The Volvo XC40 made its debut in showrooms in 2018, initially featuring conventional petrol and diesel engines. In 2019, Volvo introduced a plug-in hybrid model. Subsequently, in 2020, the Volvo XC40 Recharge, an all-electric battery vehicle, was launched. The model lineup expanded further in 2021 with the introduction of the pure electric C40 Recharge, distinguished by its sleek, sloping rear roof. And with that, the history lesson concludes.
While the XC40 was initially introduced with conventional petrol and diesel engines, Volvo has since phased out all diesel powertrains.
The exterior is well-proportioned, and the design language is positively favourable and stylish. Somehow, Volvo designers have skillfully managed to visually minimize the XC40’s size, giving it a shrink-wrapped appearance that makes it seem smaller than its actual dimensions suggest.
Entry-level models feature 18.5-inch alloy wheels (20-inch for the test vehicle) contributing to the overall aesthetics of a visually appealing SUV with a premium design stance, a feat that is challenging to achieve even under the best circumstances.
Volvo occupies the premium segment of the automotive spectrum, yet, truthfully, transitioning from a brand-new V60 daily driver to the XC40 cabin, I immediately detected the subtle signs of cost-cutting. While the interior is undeniably well-constructed, my instincts were not entirely swayed. As for the design language, it’s unmistakably contemporary Volvo, minimalist by nature. Volvo’s seats, renowned for their comfort, rank second only to Land Rover, leaving no room for complaints about interior comfort.
The XC40 is classified as a subcompact crossover SUV – whatever that label implies. Automotive manufacturers often use various terms to characterize the size of vehicles. One thing is certain: visually, the XC40 appears larger than you might initially think. Once you step into the interior and settle into the comfortable seating, it feels more expansive than a typical subcompact SUV. The driver’s compartment offers ample space, and the rear seats generously provide more than enough legroom, even for individuals over six feet tall.
Volvo has maintained the use of the same 9-inch digital instrument binnacle and 12.3-inch infotainment system for several years. However, the integration of the infotainment screen into the centre of the dash appears dated, with thick bezels surrounded by heater vents. Nevertheless, the software experience remains intuitively easy to navigate, thanks to its simplicity, and it is now powered by Google.
This integration brings features such as Google Assist and voice commands. Consequently, you can seamlessly communicate with the car to control heating, switch functions on or off, or activate Spotify while driving, all without the need to interact directly with the touchscreen. The system works almost flawlessly, at a guess I would estimate an accuracy rate of 90 percent.
It also comes with Apple CarPlay and despite being an iPhone owner, I have never once connected to Apple CarPlay preferring to use Volvo’s Google-based system instead because it features the Apps I would normally use via CarPlay.
The rear bench seats fold flat, expanding the load space from 452 litres to 1,328 litres. Regarding equipment levels, I was driving around in the top spec Ultimate T5 variant and when you have a heated steering wheel you know it comes fully loaded with toys. That being said, I am happy with just heated seats and heated door mirrors as part of the standard kit, and everything else I consider a bonus. Of course, the XC40 is equipped with various passive and active safety features, including steering assist.
However, I would strongly advise against using steering assist. The software and hardware guiding Volvo’s base steering assist functionality is poorly engineered and disastrously programmed, bordering on the edge of being dangerous to use.
The XC40 Recharge PHEV is propelled by a 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, effectively augmented by electric motors. The total system power combines to deliver 211bhp in the entry-level T4 variant, while the T5 variant produces 262bhp. A small 8.5kWh battery pack provides an electric range of 18 miles under real-world conditions. As the name implies, you can recharge the battery pack, with a three-hour charge time from 0-80 percent, and a full 100 percent charge requiring 3.6 hours using an ordinary 3-pin plug. Using a dedicated wall charger reduces the charging time by half.
Volvo engines don’t lead the class in efficiency, falling behind competitors such as VW, BMW, and Mercedes. This emphasis on inefficiency persists in the XC40 Plug-in Hybrid. This particular model variant has an estimated range of 400 miles on a full tank of petrol, conversely, I achieved 35mpg on a combined cycle, a disappointing figure when compared to a standard Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, which can effortlessly achieve 50mpg in a combined run.
The engine delivers power smoothly and remains relatively quiet at idle. However, the automatic transmission lacks refinement, particularly at low speeds, where it becomes cantankerous and argumentative. I believe this issue is more related to software integration than mechanical. Clearly, Volvo needs to enhance its software engineering to optimize transmission efficiency instead of grappling with unnecessary complications.
The ride and handling are well-sorted, although the steering is somewhat lifeless. When combined, the XC40’s ride and handling don’t stand out remarkably, and that’s perfectly suitable for a vehicle of this type. The ride is comfortable, displaying minimal leaning in corners, maintaining a safe and predictable track, and adeptly handling uneven, pot-holed road surfaces. As long as it surpasses the disappointingly subpar bloody awful Volkswagen Tiguan, I have no complaints.
The PHEV Conundrum
Are plugin hybrids increasingly pointless? I really wanted to give plug-in hybrids a chance, but I always find compromises with this technology. The same holds true for the XC40 PHEV. While having 19 miles of pure electric range is commendable, rivals offer more. Then the issue arises when you embark on an extended journey and deplete the electric range, relying on the petrol engine alone.
At that point, you are essentially carrying dead weight, diminishing overall efficiency, yet plugin hybrids are meant to be efficient, it is a classic oxymoron. If you are willing to invest £45K – £50K in a PHEV just to cover a few miles of electric range each day, it might make more sense to opt for a fully electric vehicle. Alternatively, considering a standard mild-hybrid or hybrid without the plugin baggage will offer a more efficient alternative.
So, my advice is not to buy the Volvo XC40 Recharge PHEV. Once you exhaust the electric range, you are burdened with dead weight for the temporary benefit of 18 miles of electric range.
Instead, consider the petrol mild hybrid variants. I would not opt for the fully electric XC40 either for one simple reason… the Tesla Model Y stands out as the far superior product.