Volvo XC40 plug-in hybrid long-term test

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 long-term test

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 435 List Price £42,440 Target Price £39,837 Price as tested £47,055 Test economy 38.2mpg Official economy 134.5mpg

5 August 2020 – Getting to know you, and your foibles

Some things go together very naturally. Cheese and pickle, for example, or Benny and Bjorn. As experience has shown us, petrol and electric power can also go together very well, as evidenced by our reigning Plug-in Hybrid Car of the Year, the BMW 330e, which makes the change between combustion and electric power as seamless as spreading butter on bread.

The same can’t be said of my Volvo XC40, sadly, where transitions aren’t nearly as smooth as they should be; you really notice when the petrol engine joins the fray to provide extra pulling power. The problem is made worse by the seven-speed automatic gearbox, which can hesitate when you put your foot down, and then jerkily selects a lower gear. Don’t get me wrong, these are minor frustrations, but they add up to make journeys in my XC40 less comfortable and relaxing than they could be.

The good news, though, is that my fuel economy is slowly improving, not least since I’ve been plugging my XC40 in to charge up whenever I visit my local Tesco. The continuing coronavirus pandemic means that I’m yet to enjoy daily charging at the What Car? office, but the five miles or so of electric power that plugging in while I browse the supermarket aisles puts back into the XC40’s battery does go some way to alleviating my running costs.

Volvo XC40 plugged in to charge

At least from behind the wheel I can enjoy the XC40’s Scandi-cool interior, and the quality it offers. From rich leather to soft-touch plastics, I think the XC40 can still mix it with the best in this class for making you feel like a king. 

Something that’s a right royal pain, however, is the way that I need to delve into the infotainment touchscreen on the centre console just to change the temperature. The unpredictable and insanely fast-changing British summer weather has meant that I often change temperature multiple times during a journey, and each time I have to press a small icon on the screen and then select my desired climate via a fiddly menu. Now, I’m all for progress, but as you’ve no doubt read on What Car? before, the move to de-button car interiors, especially when it relates to climate controls, is a backward step because it requires that you you take your eyes off the road for longer than it would take to press a simple button or turn a knob. Little wonder that Volvo’s Sensus system didn’t perform especially well in our recent infotainment megatest

Volvo XC40 infotainment screen

Something that’s delightful, however, is the sheer power of the XC40’s fans once I have got the temperature set just-so; they blow conditioned air into the car with all the ferocity of a tropical storm. When I got back into the car following a long walk the other day, I wanted to cool down fast, and was pleasantly surprised that within seconds an icy blast was working its way through the car. They cooled me down so quickly, in fact, that within minutes I was fiddling with the touchscreen again to turn the fan speed down. Swings and roundabouts, I guess.

For all the latest reviews, advice and new car deals, sign up to the What Car? newsletter here

Read more from our long-term Volvo XC40 >>

See more long-term test cars >>