Phonebox Motoring | Road test: Volvo XC40 Recharge

What Hås Sweden Ever Given Us?

Well, there’s ABBA of course. And Ingrid Bergman, IKEA, or how about footballer Zlatan Ibrahimovic?

And then there’s Volvo. Yes, the mighty Volvo, with its range of uber-safe cars (remember that advert where they drove some off a tall building to show how good they would be in a crash?). And those memories of the famous ‘Volvo estate’ with that huge boot and big chunky bumpers (they even raced one in the British Touring Cars series).

Today, you’re more likely to see one of Volvo’s excellent range of sport utility vehicles (SUVs) driving around town or cruising on the motorway. Like my latest test car, the XC40. 

The 2018 European Car of the Year, it was Volvo’s first-ever compact sport-ute and the first to be built on the Swedish firms’ new compact CMA platform. Built in Belgium, the XC40 was designed for drivers who need space and practicality but don’t want boring, family-man (or woman) looks.

And with this funky, stylish package, I think they’ve succeeded. To look at, it’s a beautiful sight. Neat, tidy and compact, the XC40 sits in the range below its larger sisters, the XC60 and XC90 and, for British roads at least, it’s the perfect size. And don’t just take my word for it: the XC40 is Volvo’s best-selling model in the UK, reflecting British drivers’ growing love of the SUV-style car and, in this case, with oodles of style and flair thrown in. 

And there’s more. Volvo, like most car companies, are seriously embracing the new, cleaner motoring era and already offer a fully electric version of the XC40, called Pure Electric. My test car, however, was the Recharge plug-in hybrid version, which comes with a 1.5-litre, three cylinder 180 hp engine working alongside an 82 hp electric motor which you can charge at home or on one of the specialist power points you see on the high street.

The compact on-board lithium-ion battery has a capacity of 10.7kWh, which means you’ll be driving around town completely exhaust free for up to 27 miles. Completely recharging the battery takes around three hours using an optional fast-charging cable, while charging via a standard three-pin plug cable from home takes from four hours, although most people would probably do it overnight. 

It’s a brilliant system. Start the car and you are in Hybrid mode whether you like it or not. It makes sense, of course, to be driven by the electric motor as you leave home and take to the city streets. But get out onto the open roads and put your right foot down a bit harder and the car swaps to petrol engine mode almost imperceptibly. And it will continue to chop and change between the two power varieties to suit the immediate driving conditions.

You can manually override the system of course, choosing electric power only (Pure Drive mode) if you’re staying in town, or switching over to petrol power if you want more performance. The car will also recharge its battery on the move, using a combination of the engine and regenerative brakes. Under electric power as much as possible, you could achieve fuel economy of 117 mpg, according to Volvo.

From the driver’s seat it’s a very modern picture. High up and in control there’s a stylish steering wheel offering precise handling, a clear 12.3-inch digital instrument panel in front of you and a large touchscreen control centre which Volvo calls Sensus in the middle of the dashboard. From here most of the car’s controls can be handled, meaning the rest of the fascia is left largely uncluttered by loads of buttons. There’s, automatic transmission, climate control and a fabulous Harman Kardon sound system with 14 speakers for comfort and entertainment.

Five supportive seats are complemented by a decent 452 litre boot, enough for a pushchair, some golf clubs or several suitcases. Put the rear seat backs down and it becomes 1,328 litres of space to play with. There’s even a hands-free powered tailgate.

It goes without saying that safety is high up the list on the XC40. There’s pedestrian detection for city driving, steering assistance if you stray from your lane, adaptive cruise control to keep you a safe distance from the car in front, automatically tightening seatbelts if the car inadvertently runs off the road, and – a bit more down-to-earth – rear parking sensors. 

There’s lots going on, more than I have space for here. So how would I sum up the Volvo XC40?  Well, as ABBA would say, ‘Gimme, Gimme, Gimme’.

Second Opinion

This is a pleasure to drive – really comfortable and you could go on a long journey in it I’m sure. I like the display panel. I’ve had displays like that before in a car, but not as good as this one. 

It has a very solid and well-built feel to it. The first thing you think of with Volvo is safety and the way in which they are built, and I get that impression here. It has great brakes, which feel really sharp. Tap too hard on them and it feels like you’re doing an emergency stop, they’re so efficient.

It’s full of equipment. The technology available now has increased the price of cars, so would I pay £40K for this, when I consider the length of time I’m going to drive it? Yes I probably would. It’s a pleasure to drive and the safety you get adds to its value. And with the hybrid technology system you would save money there too.

There’s lots of room in the back and a good size boot so it would be great for carrying two grandchildren at a time. If I was looking for a new car this would be a serious contender.

Tom Johnston Media | Phoneboxmagazine

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