What Car? says...
The evolution of the Volvo XC40 Recharge electric SUV tells you a lot about the changing preferences of car buyers. When the XC40 SUV line-up was launched, you could get it with diesel and petrol engines only.
Today, diesels are no longer offered, the petrol engines are mild hybrids, there’s a Recharge PHEV plug-in hybrid with a 28-mile electric range – and this Recharge Pure Electric version. With a history like that, you might assume the XC40 has been around for decades, but the range is barely out of nappies.
In fact, Volvo intended the XC40 to evolve rapidly from the outset, and the Recharge has always been part of its grand plan to propel itself towards a future that is likely to see electric cars accounting for half its sales a few years from now.
The XC40 has already moved the goalposts in the family SUV class (it won our overall What Car? Car of the Year Award when it arrived), so can the fully electric version achieve a similar impact? That's what we're finding out in this review.
The XC40 Recharge is available in three trim levels: Core, Plus and Ultimate. You can have a 66kWh (usable) battery and a single electric motor producing 235bhp, or a 79kWh (usable) battery and two motors (the Twin version) producing a combined 402bhp. Officially, they offer ranges of around 290 miles and 334 miles respectively.
The four-wheel-drive version is comfortably in the price territory of the BMW iX1. The cheaper versions also face stiff competition from the closely related Polestar 2 as well as the Tesla Model 3 and higher-spec versions of the Audi Q4 e-tron, the Ford Mustang Mach-E, the Kia Niro EV, the Lexus UX 300e and the VW ID 4.
So, how does the Volvo XC40 Recharge compare with all of those rivals, and should it be number one on your electric car shopping list? Read on over the next few pages of this review to find out. We'll cover performance, interior quality, boot space, running costs and more.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
Our preferred rear-wheel-drive Volvo XC40 Recharge Single Motor comes with plenty of grunt. It’s quick off the line, beating the equivalent Audi Q4 e-tron from 0-62mph, and gets up to motorway speeds with very little effort.
The four-wheel-drive Twin motor produces a huge amount of punch and its mega acceleration is almost out of kilter for a practical-looking family SUV. With 402bhp, the 0-62mph sprint takes just 4.7sec, which is far quicker than both the BMW iX1 (5.6sec) and the Kia Niro EV (7.8sec). The Tesla Model 3 Performance is quicker still, with a ridiculous 0-60mph time of 3.3sec.
The official WLTP range for the Single Motor version is 290 miles from its 66kWh battery. The Twin Motor’s larger 79kWh takes this up to 334 miles. That’s similar to equivalent versions of VW ID 4 but less than the Model 3 Long Range.
Suspension and ride comfort
The XC40 Recharge doesn’t have adaptive suspension (it's not even offered as an option). That's fairly unusual for a premium electric SUV but the XC40 is still a comfortable option in the class.
The suspension is relatively firm, but the ride remains smooth and settled at motorway speeds. Scruffy town roads can cause it to fidget slightly, while mid-corner potholes and expansion joints cause a harsh jolt that the lighter petrol Volvo XC40 would absorb with less fuss. Still, it doesn’t disturb the car’s grip on the road, and by the standards of electric cars the XC40 Recharge is more comfortable than the iX1, even on big 20in wheels.
Being tall and heavy, the XC40 Recharge leans a fair bit through corners, and while it has lots of grip and an abundance of performance, it still feels most at home in relaxed driving. Sure, you can have fun slinging it gamely through corners at fairly remarkable speeds, but there’s no real sense of the car trying to be a fun, involving sports SUV so much as a composed family SUV with comical straight-line gusto.
The light steering feels a touch vague regardless of the mode it’s set in. If you go to the driver assistance menu and select ‘Steering Feel firm’, the weighting beefs up considerably to help the car feel more stable and planted on a motorway. We’d be tempted to leave it in that setting all the time, although most of the added weight disappears when you apply more than a few degrees of lock, leaving you with a sense of disconnect from the front wheels.
Noise and vibration
There's some mild wind buffeting from around the door mirrors at motorway speeds, plus a low level of road noise, but little more than you’ll experience in the Q4 e-tron. The XC40's electric motors generate some whine during acceleration, though.
It's relatively easy to drive smoothly, too. The brakes respond fairly consistently when you squeeze the pedal, plus there's a one-pedal driving function so that just lifting off the accelerator gradually slows the car down to a complete stop.
