/ 21 October 2023

Plugging into the EV charge

Volvoc40recharge Ludusmagnus,southafrica(2)

Volvo says the C40 Recharge is the first model in its long lineage of hits and misses (they didn’t actually say hits and misses) designed from the ground up as an electric vehicle

In fact, they are so proud of that snippet of information that it’s right there in the opening paragraph of its presser and the rest is sort of structured around it. The question is, should they be proud of it? 

Well, yes, from an EV perspective, at least. But, like their press release, everything else is just loosely structured around the fact that it’s an EV. 

Yes, it’s essentially based on the XC40 and, if you notice that it’s now a coupé, I’ll say that’s a keen observation on your part. 

The 20-inch air splicing rims, which have been borrowed from the future, and the flat area where the grille normally goes, which has been optimised to allow smooth airflow, further hint that there’s something different about this Volvo. 

What’s refreshing about the C40 is it comes in only one derivative, the C40 Recharge Twin Motor Ultimate. While the name and derivative specifier aren’t exactly eligible for a prize in creativity, there are no “Dark, Bright” or “Essential” choices available locally — a welcome change in a world where decision paralysis is real. 

You get two electric motors, each placed on an axle, powered by a 78 kilowatt-hour battery. That’s the choice, take it or leave it. 

Then there’s the power output. It’s best to strap in because this silent crossover has some bite to it — 300kW and 660Nm that’s available without delay. Press down on what is normally the loud pedal and this crossover immediately obliges. 

There are no turbos to spool up to optimum revs, and no petrol-to-combustion-to-crank-to-driveshaft move-ments here. Just electricity, which travels at 1.01 billion kilos an hour (yes, I verified that). 

While the velocity of Volvo’s coupé SUV is hardly a decimal fraction of that, it has comparable get-up-and-go to upper-tier performance SUVs such as the Porsche Macan S and BMW X3 M40i, with Volvo claiming a 0-to-100km/h time of 4.7secs. It’s a Volvo, in case I need to remind you!

Ride comfort is respectable, even with the 20-inch wheels and, amazingly, Volvo has managed to insulate its cabin from a sizable portion of tyre noise at highway speed, partly thanks to Pirelli’s Elect low-rolling-resistance EV tyres, which boast immense benefits in themselves. 

But its silent disposition does leave small cracks in its facade. For one, suspension knocks over imperfect road surfaces are more pronounced. Also, phone-in-face pedestrians in parking lots don’t hear the C40’s stealth approach. 

Volvo tried to remedy this to some extent with an inoffensive chime that’s activated while reversing, but reversing is hardly the biggest risk to pedestrians here. 

Remember I hinted that some aspects felt like a “that’ll do” attempt? Well, it’s here I need to clarify that I meant the interior. 

There’s no leather, which Volvo says is for the sake of sustainability, and they’ve opted for a 30% sustainably sourced wool and 70% polyester blend. The problem is polyester isn’t entirely biodegradable. It’s also a lot cheaper to produce than leather, so make of that what you will. 

My primary gripe inside, though, is besides the crisp 12.3-inch digital driver display and the beautifully textured backlit inserts on the doors and dash, the user interface feels dated and, for the most part, has been lifted from the XC40. It has the same clunky nine-inch infotainment screen with the same dated graphics and layouts and the minimalistic factor that worked so well once upon a time has reached its expiry date. 

Volvo tried to upgrade this old architecture by jointly developing connectivity with Google, meaning all functions, except Bluetooth pairing, are online-based. Fantastic on paper, but when the car’s data was capped, it left me with basically zero functionality, except Bluetooth.  

The big question is, what is it like to live with? 

Volvo claims 451km on a charge, and based on my experience, that doesn’t seem a stretch since while taking advantage of the 300kW on tap, it still netted me a test duration average power consumption of 23.7kWh. 

Regarding price, it’s best to look at the bigger picture and consider what you’ll save in petrol, since the C40 doesn’t come cheap at R1 324 000, with a five-year/100 000km warranty and maintenance plan and an eight-year/160 000km battery warranty. 

So, is it the best compact EV SUV on the market? Compared to the similarly priced BMW iX3, it’s a hard sell. Sure, it’s considerably more powerful but also marginally less efficient and, for the most part, the C40 Recharge doesn’t feel as if Volvo has made the transition to electric quite as well as the Bavarians. Then again, BMW has been at it considerably longer. 

Mostly, though, it’s the interior that costs the C40 considerable points.