Ballistically fast, does the XC40 Recharge compel in any other ways?
2023 Volvo XC40 Recharge Twin Ultimate AWD review with The Road Beat
Words and pictures by Mitchell Weitzman
What is it?
Swedish brand Volvo is pushing hard for an EV future, seemingly betting their existence on a slew of pure electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids. Perhaps the most surprising part is just how quick each of their new electrified offers are. While it might not appear so at first glance, this XC40 is maybe the ultimate sleeper, packing over 400 horsepower in an unassuming package, made all the more incognito with this friendly and chic sage green paint. The usual EV obstacles are present, with a high price and a range that shrinks in the real world. But, if it’s brilliant in all the other ways, it could, just maybe, be worth it. Or not.
The standout feature that most will never be aware of, besides the driver and your shocked passengers, is the crazy performance. I say crazy because you would never expect this car, a literally green Volvo, to be fast, let alone this fast. With 402 horsepower at your immediate disposal via the instant throttle that comes courtesy of an EV powertrain, this little sage box hauls to 60 MPH from naught in four seconds dead. If anything, it feels even quicker than that, with acceleration tapering off slightly once over 60 MPH, but still maintaining striking velocity. Curiously, I didn’t see any drive modes to choose from, let alone a launch control system to allow more wheelspin from a dig. I reckon if there were such features, that 0-60 MPH could shrink to under four seconds. Just saying, this XC40 is freaking fast. Don’t race one from a stoplight, even in your Mustang GT; you’ll lose to this EV sleeper.
You have a choice of one pedal driving, meaning the throttle pedal can both accelerate and control deceleration, too, because of the aggressive regenerative braking. I’m pleased to say that the one pedal driving experience in the XC40 is among the most intuitive I’ve tried and can make for very smooth driving after a short acclimation time. Once you’re used to it, it’s almost strange going back to using a brake pedal for all your stopping.
For a compact car dimensionally, the interior is reasonably spacious and I like the fabric seats even, comprising of a luxurious blend of wool fibers that are anything but economy-class, completely unlike anything that you’d find in a cheap Corolla. Convenient storage cubbies are present as well as power outlets, and the panoramic glass roof lends even more volume to the cabin. There’s also this cool material used as trim inserts on the dash and doors that has a topographic map like texture and design, and it even glows at night; A creative and interestingly neat alternative to traditional wood or aluminum trim.
Steering is lifeless in terms of feel, but luckily not weightless, providing accurate inputs when on the move. The tires do limit overall cornering and lateral grip, but the handling is decent enough for the enthusiasm of the casual driver. What did impress is the AWD system and its ability to put power down to pavement with zero fuss despite the gobs of straight-line performance. With abilities for the car to send power to either the front or rear axle/electric motor, planting the power down mid turn results in a slingshot to corner exit without pushing wide with understeer. There’s little fun to be had, but the basic characteristics are impressive enough nonetheless. And to top it off, the XC40 has little in the way of wind noise outside and rides comfortably at speed. However, at lower speeds, the XC40 does display some choppiness over bumps that ought to be ironed out in future iterations, probably due to the nearly 5,000 pound curb weight; Batteries sure are heavy.
Unfortunately, there are a number of detractors with the XC40, namely the shocking $60,000 asking price as seen here on this Ultimate model. There’s no other way around it, but this isn’t a 60-large car, with lots of hard plastics and other questionable interior pieces. I know, I liked the seats and their material, and the cool, glowing topographic inserts and design motif, but the rest is a let down at this price point. For example, the volume knob makes an audible clicking noise and feels loose to boot, but having driven other Volvos, I know this is normal. Volume knobs should be easy, but it’s among the worst in any new car. Nothing like having a soothing quiet, EV experience, and then hearing that awful clicking noise.
No start/stop button is present here, with the XC40 turning on once you’re in the car and with foot on the brake. It then turns off on its own when you leave the car. Multiple times this frustrated me as I wanted the car to stay awake or it wouldn’t turn fully on, like when trying to lower a window during its photo session. It’s a bizarre solution to a problem I don’t think anybody asked for. And, to top it off, there’s a large and ugly blank plastic circle inserted where the vehicle on/off control should be (the gasoline XC40 has a button there). Instead of making a new dash without the hole for it, they plugged it. That’s not a sign of a luxury car to me.
I’ve also had numerous electrical problems with Volvos over the years, like freezing navigation screens, glitching climate controls and radios, a car refusing to turn off and lock, and this Volvo is no different, with a notable speaker buzz emanating from the stereo. Changing the volume to zero or pressing the volume to off didn’t make any difference, with the buzz noticeable even at 40 MPH at times. With numerous, annoying problems in what are supposed to be luxury vehicles, I’m at the point where I wouldn’t trust a new Volvo.
Even trying to maximize the range, with slow freeway driving under 70 MPH and timid acceleration, the best efficiency I could muster was just 2.6 miles per kWh. Because there’s a 78 kWh battery pack onboard, that’s a theoretical real-world range of just 203 miles. I did utilize some free Level 2 chargers about 3/4ths a miles from my work during a couple days, which was a nice and good excuse to stretch my legs and have a brisk morning and evening stroll, but even plugged in for 8 hours at the charger’s rate of 6 kWh, the range (according to the vehicle's digital display) only jumped about 100 miles during that time instead of an expected 125 when doing the math. I think an EV like this could make a lot of sense for those with conveniently placed charging (even free charging from their employer), or those with cheap electricity rates and a Level 2 installed at home, but for others, this lifestyle might not be for them yet.
A fast bummer
Yeah, I know, it seems like I’m bagging on this car for simply being an EV, but it’s definitely not only because it’s a electric. Sure, it seems like a nice car, but for 60 grand? I’m just not seeing it. I do like the way it looks and the shocking speed sure can be enjoyable, but the range disappoints, and the electronics are glitchy once again in true Volvo fashion. Being crazy fast is fun, but it’s not enough to mask the other problems here that keep me from recommending the XC40 Recharge.
2023 Volvo XC40 Recharge Twin Ultimate AWD
As-tested price: $61,890
Pros: Very, very fast; Chic style
Cons: Expensive and small; More electronic gremlins
2 electric AC motors
402 horsepower and 486 lb-ft of torque
75 kWh battery pack
Real world range: 190-200 miles
0-60 MPH: 4 seconds
174 inches long
73 inches wide
65 inches tall
Curb weight: about 4,800 pounds
2023 Volvo XC40 Recharge review.