Volvo says that the C40 Recharge is the first model in its long lineage of hits and misses (they didn’t actually say hits and misses) that’s been designed from the ground up as an EV. In fact, they are so proud of that snippet of information that it’s right there in the opening paragraph of its presser and the rest is sort of just structured around it.
Question is; should they be proud of it? Well, yes, from an EV perspective, at least. But, like their press release, everything else is just sort of loosely structured around the fact that it’s an EV. Yes, it’s essentially based on an XC40, and if you, like any other driver who laid eyes on it, sees the fact that it’s now a coupe, I’ll say it’s a keen observation on your part.
Also, the 20-inch air splicing rims that've been borrowed from the future and the flat-surfaced area where the grille normally goes and has now been optimised to allow smooth airflow further hints that there’s something different about this Volvo.
What’s refreshing about the C40 is that it comes in only one derivative called the C40 Recharge Twin Motor Ultimate. While the name and derivative specifier aren’t exactly eligible for a prize in creativity, there are no Dark, Bright, and Essential choices available locally—a welcome change-up in a world where decision paralysis is real. You get two electric motors, each placed on an axle, powered by a 78kWh battery. That’s the choice, take it or leave it.
Remember I hinted that some aspects felt like a “that’ll do” attempt? Well, it’s here that I need to clarify that I really meant the interior. There’s no leather, which Volvo says is for the sake of sustainability, and it’s now built using a 30% sustainably sourced wool and 70% polyester blend. The problem here is that polyester isn’t entirely biodegradable, either. It’s also a lot cheaper to produce than leather, so make of that what you will.
My primary gripe inside, though, is that besides the crisp 12.3-inch digital driver display and the beautifully textured backlit inserts on the doors and dash, the user interface of the C40 Recharge feels old with its interior that, for the most part, feels lifted altogether from the XC40. The same clunky 9-inch infotainment screen with the same dated graphics and layouts—even the minimalistic factor that worked so well once upon a time has reached its expiration date.
Volvo tried to remedy this old architecture by jointly developing connectivity with Google, meaning that all functions except Bluetooth pairing are online-based. Fantastic on paper, but when the car’s data was capped, it left me with basically zero functionality, except Bluetooth. No Android Auto, sadly.
Then there’s the power output. It’s best to strap in because this silent crossover has some bite to it. 300kW and 660Nm that’s available without delay. Press down on what is normally the loud pedal, and this crossover immediately obliges. No turbos to spool to optimum revs, no petrol-to-combustion-to-crank-to-driveshaft movements here. Just electricity that travels at 1.01bn kilos an hour (I verified that). While the velocity of Volvo’s coupe SUV is hardly a decimal fraction of that, it has comparable get-up-and-go to upper-tier performance SUVs such as the Porsche Macan S and BMW X3 M40i, with Volvo claiming a 0-100km/h sprint time of 4.7secs. It’s a Volvo, in case I need to remind you!
Ride comfort is also respectable, even with the 20-inch wheels, and amazingly, Volvo managed to insulate its cabin from a sizable portion of tyre noise at highway speed, partly thanks to Pirelli’s Elect low-rolling-resistance EV tyres, which boast immense benefits in themselves. But its silent disposition does leave some small cracks in its facade. For one, suspension knocks over imperfect road surfaces are more pronounced, and then there’s the fact that phone-in-face pedestrians in parking lots don’t hear the C40’s stealth approach. Volvo tried to remedy this to some extent on the reversing front with an inoffensive chime that’s activated while reversing, but reversing is hardly the biggest risk to pedestrians here.
The big question; living with it? Volvo claims 451km on a charge, and based on my experience, that doesn’t seem like a stretch since, while taking advantage of the 300kW on tap, it still netted me a test duration average power consumption of 23.7kWh. In terms of price, it’s best to look at the bigger picture and consider how much you’ll save in trips to the filling station since the C40 doesn’t come cheap. It demands an asking price of R1,324,000 and comes with a 5-year/100,000km warranty and maintenance plan and an 8-year/160,000km battery warranty.
So, is it the best compact EV SUV on the market today? Compared to the similarly priced BMW iX3, it’s a hard sell. Sure, it’s considerably more powerful but also marginally less efficient and, for the most part, the C40 Recharge doesn’t feel like it’s made the transition for Volvo to electric quite as well as the Bavarians. Then again, BMW has been at it considerably longer. Mostly, though, it’s the interior that costs the C40 considerable points in my books.