The interior layout, fit and finish
Driving position and dashboard
The front seats in the Volvo XC40 Recharge are some of the best you’ll find. The entry-level model has manual adjustment but does feature four-way electrically adjustable lumbar support. Other versions have full electric adjustment.
A digital instrument panel is standard and the screen is crisp, clear and very easy to read. Strangely, only the latest model comes with a real-time range counter on the display – you previously had to ask Google Assistant to provide you with that information or switch to the Range Assistance app.
Our other criticism is that the minimalist design of the dashboard means you have to delve into the infotainment touchscreen if you want to adjust almost anything, including the interior temperature, which can be rather distracting when you're driving. Again, you can use voice commands instead.
Visibility, parking sensors and cameras
The elevated seating position gives you a good view of the road ahead, helped further by relatively slim windscreen pillars. You also get large door mirrors, so you can see clearly what’s drawing up alongside, and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror is standard. Bright, automatic LED headlights and auto high-beam make easy work of night-time driving, and going for top spec Ultimate trim gets you adaptive headlights that allow you to use high-beam at all times without dazzling oncoming traffic.
Over-the-shoulder visibility isn’t great, being compromised by a window line that kicks up towards the back of the car. However, we do like the nifty button in the infotainment system of the top-spec Ultimate version that lets you lower the rear seat headrests from the front. That's handy if you want a clearer view out of the back window when the rear seats are unoccupied.
Rear parking sensors are standard, with a camera added on mid-level Plus trim. The top-spec Ultimate model gets a 360-degree camera, which gives you a very helpful bird's eye view of the car when you're parking.
Sat nav and infotainment
The 9.0in tablet-style touchscreen is the same one you'll find in other XC40s. It was developed in conjunction with Google and Android and is essentially the same as the system in the Polestar 2. As such, you’ll find sat-nav and voice control taken care of by Google Maps and Google Assistant, but Apple users never fear, you can use Apple CarPlay if you prefer. On top of that, DAB radio, wireless phone-charging and Bluetooth are included.
Unfortunately, as with other XC40s – and touchscreen infotainment systems generally – you have to take your eyes off the road for longer than is ideal to navigate the menus. Of course, you can use voice commands via the Google Assistant, which is quite effective, but we'd prefer a dedicated button for simple tasks such as changing the radio station.
The screen's many small icons and the cluttered look of some sections don't help matters. Take the settings menu, which is used to adjust the one-pedal driving and the steering mode: it has a list with small text and small slide icons, making it very difficult to aim for while driving. In better news, the standard eight-speaker stereo sounds great, but audiophiles can splash out on a richer sounding 13-speaker Harman Kardon system with the top-end Ultimate version.
Volvo is tough to beat when it comes to interior quality. Pretty much anything you touch in any XC40 feels ready to stand the test of time and the rigours of daily family use, yet is also elegant and plush.
The great mix of high-quality plastics, metal inlays and leather really gives the XC40 Recharge plenty of premium panache. It’s certainly screwed together better than the Tesla Model 3 and feels more robust than the Audi Q4 e-tron.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
The Volvo XC40 Recharge’s dimensions are relatively compact and city-friendly, but there’s plenty of space inside. You get lots of head room in the front, even with the space-sapping panoramic glass roof fitted to top-spec Ultimate models. The interior is broad enough that you won’t clash elbows with your front passenger.
It’s full of thoughtful details. You get a pop-out rubbish bin between the front seats and carpeted door pockets that are each big enough to take a laptop or two large bottles of water. There are also sliding drawers under the front seats.
The XC40 Recharge is roomy enough in the back for taller adults to sit comfortably without their heads brushing the ceiling or their knees bashing the seat in front. It’s roomier than the Kia Niro EV but the Audi Q4 e-tron just pips it, while the Tesla Model 3 is even more cavernous.
Thanks to the relatively wide rear bench, three adults can sit side by side fairly easily, with plenty of space under the front seats for their feet. The middle passenger’s legs will need to straddle a fairly big hump in the floor, though.
Those in the back get reasonably big door bins and there are cupholders in the central armrest. Overall, it has no less interior space than any Volvo XC40.
Seat folding and flexibility
Split-folding rear seats are standard, but the seatbacks are split 60/40 rather than the more versatile 40/20/40 arrangement you get in higher-spec versions of the Audi Q4 e-tron.
You can’t fold or slide the rear bench, but that feature is a rarity in the electric SUV class. At least there is a ski hatch that lets you thread long, thin items through from the boot while still carrying passengers in the back.
