Review: The 2021 XC40 Recharge Is Volvo’s First All-Electric SUV, And It’s a Contender
Parsing the pros and cons of Google integration, heated steering wheels and a potent driving experience
A major part of Volvo’s recent push to be taken seriously as a luxury brand is the embrace of advanced electrification. After a successful pivot away from exclusively focusing on safety, the Swedish automaker’s portfolio now pairs stunning design and respectable performance with an all-in battery strategy. Almost every sedan, wagon and SUV it offers is available as a plug-in hybrid (PHEV), though there has been one notable exception: its excellent entry-level crossover, the XC40.
For 2021, that changes. Volvo has chosen its small but capable family hauler to be its first all-electric olive branch to buyers who might have previously been tempted by the well-established charms of the Tesla Model Y, or pricier mainstream offerings like the Audi E-tron. Dubbed the Volvo XC40 Recharge, it’s a bold step that undercuts traditional German luxury on price without asking buyers to make a compromise on power.
Small SUV, Big Power
The XC40 Recharge’s party piece is its dual electric motor setup. With each axle driven by a 201 horsepower unit, both harnessed to a 78 kWh lithium-ion battery pack, Volvo’s sport-utility parses its 402 ponies and 486 lb-ft of torque through a traction-grabbing all-wheel drive system.
Four-wheel propulsion isn’t just there for dealing with snowy roads or slippery pavement, either. Mashing the XC40 Recharge’s accelerator is enough to introduce the back of your skull to the leather-lined headrest, and it would certainly twist the steering wheel out of your hands were all of that torque shuttled exclusively to the front axle. In a straight line the Volvo will shame many a sport sedan with a 60-mph sprint that takes less than five seconds, and unlike some electric vehicles, it doesn’t run out of breath when asked to overtake at highway speeds, either.
Another intriguing factor of the Volvo’s EV character is the ultra-aggressive one-pedal driving mode baked into its regenerative braking system. Designed to fill the battery with recaptured momentum at every stop or slow-down, it’s possible to pilot the XC40 Recharge without ever having to tap the brake, as simply lifting off of the go-pedal will bring the vehicle to a halt within a few seconds. It’s not difficult to master, although there is a learning curve, and it can be switched off for a more traditional driving experience.
The XC40’s rambunctious gallop is made even more impressive by its not inconsiderable curb weight. The Recharge’s electrical apparatus — specifically its battery pack — helps tip the scales at just under 4,900 lbs, which puts it in company with gas-powered SUVs with a considerably larger footprint. The weightiness of the XC40 manifests itself in a smooth, buttoned-down ride while cruising or bumping over broken bits of pavement. It’s also a factor in keeping the Volvo from feeling truly sporty; despite its excellent power, its chassis has been tuned to tame its heft and keep passengers settled rather than tickle any apexes.
Modest Range for the Price
Quick though it may be, all that mass means Volvo has paid somewhat of a price for the XC40 Recharge’s grunt in the form of modest driving range. On a full charge the SUV is officially rated at a maximum of 208 miles of motoring before it’s time to find a plug (with 40 minutes of powering at a DC fast charger needed to hit the 80% mark). The 200-mile limit is a common axis around which many mainstream and luxury EVs rotate, including the previously mentioned Audi E-tron (which delivers 222 miles per battery cycle).
The XC40 Recharge’s range also checks in about 40 miles less than you’d find with the somewhat larger (and much lighter) base Tesla Model Y. However, a better point of comparison is the Long Range version of the same, which adds all-wheel drive and costs within a few thousand dollars or so of the Volvo’s $53K MSRP; in that configuration, the Tesla dwarfs the Volvo with over 320 miles of driving on a topped-up battery.
It’s also important to note that achieving the XC40’s 208-mile range requires balmy weather and preferably flat topography. With the mercury hovering around the zero degree Fahrenheit mark, by the time I had driven 45 miles there were only 100 or so miles of charge remaining, in part due to operating the heated seats, heated steering wheel, and most significantly, the climate-control system.
Want to Know the Range? You’ll Have to Google It.
How I arrived at the XC40 Recharge’s range calculation required a bit of homework on my part. In a bid to quell range anxiety, Volvo has elected not to display any “miles remaining” on the dashboard until a full three-quarters of the vehicle’s charge is used up, which means your guess is as good as anyone else’s if you’re trying to figure out whether you can make it from A to B in the XC40 with its current state of charge.
When asked, Volvo claimed that this was a “design decision” to try and remove driver focus from mileage to battery capacity, claiming it’s similar to a gasoline vehicle’s fuel tank indicator in that respect. This explanation skips over the fact that any modern car offers a “distance to empty” feature regardless of fuel type, making the XC40 Recharge an outlier in both internal combustion and electric worlds. There is a workaround, however: simply say “OK Google, how far can I drive?” and the vehicle will reply with a rough estimate. Strangely, you can’t ask it the more direct “How much range do I have left?” as only the exact verbiage above will solve the mystery of whether you’re going to make it home or not.
Volvo hasn’t just integrated Google services into the XC40 Recharge’s operating system, it’s actually implemented through an automotive version of Android to control every aspect of infotainment, navigation and vehicle systems. This includes Google Maps and the Google Assistant that handled my query above. If you’re not so keen on giving Mountain View yet another avenue for monetizing your personal data, you can disable many of its tracking features, or even sign in as a guest. If you’re an Apple user, you’ll have to wait for an over-the-air update later this spring to use Apple CarPlay.
Almost Everything You Need in a Luxury EV
In addition to its EV-only quirks, such as its Google OS (which will presumably trickle down to other models) and its lack of a start button (you simply get in and shift into drive as long as the key is in your pocket), the Volvo XC40 Recharge brings with it all of the positives associated with the gas version of the SUV. This includes the same respectable amount of cargo space, a cabin that feels in step with similarly priced luxury rides in terms of fit and finish, and exterior styling that’s handsome, if slightly less graceful with the Recharge’s plastic front panel replacing the gas model’s grille.
Tellingly, Volvo’s website now organizes itself into three categories: Electric Cars, Hybrid Cars and Other Cars. As the leading tip of its all-electric spear, the XC40 Recharge is a well-rounded choice, albeit one whose $20,000 price premium over the base XC40 speaks to an audience with deeper pockets. The only thing missing from the Recharge’s playbook is range, as these days 208 miles is the bare minimum one can expect from a modern EV. Hopefully there is a lighter, longer-legged version of this electric Volvo waiting just around the corner.
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