unintrusive on country roads and works well on motorways. If you do want to turn it off, it takes a few taps of the touchscreen. The automatic emergency braking recognises pedestrians and cyclists and didn’t give us any trouble.

The adaptive cruise control confidently speeds up and slows down, and it will accelerate when you indicate to match the speed of the faster lane. The automatic lane following is smooth, too. It tends to stick to the left-hand side of the lane, but you can adjust it with the steering without deactivation. Annoyingly, it can’t easily be toggled on or off. Instead, it takes several taps and a swipe of the screen. Another curious oversight is that the speed-limit recognition is wrong more often than it is right.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

01 Volvo C40 Recharge RoadTest 2022 track

Volvo is in full start-up-chasing mode with the way it sells Volvo C40s and has decided that all its electric cars will only be available online. In practice, that’s a less momentous change than it might sound like, as you can still go to any Volvo dealer to poke around one and take a test drive. The difference is that the final signing and payment happens online.

Another implication is that Volvo doesn’t offer traditional PCP finance. You can buy a C40 outright, but it’s clear from the marketing and the uncompetitive price point that Volvo would rather you didn’t. Instead, you go through its Care by Volvo subscription service.

With its simple monthly payments and no deposit, Care by Volvo aims to be transparent. It might be in isolation, but having to compare it with disparate PCP and lease quotes for other cars could end up making things more confusing for buyers.

You pay no deposit, just the monthly fee, which is dependent on annual mileage and the type of contract. You can either go for a fixed 36-month contract or a more flexible one, where you can give three months’ notice to cancel or change cars.

The latter is obviously more expensive, by about £130 a month, depending on the other variables. The subscription covers servicing, consumables including tyres, road tax and, optionally, insurance.

Such a comprehensive package with no deposit sounds like it ought to be expensive, but it actually looks like rather a good deal. Our test car, on a fixed contract with 12,000 miles per year, comes out at £799 per month. That’s not much more than a BMW iX3 on a PCP with a 15% deposit. Compared with lease quotes with minimal deposits, the C40 is cheaper than even a Kia EV6

What’s not so good is the way the C40 uses its energy. Over a week of mixed usage, we recorded 2.6mpkWh. When you know that the Tesla Model Y managed 3.1mpkWh and the Kia EV6 3.3mpkWh, 2.6mpkWh is very poor.

That sort of efficiency works out at a real-world range of just 194 miles, rather a long way off the claimed 274 miles. In summer and with gentler usage, you could undoubtedly stretch that range by a few dozen miles, but it’s still way short of the best in the class.

The C40 can charge at a maximum speed of 150kW, which is what we have come to expect from an EV with this size of battery. A suitably rapid charger will replenish capacity from 10-80% in 37 minutes.

VERDICT

18 Volvo C40 Recharge RoadTest 2022 rearstatic

In our road test of the Tesla Model Y a few weeks ago, we concluded it was “a far better electric car than a premium SUV”. The Volvo C40 is the opposite, but doesn’t pull it off quite as well.

Where the Tesla is a technically brilliant exercise that is easy to dislike for the more conservative buyer, the Volvo is an EV in which people who have been buying Volvos for years will feel right at home from the start.

Spec advice? The mid-range Plus trim represents the best compromise. Beyond that, there aren’t many options. Just avoid the ‘Microtech’ synthetic suede.

It has the comfy seats, solid build quality and pleasant but unremarkable driving dynamics we have come to expect from the brand. In 402bhp Recharge Twin form, the C40 is also startlingly fast.

However, that doesn’t make up for the C40’s failings as an electric SUV. Its range, efficiency and interior space fall short of the class average and perceived quality is also not up to usual Volvo standards. The unconventional subscription pricing model might appeal to some but makes price comparisons difficult for consumers.

The C40 is a decent, likeable car, but Volvo’s breakthrough EV ought to have more premium appeal and make better use of its big battery.

Illya Verpraet

Illya Verpraet Road Tester Autocar
Title: Road Tester

As part of Autocar’s road test team, Illya drives everything from superminis to supercars, and writes reviews, comparison tests, as well as the odd feature and news story. 

Much of his time is spent wrangling the data logger and wielding the tape measure to gather the data for Autocar’s eight-page road tests, which are the most rigorous in the business thanks to independent performance, fuel consumption and noise figures.

Volvo C40 Recharge Twin First drives