Review: Volvo thinks outside the box with C40 Recharge – its first dedicated EV

Volvo C40 Refill.Jason Tchir/The Globe and Mail

To woo buyers into an EV, Volvo is thinking outside the box. Its new C40 Recharge is a considerably less-boxy version of the XC40 Recharge, the brand’s first fully electric vehicle.

But apart from a trim to the rear roof to make it a fastback, some tweaks to the skin and a switch to a few eco-friendly materials inside, it’s the same car and is built on the same platform.

Like the XC40 recharge, it is peppy and comfortable, with a 75-kilowatt-hour battery pack that can deliver up to 362 kilometers in range. They both have two electric motors that produce up to 402 horsepower.

It can handle 150-kilowatt DC fast charging, which Volvo says can replenish the battery to 80 per cent in 40 minutes. But even though the XC40 Recharge SUV came first, Volvo is calling the C40 Recharge crossover its first dedicated battery electric vehicle (BEV). That’s because, unlike the XC40 Recharge – Volvo uses the term “Recharge” to identify its BEVs and plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) – the C40 doesn’t come in a gas-powered version.

Volvo said the C40 is meant for luxury buyers looking for something that looks a little sportier.

Volvo said the C40 is meant for luxury buyers looking for something that looks a little sportier.Jason Tchir/The Globe and Mail

That makes sense: The company will need more options for buyers if it wants to meet its plan to have 50 per cent of sales be electric by 2025 and 100 per cent by 2030. Eric Beak, head of design for Volvo USA, bristled at the word boxy being applied to any Volvo.

“If I got that question 10 years ago, I’d admit it,” Beak said. “But we got away from boxy and [got] much more sculptural – much more sensual.”

But Beak did say the C40 is a departure, design-wise, from what Volvo has been doing and is more in line with what its upcoming cars will look like. Besides giving EV buyers another vehicle choice, Volvo is aiming to make it simpler to buy one.

As of April 1, Volvo began offering a single, guaranteed price for its two battery-electric vehicles, whether you buy online or in a dealership. That means no haggling, no packages and no options, other than choosing the colour, Volvo said. It’s not something the company is doing for its plug-in hybrid or gas-powered vehicles. They said it makes sense because buying an EV is less complicated than buying a gas car, and it’s another way to sweeten the pot for buyers who may be on the fence about EVs. Unlike some EVs that have launched in British Columbia and Quebec first, deliveries started for the C40 to everywhere in Canada in February, Volvo said.

Tech specs

Volvo is calling the C40 Recharge crossover its first dedicated battery electric vehicle (BEV).Jason Tchir/The Globe and Mail

  • Base price/as tested: $72,600 (does not qualify for $5,000 federal rebate)
  • Motor/battery: Dual motors deliver up to 402 horsepower and 487 lb-ft of torque/75 kilowatt hours
  • Transmission/drive: Single-speed/all-wheel drive
  • Alternatives: Audi Q4 e-tron, Ford Mustang Mach-E, Mercedes-Benz EQA, Tesla Model Y

Looks

From the outside, it’s tough to mistake a C40 for an XC40 – and it isn’t just the haircut. The C40 looks sharp and almost sporty. It didn’t turn any heads in Palm Springs, Calif., but it looks more put together and closer to a luxury vehicle than its fraternal twin. Nothing in the design is starting, although there’s a dual spoiler and new wheels that Volvo said boost aerodynamics. Over all, it’s 70 millimeters shorter than the XC40. Because of the sedanlike angle of the rear window, Volvo said it doesn’t need a rear wiper. With sunny weather, I didn’t get a chance to test whether Volvo was right.

Interior

The C40 has Volvo’s first leather-free interior, using a fake suede made of recycled plastic.Jason Tchir/The Globe and Mail

The cabin is nearly identical to the XC40, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s clean, simple and has plenty of extra storage. Nearly all of the functions are controlled by touch screen or voice, although there are physical buttons/knobs for a few key functions, including volume and both defrosters.

Notably, there’s no on/off switch for the car itself; once the car senses you in the driver’s seat, it will start as soon as you shift into gear.

The C40 has Volvo’s first leather-free interior, using a fake suede made of recycled plastic. The carpet is made of recycled plastic bottles. While recycled materials have looked unimpressive in some rivals, here they’re nice, good-quality materials. The roof shorter means less back-seat headroom than in the XC40, although it didn’t feel cramped for this 5-foot-9-inch journalist. But visibility through the rear window is minimal, even with nobody in the back seat. Volvo doesn’t offer a rear-view mirror that displays what the rear-view camera sees, but it should. It’s well-equipped with a panoramic moonroof and all the safety gadgets – although there’s no heads-up display.

Performance

Volvo said the car can reach 100 kilometers an hour in 4.9 seconds. It’s easy to speed without realizing it, even though the dash shows the speed limit. It handled well on steep mountain roads with hairpin curves, but the ride is a little stiff. The C40 offers one-pedal driving if you want – the regenerative brakes will eventually bring you to a complete stop if you lift your foot off the accelerator. It’s not as abrupt as some rivals. I only had to hit the brake pedal two or three times in four hours of driving.

Technology

You can use Google to adjust functions that don’t directly affect driving, including climate control, and heated seats, heated steering wheel and the radio.Jason Tchir/The Globe and Mail

“Hey, Google. How much range do I have left?” Because the C40, like the XC40, only shows how much power remains (like on an iPhone), the only way to find out your remaining range in kilometers is to ask Google Assist. Surprisingly, it doesn’t take long to get comfortable with not knowing the range. Maybe that’s because in gas-powered cars, we don’t know our range either, just how much fuel we have left.) If you’ve ever used a voice-activated Google device, it works the same way. You can also use Google to adjust functions that don’t directly affect driving, including climate control, and heated, heated steering wheel and the seats radio. Not only that, you can ask the same sorts of questions about the weather and past Oscar winners that you ask Google at home. You don’t need a cellphone signal to use it – the car’s connected to Volvo’s wireless network. You get free access for the first four years (Volvo is still figuring out what subscriptions will cost after that).

Cargo

The sloped rear roof means less cargo room than the XC40, but there’s still plenty of space for trips to Costco.Jason Tchir/The Globe and Mail

The sloped rear roof means less cargo room than the XC40, but there’s still plenty of space for trips to Costco. There’s not much room in the front trunk (frunk) under the hood, although it accommodates the charging cable. The C40′s cargo volume, including underfloor storage, with the seats up is 489 litres. That’s about 90 liters less than the XC40. But the extra space in the XC40 is if you’re packing it to the ceiling.

The verdict

A sleeker-looking XC40 Recharge with worse visibility, the C40 Recharge is a competent, comfortable all-wheel drive BEV for folks looking for something with a little more style.

The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.

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