Volvo XC40 Recharge first drive review: A 400bhp+ family car!

The Volvo XC40 Recharge showcases what Volvo’s electric future will be like, with a rather entertaining family car
The XC40 Recharge is Volvo's first battery-electric offering
The XC40 Recharge is Volvo's first battery-electric offering Shot by Abhishek Benny

Volvo has made a massive commitment — of going fully electric by 2030. And it isn’t some marketing spiel to make them look like a responsible company, they have signed the Glasgow Declaration at the UN Climate Change conference COP26, and have committed to making it happen. It’s just one of the steps they are taking to become climate neutral by 2040. What does that mean for you and me? Well, it means we’re going to be seeing a lot of BEVs from Volvo, the first being this one — the XC40 Recharge. On the surface, it is just an XC40 with its ICE guts ripped out and swapped with an electric drivetrain. But there’s so much more happening here that needs to be talked about. Including the fact that it makes over 400bhp! We’ll come to that, but first let’s talk styling.

Volvo XC40 Recharge styling

Honestly, the Volvo XC40 Recharge looks very similar to the standard XC40 (that is still on sale, by the way). The major difference is no surprise — the grille. Or rather the lack of it. You get a blanked out panel instead, with the Volvo badge sitting pretty on it. There’s also the fact that it has shouty green plates that scream EV from a mile away. From the side, you’d notice large 19-inch wheels with fatter rubber (255s at the rear) that give it a particularly handsome stance, a subtle Recharge badge on the C-pillar and at the rear, there’s another subtle badge. The fuel lid is not longer a fuel lid, but instead reveals a charging port and is positioned in the same place. Something you would not notice at first glance is the fact that it is longer overall by 15mm. With the XC40 Recharge, Volvo hasn’t changed its styling too much — avoiding completely new model lines like what Mercedes-Benz and Audi are doing at the moment. It breeds familiarity, that is certain, and the XC40 is already a handsome car that didn’t need much tweaking to make it look futuristic.

Volvo XC40 Recharge Interiors

Like the exteriors, the changes to the insides are subtle. The big differences are to the infotainment screen and the instrument cluster. The infotainment screen now runs Google natively, allowing you to download apps like Maps and Spotify straight to it — something we first saw on the S90 and the XC60 facelifts not too long ago. iPhone owners, don’t sweat, it will also be available with wireless Apple CarPlay when it launches in India. Then there’s the 12-3-inch digital instrument cluster — it has a few EV-specific tweaks. The fuel gauge has been replaced with a gauge that shows the battery’s charge levels in percentage. The tacho has been replaced by a dial that displays how much power you’re using or recovering.

The big infotainment screen will be offered with Apple CarPlay once it launches here
The big infotainment screen will be offered with Apple CarPlay once it launches hereShot by Abhishek Benny

Those two things aside, the XC40 Recharge is pretty much identical to the standard car. Quality of materials used is top notch, as is fit and finish levels. It remains well equipped too — 360 degree camera, electrically adjustable front seats, a panoramic sunroof, wireless charging, Harman Kardon audio, radar enabled safety systems — the works.
When it comes to the backseat, its a bit of a squeeze getting in because the door apertures are narrow. But once you’re inside, there is actually a generous amount of knee room and headroom for such a small car. The bench lacks a bit of thigh support, aggravated by the fact that the floor is high but that aside, the rear is a fairly comfortable place to be.

Volvo XC40 Recharge drivetrain and performance

Setting of in the XC40 Recharge is really interesting — there’s no start-stop button. Instead, you just sit in the car, put a foot on the brake, pull the gear selector to D and you can start moving. Stopping is even easier. Slot it in to P and get out — the car will simply turn off in its own. Super intuitive, and you don’t need to figure out if the car is ‘Ready’ or not.

With two electric motors producing 201bhp, the total output stands at 402bhp!
With two electric motors producing 201bhp, the total output stands at 402bhp!Shot by Abhishek Benny

The Volvo XC40 Recharge has a fairly large battery. It’s a 78kWh unit situated on the floor, with electric motors on either axle. Each motor puts out a cool 201bhp leaving the total system output at a mildly ridiculous 402bhp. That’s proper hot hatch territory! It matches larger EVs like the Mercedes-Benz EQC and Audi e-tron in terms of outputs, and is essentially the same drivetrain as the Polestar 2. Combine those power figures with AWD and fat tyres, and you’ve got a 0-100kmph coming up in a claimed 4.9 seconds. It launches super aggressively. It slams you in to your seat back and fires itself forward, hitting triple digit speeds in no time and showing no signs of slowing down. Even at rolling speeds, if you’re aggressive with the throttle, it just darts forward with intent. More impressive than the acceleration is the instantaneous responses. There’s no lag — you put it an input, and it moves. On regular Indian roads, I found myself using just 20-30 per cent of the throttle travel. Its rapid enough even when you’re being gentle with it and it feels like it has inexhaustible levels of performance. Top speed is limited to 180kmph — a global mandate from Volvo to enhance safety though there’s no getting to that number safely on Indian roads so I didn’t even try.

