Volvo XC40 plug-in hybrid long-term test: report 1

What Car? Award-winning family SUV is now available as a plug-in hybrid, so is it the best choice for buyers seeking practical but economical motoring? We have four months to find out...

Volvo XC40 front

The car Volvo XC40 Recharge T5 Inscription Pro | Run by Darren Moss, deputy editor

Why it’s here To show that choosing a greener car need not lead to compromises for either lifestyle or driving fun

Needs to offer lower running costs than an equivalent combustion-engined car, be practical for longer holiday trips and function as a mobile office when needed

Mileage 356 List Price £42,305 Target Price £39,712 Price as tested £47,055 Test economy 34.5mpg Official economy 134.5mpg Options Xenium Pack (£1600), Intellisafe Surround (£600), Metallic Paint (£575), Sensus Connect with Premium Sound by Harmon Kardon (£550), Convenience Pack (£400), Smartphone Integration (£300), Wireless mobile phone charging (£175), Dark Tinted Windows (£350), Type 2 Charge Cable (£50), Tempa Spare Wheel and Jack (£150),

16 July 2020 – The best of both worlds?

Sometimes, you really can have your cake and eat it, and that’s exactly what I’m planning to do over the next four months with this family SUV. Although it looks like a regular Volvo XC40, it has an ace up its sleeve, because this is the Recharge T5 plug-in hybrid version. That means it has an electric motor as well as a traditional petrol engine to call upon, so it really could be the best of both worlds.

I’ll fully admit that I might have bitten off more than I could chew with my previous car, the fully electric Hyundai Ioniq, because not being able to charge at home resulted in a fair amount of time loitering around public charging stations. But I still want to do my bit for the planet, so I hope the XC40 is an ideal blend of mile-munching convenience and zero-emissions electric running.

LT Volvo XC40 Recharge T5 boot with charging cable

The battery is big enough to let me travel up to 22 miles without using a drop of fuel, and for someone with a seven-mile commute to the office, where I can plug in to recharge, that spells a well-earned break for my wallet. But I also make regular 190-odd mile round trips to visit my parents. In the Ioniq, this meant a lengthy stay at Toddington Services on the M1 to charge up on my way home, but thanks to the XC40 also having a 1.5-litre petrol engine to call upon for longer trips, that’s no longer something I have to worry about.

So far, I’ve been impressed with the oomph the XC40’s 81bhp electric motor has around town; it’s enough to beat most cars away from the traffic lights. And on faster roads, the 178bhp petrol engine takes over with enough grunt for swift motorway overtakes when needed. Impressive, too, is the XC40’s light and accurate steering, which makes manoeuvring around town a doddle.

Darren in Volvo XC40

Our recommended R-Design trim has everything most people are likely to want, including leather and suede trim, power-folding door mirrors, rear parking sensors and ambient interior lighting. However, I’m a sucker for creature comforts, so I’ve instead opted for the range-topping Inscription Pro, which brings heated leather seats, front parking sensors and electric seat adjustment.

To the already extensive standard kit list I’ve added the Xenium Pack, which includes a 360deg parking camera, a self-parking system and a panoramic sunroof. I’ve also gone for the Convenience Pack, with its puddle lights and electric tailgate, plus the Intellisafe Surround Pack, which gives me extra safety gear such as a blindspot monitoring system and a rear cross-traffic alert for when I’m backing out of a space and my view is partially obscured.

I’d like to say that was the end of it, but my flirtation with the options list also included a much-needed Type 2 charging cable, enabling me to use public charging points.

Volvo XC40 front

All of this pushed the XC40’s price up to a level that even I would call steep, but my hope is that I’ll balance that out with the reduced running costs of a plug-in hybrid. And with official fuel economy of up to 134.5mpg, I should be saving a pretty penny compared with a conventional family SUV.

At least, that was the theory. In practice, I’m seeing barely a tenth of that figure, because lockdown has meant I haven’t been able to visit the What Car? office to plug in. I’m hopeful that once regular access to a charging point is restored, that figure will improve dramatically. Right now, though, I’m just proving that plugin hybrids don’t make much sense if you don’t plug in. I guess the clue is in the name.

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