The XC40 gets a serious boost
THE GOOD
  • Useful technology
  • Good on-road manners
  • Ferocious passing power
THE BAD
  • Range could be better
  • Costly with options
  • Sluggish throttle response from a stop
2021 Volvo XC40 Recharge Review

At autoTRADER.ca, we’re fans of Volvo’s sassy little sport ute, the XC40.

For three years running it’s earned our Best Luxury Subcompact SUV award, as well as the Best Overall SUV award for 2021. Its playful styling complements its spritely performance, and the interior is chock-full of clever, space-efficient solutions.

Since its introduction a few short years ago, Volvo has promised an electrified version, and it has finally arrived, the 2021 Volvo XC40 Recharge rounding out the lineup with an all-electric halo model, making it the most efficient, highest-performing – and also costliest – rendition of the brand’s smallest sport utility.

Fuel Economy: 9/10

With an estimated 335 km of driving between charges, this version of the XC40 has a very usable range from its 78-kWh lithium-ion battery nestled beneath its floor. Holding it back from top marks in this category are competitors like the Tesla Model Y Long Range and its estimated range of more than 500 km, or even the Kia Soul EV’s 450-km estimate.

Its 11-kW on-board charger and one-pedal drive mode (facilitated by more aggressive regenerative braking) make the Recharge’s plugged-in proficiency decent, but it’s also possible to juice it up at a 150-kW DC fast-charger. Topping it up that way can add an 80 per cent charge in just 40 minutes, according to Volvo. Charging at home on a standard household outlet will require approximately 12 hours to top up the battery completely, but buyers can also install a home fast charger unit to reduce that time by several hours.

Power: 9/10

There’s an electric motor powering the XC40 Recharge’s front wheels, and a second one at the rear powering the back two. Each motor spins up 201 hp, for a combined 402 hp. If this sounds like a lot for a small sport-ute, it is. When looking to scoot past some slower traffic on the highway, a generous stab of the accelerator produced so much forward thrust that I was actually caught by surprise. Acceleration in this thing is truly exhilarating.

Still, for enthusiasts, one of the aspects of our fossil-fuel-free future that makes EVs a bit easier to welcome is their instantaneous torque, providing full twist without any engine revs. Volvo claims the XC40 Recharge will reach 100 km/h in brisk 4.9 seconds. With that in mind, and knowing that the XC40 Recharge is rated at a colossal 486 lb-ft of torque, I had expected a thorough neck muscle workout driving around town, accelerating ferociously away from stoplights

In reality, the Recharge is calibrated to require a lot of throttle travel before any meaningful forward motion occurs. Where most vehicles – and even the gas-powered XC40 T5 – respond with a brisk hop forward with even a minimal press on the accelerator, the EV version feels as if the majority of its torque is held back until it’s well under way. This is most likely by design for driver safety (and tire preservation), but other EVs I’ve driven feel more exciting off the line.

Driving Feel: 8.5/10

One of the XC40 T5’s endearing traits is its playful and energetic handling. The little SUV offers good steering feel and control, even when hustled around curves at speed. The XC40 Recharge loses a notable amount of that playfulness, which is to be expected when a gas-powered drivetrain is replaced by a very heavy battery pack and electric motors. In fact, the Recharge adds more than 400 kg (nearly 900 lb) of mass to the XC40, and while the centre of gravity is improved due to the batteries’ distribution across the bottom of the vehicle, that amount of weight can never be completely ignored.

Even still, the XC40 Recharge acquits itself well, with sure-footed grip from its all-wheel drive system, and steering that’s heavy enough to reinforce a sporting intent. EVs and plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) have systems that harness the kinetic energy from braking and turn into battery regeneration, but they often result in grabby and non-linear brake feel. While still not as precise as a non-electric sports machine, the XC40 Recharge’s braking feels very natural, enabling smooth stopping power.

Safety: 10/10

Volvo has a well-earned reputation for building safety into its vehicles, and the XC40 Recharge takes it to the next level. In addition to sophisticated crumple zones built into the XC40’s structure to protect its occupants, the Recharge also protects its battery pack with its own lateral crumple zones, and in a crash the battery pack disconnects itself from the motors to prevent any potential hazards.

Beyond the comprehensive passive safety features found in the Recharge, Volvo has added more sensors and sophistication to its active safety suite to build in more collision-avoidance systems. While automated braking and steering intervention is becoming commonplace in the industry, the XC40 Recharge even repositions occupants within their seats if a collision is anticipated, ensuring they’re in the safest position for energy absorption to help mitigate injury.

Styling: 9/10

It has to be a tough gig styling a small SUV to fit within a premium lineup. All too often they end up looking like stumpy versions of the brand’s larger machines (for proof, see Jaguar’s E-Pace). Yet somehow Volvo’s designers managed to make the XC40 unmistakably a Volvo while boasting a look all its own. And despite its small stature, it remains plucky and youthful while still looking premium.

The XC40 Recharge doesn’t differ much from the gas-powered versions, except for some distinct wheels, a rear badge, and (most notably) the lack of a grille. It’s a good-looking contender within the compact SUV segment, but compared to some of its EV rivals that look more like a well-used bar of soap than a vehicle (Tesla Model Y, we’re looking at you), the Volvo is a knockout.

Inside, the all-black interior of my tester was a little stark, and if I were speccing my own I’d go for the lava-coloured carpet option that adds some dark orange footwell and door trim made from recycled plastic bottles. Otherwise, it’s a sensible layout without much flourish or frivolity.