The Volvo XC40 Recharge's 452-litre boot is bigger than in the Niro EV but smaller than in the VW ID 4. The load bay has usefully square proportions that make packing super-easy, and there’s also a large underfloor storage area.
We managed to squeeze eight carry-on suitcases below the parcel shelf. The ID 4 can take nine, while the Audi Q4 e-tron and the Jaguar I-Pace manage seven. There’s no lip to negotiate at the boot's entrance and a flap midway along the boot floor can be clipped up vertically to prevent smaller items from sliding around. There’s also an electric tailgate and handy hooks for shopping bags.
With no petrol engine under the bonnet, the Recharge has an extra storage compartment you wouldn't find in the regular XC40. At 31 litres, it’s not huge, but it is handy for storing the charging cables.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Costs, insurance groups, MPG and CO2
It comes with an unconventional buying method called Care by Volvo, a subscription service that lets you lease it with all maintenance and running costs (except electricity) included. It's quite pricey, but – while eye-watering by the standards of some less premium rivals – is comparable to the conventional PCP monthly finance costs of posher alternatives, including the Q4 e-tron. You can’t buy the car at the end of the contract, though, as you can with conventional PCP finance.
The XC40 Recharge can charge at a maximum rate of 130kW, and if you can find a powerful enough charger that allows you to do a 10-80% charge in a little more than half an hour. A home wall box will charge it from empty to full in around 11 hours. The cables for plugging into a Type 2 wall box or AC public charger, and a cable for connecting to a normal three-pin domestic socket, come with the car as standard.
Equipment, options and extras
The entry-level Core trim gives you the basics, including 19in alloy wheels, climate control, cruise control, automatic wipers and LED lights, the 9.0in infotainment touchscreen and rear parking sensors.
Even so, mid-spec Plus trim is our preferred choice. For not much more money, it adds keyless entry, heated and electrically adjustable front seats and a reversing camera. It also has a heat pump that’s more efficient at heating up the interior and improves the car’s driving range in winter conditions.
Range-topping Ultimate adds ambient interior lighting, leather upholstery, a panoramic opening sunroof, a 360-degree camera, a Harman Kardon sound system and 20-inch alloy wheels – but it’s a big price jump.
As a brand, Volvo sat around the middle of the 2022 What Car? Reliability Survey coming 17th out of 32 manufacturers, just behind BMW but above Audi, Volkswagen, Jaguar and Land Rover (which sat in 31st).
A three-year/60,000-mile warranty, including roadside assistance, comes as standard, as does a three-year paintwork warranty and 12 years of cover against rust. That's par for the course among premium electric cars and can be extended at a cost, while the Kia Niro EV offers a seven-year warranty as standard. The XC40's battery, meanwhile, is covered by an eight-year/100,000-mile warranty.
Safety and security
The XC40 Recharge received the top five-star safety rating from Euro NCAP. Every model gets an automatic emergency braking (AEB) system that not only recognises other cars but also cyclists, pedestrians and large animals. Traffic-sign recognition and Oncoming Lane Mitigation, which can intervene if you inadvertently cross the road's centre line and into the path of oncoming traffic, are also included.
Mid-range Plus adds blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, along with adaptive cruise control and a semi-autonomous driving function. A system to detect an imminent collision from behind and adjust braking to reduce the impact is also included on the top-spec model.
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The official range is up to 290 miles for the two-wheel-drive version, and 334 miles if you go for the quicker four-wheel-drive model. In the real world, it’s unlikely to go that far, but that depends on how you drive and other factors.
Infotainment is displayed on a vertical 9.0in tablet-style display screen in the centre of the dashboard. You get Google Maps and Google Assistant, along with DAB radio, wireless phone-charging and Bluetooth. It’s not the most user-friendly system available, but you can control it with your voice.
Some car makers, including Volvo, are now selling direct to customers instead of via franchised dealers. You can still visit a showroom if you want to test drive the model you’re thinking of buying, but the cars in it are owned by the manufacturer instead of the dealership. This new approach is known as the agency model.
|RRP price range||£35,895 - £61,855|
|Number of trims (see all)||6|
|Number of engines (see all)||6|
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)||petrol, hybrid, electric|
|MPG range across all versions||134.5 - 42.1|
|Available doors options||5|
|Warranty||3 years / 60000 miles|
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)||£93 / £3,048|
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)||£186 / £6,097|