The electric Volvo XC40 Recharge: First-drive impressions

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After what seems like years of waiting, a bevy of new battery-electric vehicles is about to go on sale here in the US. Ford is readying the Mustang Mach-E. Volkswagen is putting the finishing touches to the ID.4. And last month in Ghent, Belgium, Volvo started production of the XC40 Recharge. It's an all-electric version of its popular XC40 crossover, one that shares its powertrain technology and Android Automotive operating system with the Polestar 2.

US deliveries remain a few weeks away, so a proper first drive, where we spend a day with a new car like we did with the Polestar 2 this summer, will have to wait a little longer. But earlier this week, I got a chance to spend a little time with a pre-production example that Volvo made available to those of us who serve as jurors for the World Car Awards. The roads of Manassas, Virginia, were my playground, and there was no PR minder, just a request to bring it back after an hour. Here's what I learned.

From the outside, the XC40 Recharge looks a lot like any other Volvo XC40—the easiest giveaway that you're looking at an all-electric version is the blanked-off front that does better things for one's drag coefficient than an open grille. From the driver's seat, there are a few more clues. The 12.3-inch main instrument display has a different theme from other Volvos, including an attractive new full-screen map mode. In the center stack, the infotainment screen has grown from 9 inches to 11.2 inches, and although the tile-based UI looks pretty similar to Volvos running Sensus, it's now running Android Automotive. Google's voice recognition means it understands most of the questions you ask it, and the Google Maps-powered navigation app is smart enough to know your battery state of charge so it can direct you to charging if needed en route.

There's also no start button—like a Tesla Model 3 or Volkswagen ID.4, you just put it in R or D and then drive off. Any doubts about the XC40 Recharge's powertrain are immediately dispelled the moment you do. Each axle is driven by an identical 150kW (201hp), 330Nm (243lb-ft) permanent magnet AC motor-generator unit, and the battery pack is able to supply both of them with enough juice to give the car all 300kW (402hp) at once.

Actually, it's the 660Nm (486lb-ft) of torque you really notice, in large part because of the immediacy with which it arrives. In fact, this feels like the quickest Volvo I've driven, even though it's a few hundred pounds heavier than the similarly powerful plug-in hybrids from Sweden like the S60 T8 Polestar Engineered or the XC60 T8. For the bench racers out there, it will do 0 to 60mph in 4.7 seconds, a couple of tenths slower than the closely related Polestar 2 but more than a second and a half quicker than the gasoline XC40.

You can blame the battery pack for the XC40 Recharge's 4,824lbs (2,188kg) curb weight—about 1,000lbs more than the internal combustion version. It's a 78kWh pack, 75kWh of which are useable, built in-house using LG Chem pouch cells. The official EPA range estimate has yet to be revealed, and for now Volvo is just saying that it will be “200+ miles”; under the European WLTP testing regime it has scored at between 249 to 260 miles (400-418km). But given the preproduction nature of our test car and the limited time we had, I don't feel comfortable opining on the XC40 Recharge's range efficiency yet.

I promise I did not seek out Battery Heights Blvd on purpose. But it was too good a coincidence not to stop and get a photo.
Enlarge / I promise I did not seek out Battery Heights Blvd on purpose. But it was too good a coincidence not to stop and get a photo.
Jonathan Gitlin

I am more comfortable describing the driving experience, however. There are no different drive modes, just a choice of forward (D) or reverse (R). Toggling one-pedal driving on or off requires going down a couple of menu levels into the car's settings—if I had my druthers, I'd like the ability to engage it the same way you can increase regenerative braking in plug-in hybrid Volvos by going from D to B with the transmission selector.

Despite its slightly lardy curb weight, it rides well, and the suspension damps out the potholes I sought out. The low center of gravity also minimizes body roll through the corners, although the upright driving position reminds you that even though the XC40 Recharge is quick, it wasn't designed with lap times in mind. But for the cut-and-thrust of everyday life, it should excel. After all, it takes everything we loved about the gasoline XC40, then adds 1990s supercar-levels of acceleration while also easing one's conscience about climate change. $53,990 (before the $7,500 IRS tax credit) is not inexpensive, but I think it's actually good value for this mix of Swedish style, crossover utility, and electric performance.

    <em>Listing image by Jonathan Gitlin</em>

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