Yes, you get a one-pedal drive mode
Yes, you get a one-pedal drive modeShot by Abhishek Benny

The XC40 Recharge doesn’t really have traditional drive modes. There’s an off-road mode that optimises the drivetrain for low traction surfaces, though you really have to dig through the menus to find. There’s also an option to increase the weight of the steering, and I preferred driving it like this. What was really interesting was the one-pedal drive mode. What it essentially does is decelerate the car when you’re off the throttle and recover energy in the process. You don’t need to use the brakes — just anticipate when you need to slow down and get off the throttle, and you can drive the car with just the throttle pedal. However, I found that the deceleration is very aggressive. With some practice, you can drive smoothly in this mode but what you can’t do is alter the rate of deceleration when fully off the accelerator. Many EVs allow you to do this and I would have liked some adjustability here, as I found the standard setting slowing the car down too aggressively. Eventually I switched back to normal and found lifting and coasting to be far more enjoyable.

Volvo XC40 Recharge range and charging times

A 150kWh charger will give the XC40 Recharge enough juice in 33 minutes
A 150kWh charger will give the XC40 Recharge enough juice in 33 minutesShot by Abhishek Benny

The Volvo XC40’s claimed range is 461km on the WLTP cycle. On our test run, we had a lot of highway driving — which involved high speeds between 80 and 120kmph, and plenty of bursts of acceleration to overtake slow moving trucks. With this sort of driving, we managed somewhere around 4.25kW/km which translates to approximately 350km of real world range driving. I suspect that with more mixed conditions which balance city and highway driving, you can stretch this to 400km. This is impressive range, and should allow the Volvo XC40 to be more than just an urban car. Short road trips should be possible to undertake if there’s a promise of a charger on the other side!

As for charging, the XC40 can go from 10-80 per cent in a mere 33 minutes with a 150kWh charger, though these are not very common. Volvo hasn’t confirmed what home charging solution it will provide yet, though we suspect an 11kWh charger should be bundled in and charging here should take 7-8 hours.

Volvo XC40 Recharge Ride and Handling

Ride quality isn't very plush, but still comfortable
Ride quality isn't very plush, but still comfortableShot by Abhishek Benny

When I saw the spec of the XC40, I expected it to be stiff. It is a European car, after all. It is heavy and tall, and would need firm suspension to keep that weight in check. 19s wouldn’t be of any help in improving ride. And yet, the XC40 impresses! It actually deals with Indian roads very capably. Ride quality isn’t overly plush, but it is comfortable and it manages to iron out the imperfections in our road without being uncomfortable. This is a car that is genuinely useable every day. Despite the large wheels, it doesn’t have a hard edge to the ride and can take on everything from potholes to bumps and broken roads very well. It also has good ground clearance — despite the batteries in the floor, Volvo has managed to salvage 175mm of clearance and that, combined with the short wheelbase, means you can clear all sorts of monstrous breakers and potholes without trouble. Indian road conditions leave it unbothered. If I had to criticise something about its ride, I would have to say that some amount of suspension noise does make it in to the cabin when dealing with bad roads.

On the handling front, it is a mixed bag. It has got outright grip. The wide Pirelli P Zeros mean you can chuck it around a bend and it will resist understeer very well. Traction out of corners is huge as well, and you can shoot yourself out of bends very rapidly. That said, you feel a bit disconnected from what’s happening underneath you. It will turn willingly too. There’s some amount of roll but it isn’t unmanageable. Where it lacks is the feedback and engagement. It lacks feedback from the steering and the seat of your pants — as a driver, you feel a little isolated from what is happening underneath you and it doesn’t involve you in the experience. It is effective, but not fun. That said, this car was never intended to deliver sportscar-like engagement so I would cut it some slack here.

Volvo XC40 price and verdict

This won't be the exact Volvo XC40 Recharge, with the facelifted one coming in October
This won't be the exact Volvo XC40 Recharge, with the facelifted one coming in OctoberShot by Abhishek Benny

First things first - here’s a confession. This isn’t the exact spec that will be sold in India. Bookings will start in July 2022 with deliveries in October, and by that time, customers will get the facelifted XC40 that was just revealed a month ago. The facelift entails some mildly tweaked styling, trims and upholstery, and wheels — though the rest of the car including the things that make a difference to the driving experience, remain the same.

As for how much it will cost, I expect this to be expensive. It has a fairly large battery, (two) powerful motors and everything that comes with big power including bigger wheels brakes, tyres and better suspension. I suspect it will be around Rs 75 lakh (ex-showroom) when it launches here later this year. At that price, it runs the more expensive EQC, e-tron and the like fairly close. And while it has the performance to match, it does not have the sheer presence and opulence of those cars. That said, the smaller footprint is actually an advantage in urban conditions.

The Volvo XC40 has a lot going for it. It is an incredible everyday EV that promises good range, comfort, a luxurious cabin, a long equipment list and serious performance. A lot of its success is down to its price. If it can undercut the luxury EVs around Rs 1 crore by a big enough margin, people will see value in it. That said, it remains a brilliant showcase of what is to come from Volvo. The XC40 is their first ever EV. The future can only be more exciting.

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