Features: 9/10

The XC40 Recharge is a reasonably well-equipped vehicle to begin with, but my tester also featured a $1,000 package that added heated wiper blades, rear seat heating, and a heated steering wheel that really should be standard equipment for premium products on the Canadian market. The Advanced package, also added to my XC40 Recharge, offers a wireless phone charger, surround-view cameras, and Volvo’s active driver assist system that helps with lane-keeping and adaptive cruise control, even in stop-and-go traffic.

The XC40 Recharge has a standard panoramic sunroof, and the optional upgraded audio system offers clear, powerful sound expected in a premium vehicle.

User Friendliness: 9.5/10

Volvo’s infotainment system has been a small point of contention in other models due to its complexity, but the XC40 Recharge has the brand’s first application of the Android Automotive operating system with Google apps baked right in. There are a few upsides to this structure, like its design minimalism and how the native navigation system is Google Maps.

The system’s operation is significantly simpler and far more intuitive than most contemporary vehicle systems, looking – and behaving – just like a typical smartphone or tablet. Further simplifying matters, the on-board Google Assistant is by far the best voice command application I’ve experienced in a vehicle, especially with respect to its machine learning and knowledge of destinations for the navigation system. Beyond that, asking for on-board climate system adjustments, inquiring about the weather, or even requesting specific music from Spotify is all done simply.

With the nine-inch touch screen in the central dash showcasing your Spotify choices, the 12-inch digital gauge pod can be configured to display mapping information as well as vehicle speed.

Another plus is that this is an ever-improving system with regular over-the-air updates, enabling additional features, functions, and improvements as time goes on, automatically showing up as they’re made available. Surprisingly, satellite radio (and, less surprisingly, Apple CarPlay) is an update that wasn’t available at the time of this writing.

The XC40 Recharge’s North America-wide 4G LTE data plan is included with the cost of the vehicle for the first four years of ownership, which means map data, music or podcast streaming, and system updates won’t use up your cellular data.

Comfort: 8/10

The seats in the XC40 Recharge offer the same great comfort as they do in the gas-powered trims. They’re the perfect blend of firm support and proper ergonomic shape that can minimize the strain on a driver’s back, even after hours behind the wheel.

The driving position, too, enables easy entry and exit to the vehicle, but also great sightlines, all around. The rear seat would be snug for three adults, as it is in any compact sport utility, but there’s decent headroom and sufficient legroom for two.

Being a full EV, engine noise doesn’t factor in, but road and wind noise are also decently hushed, making the XC40 Recharge a quiet experience, and the ride quality, while a little firm to allow for its decent handling, does a good job of isolating passengers from all but the biggest potholes.

Practicality: 7.5/10

With the same passenger space as the non-EV XC40, the Recharge offers equivalent day-to-day livability for people-hauling. Likewise, Volvo’s engineers prioritized cargo space as well, ensuring the rear hatch area offers the same volume in the electric, and gas-powered versions. What’s more, since there’s no engine up front, a small frunk is offered, and it’s just large enough to contain the charge cables, tire repair kit, and a jug of washer fluid.

The XC40 Recharge’s full-time all-wheel drive system allows the little ute to be all-weather capable, especially when equipped with a good set of winter tires as my tester was. And for buyers who need to occasionally tow a small trailer, the XC40 Recharge is even rated to haul up to 900 kg (2,000 lb).

Value: 7/10

A very well equipped XC40 T5 is less than $50,000 and makes it a solid value in the compact luxury SUV category. The Recharge version here starts at $64,950, putting it out of contention for national EV car rebate incentives (it’s still eligible in British Columbia and Quebec). Add on some essential option packages and the little Volvo tops $70,000. Price-wise, that puts it right on top of the Tesla Model Y that offers more space, performance, and range. Worse still, the Kia Soul EV and Hyundai Kona Electric are at least $12,000 cheaper, while offering many of the XC40 Recharge’s features, though not its level of refinement, performance, nor its all-wheel drive traction.

Still, compared to the cost of a Jaguar I-Pace or Audi E-tron, the Volvo represents an affordable alternative, but consumers will soon have several other choices available, including the Ford Mustang Mach-E and Mercedes-Benz EQC.

The Verdict

Volvo’s XC40 was already a very desirable offering in the compact luxury SUV segment, and with the addition of the range-topping Recharge version, its potential market reach and appeal only increases. While delivering a different driving experience, the XC40 Recharge maintains the gas models’ handsome styling and playful personality, while delivering a competitive pure-EV offering chock-full of contemporary technology.

The XC40 gets a serious boost 2/22/2021 6:30:00 AM

Competitors

Specifications

Engine Displacement 300 kW   Model Tested 2021 Volvo XC40 T8 Recharge
Engine Cylinders Twin-motor, electric   Base Price $64,950
Peak Horsepower 402 hp   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque 486 lb-ft   Destination Fee $2,015
Fuel Economy 2.8 / 3.3 / 3.0 Le/100 km (24.5 / 29.2 / 26.6 kWh/100 km) cty/hwy/cmb; 335 km range   Price as Tested $72,315
Cargo Space 413 L / 1,342 L rear seats up/down  
Optional Equipment
$5,250 – Glacier Silver paint, $900; Climate Package, $1,000; Advanced Package, $2,100; Harman/Kardon Sound System, $1,250