New car review: Volvo XC40 Recharge PHEV

As Volvo races towards an all-electric future, this plug-in hybrid version is an attractive and low emissions steppingstone.

Long renowned as a leader in automotive safety, Volvo has been busy adding another string to its bow by forging ahead with a comprehensive electrification strategy. 

The Chinese-owned Swedish car maker is far from alone in this regard, but it is proceeding at a pace that indicates it is serious in its intent to be in the vanguard of the electric vehicle (EV) revolution, declaring that its range will be completely electrified by 2030. 

Diesel models are to be phased out by Volvo during 2021 with the MY22 range due for release from July this year, available with battery electric, mild hybrid, or plug-in hybrid powertrains. 

Then, from 2022 onwards, every new Volvo released will be either be electric, or have an electric variant in the range. 

The recently released Recharge PHEV (plug-in hybrid) version of the brand’s strong-selling XC40 compact SUV is a step towards this electrified future and by the third quarter of this year will be joined by the Recharge Pure Electric, the first of five new Volvo EVs slated for release in the next five years.

But for now, we’re focused on the XC40 Recharge PHEV, currently the only small luxury SUV to offer a plug-in hybrid drivetrain. 

It joins a growing Volvo PHEV line-up that includes the XC60 T8 PHEV (MLP $99,990) and XC90 Recharge Plug-in (MLP $114,990).

Priced at $64,990 the XC40 Recharge PHEV undercuts these larger stablemates by a healthy margin but it is the most expensive model in the four-tier XC40 range, commanding an extra $8k over the 2.0-litre petrol T5 AWD R-Design.

Both XC40 models are well-endowed with almost identical standard equipment, advanced safety systems and driver assistance tech, but the additional spend for the PHEV does deliver a Harman Kardon premium sound system and panoramic power sunroof over the T5. 

Powered by a 132kW/265Nm 1.5-litre turbo-petrol three-cylinder engine, and a 60kW/160Nm electric motor, the PHEV drives its front wheels via a seven-speed dual clutch auto.  

Tipping the scales at 1760kg, it’s also the heaviest model in the range, adding a mid-sized-human-like 76kg over the T5. 

Vlvo XC40.

Despite this, it still manages to run down 100km/h from a standing start in a claimed 7.3 seconds. That’s a second slower than the T5,but more than a second quicker than T4 petrol variants.

The hybrid powertrain can be switched between four drive modes – Hybrid  (electric/petrol), Pure (EV only), Power (maximum performance combining electric and petrol) and Off Road (for rough roads up to 40km/h).

Settings in the infotainment menus allow the driver to modify the car’s operation to hold its current battery charge state (for later use); have the petrol engine charge the 10.7kWh Lithium-ion battery; and use the navigation system to predictively optimise drive modes to suit the route and destination.

For instance, the system could choose efficient petrol only driving on the open road while retaining the battery charge for EV driving in built-up areas. 

Volvo claims the XC40 Recharge is good for about 45km of electric-only driving on a full charge, with charging taking about four hours using a standard 10amp domestic power outlet.

When fully charged during our test, the trip computer showed a potential range of 40km in the default Hybrid mode, rising to 45km when Pure mode was selected. 

Driving in Hybrid mode and modulating throttle application to drive only on the electric motor we had no problem managing 39km of urban travelling, enough to satisfy many owner’s daily needs.

The EV mode isn’t limited to travelling at low speeds either and around town it feels sufficiently responsive to keep up with urban traffic flows. It’s also impressively smooth and quiet. 

When working on its own and without the help of the electric motor the 1.5-litre turbo three-pot is a surprisingly strong performer with impressive torque in the low and mid rev ranges. 

The engine has a bit of character, too, with a distinctive three-cylinder warble evident when working it hard. The downside is that it can lack subtlety when required to kick back into life to help drive the vehicle.

Official consumption of the required 95 RON premium fuel is a miserly 2.2 litres/100km, well below the 7.7 to 8.2 litres/100km of the petrol models. 

Volvo XC40

Trip computer readings on our week-long test varied between 2.2 and 5.9L/100km depending on conditions. With that sort of economy and a 48-litre fuel tank, buyers need have no fear that this PHEV lacks practical touring range. 

The XC40 PHEV doesn’t scrub up so well in another key area of practicality, with the provision of a space-saver spare earning it a black mark in our assessment. 

Despite this, it does boast several other handy features including: inductive phone charging; a small, cooled glovebox; sufficient oddments storage; long front-door pockets that will hold a laptop; a slide-out tray under the driver’s seat; hands-free tailgate opening; rear air vents; USB ports front and rear; and two 12V power outlets.

While officially classified as a small SUV, the XC40 is one of the more spacious offerings in its class with comfortable seating for five and an airy cabin feel, complemented by stylish design that’s been neatly executed with quality materials.

The rear seat offers good head, leg, and foot space with only a large central floor tunnel intruding on the comfort of the middle passenger. 

Out back there’s a usefully proportioned 460 litres of load space, expandable for larger items via a flat-folding split rear seat.

Its road manners are quite agreeable, too, with meaty steering, capable road holding and a mostly composed ride that is at the firmer end of the “still comfortable” spectrum. 

The latter is more apparent over broken surfaces or unsealed roads while a slight lack in brake pedal progression is also noticeable at lower speeds.

After a week living with the XC40 PHEV we were impressed by how good a package is this latest addition to the XC40 range. 

For buyers of compact prestige SUVs, it offers a practical, viable step towards fully electric mobility, without the attendant charging stress and range anxiety.  

Key stats

MLP: $64,990

ENGINE: 1.5 turbo-petrol three-cylinder, synchronous electric motor, 10.7kWh lithium-ion battery.

ANCAP CRASH RATING:  Not rated.

FUEL CONSUMPTION (combined cycle, litres/100km):  2.2 (50g/km CO₂).

FOR: Practical electric-only range for commuting, no range anxiety, stylish looks, spacious, quality finish cabin.

AGAINST: Higher purchase price, space saver spare, brake pedal feel, petrol engine lacks refinement on restart.