Volvo's XC40 Recharge Plug-in hybrid is a pricey but very complete product, thinks Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
We've known for some time that future Volvo products will all be electrified. Going forward, the only decision buyers of the brand will really have to make is whether they want to plug their cars in or not. Those who want to attach to the mains will be opting for one of the company's range of 'Recharge' models - at this is the first of them, the XC40 Recharge T5 Plug-in hybrid.
The XC40 compact SUV was the last of Volvo's models to get electrification, but it was also the first of the company's cars to get a full-EV electric version, the XC40 P8 Recharge. But if you can't quite face the thought of going for an all-out EV (or that top variant's price of well over £50,000), then this Recharge T5 Plug-in hybrid derivative might be more palatable.
At well over £40,000, it's still hardly inexpensive, but it can offer up to 31 miles of all-electric driving before needing to revert to its 178bhp three cylinder 1.5-litre petrol engine. Compromises over the ordinary XC40 model are as few as the visual changes made and there are plenty of driving mode options to ensure that you can maximise the innovative powertrain's impressive efficiency.
Other Volvo plug-in models feature an electric motor driving the rear wheels but in the case of this Recharge T5 Plug-in hybrid FWD model, the motor drives only the front wheels and works via 7-speed dual-clutch auto gearbox. That motor draws its power from a 10.7kWh lithium-ion battery situated in the car's central drivetrain tunnel and will power the car exclusively when you run it in this model's full-electric 'Pure' driving mode. Most of the time though, you're going to be using this Volvo in its normal 'Hybrid' drive setting, in which the electric motor and the three cylinder engine cut seamlessly in and out, as required. An indicator on the rev counter tells you at any given time what's being powered by what.
Should you need to press on, there's a sporty 'Power' mode which reverts only to petrol output and is able to take this car from rest to 62mph in 7.3s en route to a 127mph maximum. That might sound quicker than you expected but that's because there are plenty of braked horses on offer here, 178bhp from the 1.5-litre engine and a further 80bhp from the electric motor. As with ordinary XC40 models, ride quality is segment-leading and refinement is difficult to beat in the class too.
Design and Build
Visually, unless you happened to pick up the addition of a charging port near the front wheel arch, you probably wouldn't spot any differences between this Plug-in hybrid variant and a more conventional XC40 - and that's exactly the way Volvo wants it. So there's the usual 'robot-inspired' styling, plus piercing 'Thor's Hammer' LED headlights and a clamshell bonnet, along with an inverted front grille and coupe-like rear styling. This Hybrid model's entire powertrain is located under the bonnet, rather than being spread around the car, as was the case with the industry's earlier Plug-in cars. The benefit of that is that cabin room and boot space are completely unaffected by the addition of this car's 'Recharge' technology.
Inside, the dash is identical to that of an ordinary combustion-engined variant, save for a few EV-specific electronic gauges. These days, the infotainment system - which works through the standard 9-inch central touchscreen - is powered by Android, which means you get a raft of over-the-air Google features, including Maps and YouTube Music built in. Rear seat room has always been an XC40 strongpoint - it beats most class rivals in this regard: two adults will be very comfortable, even on longer trips. But boot space isn't huge, though the 460-litre capacity figure will probably be quite sufficient for the needs of most owners.
Market and Model
Plug-in Hybrid tech remains pricey: there's no other way of saying it and of course these days, there's no helpful government grant to ease the burden of it a little. The least you can pay for this XC40 Recharge T5 Plug-in hybrid FWD Automatic model is around £41,000. To give you some perspective on that, the most you can pay for a conventional combustion-engined XC40 is around £38,000 and most ordinary variants (including the mild hybrid non-plug-in 'B4' and 'B5' petrol models) sell at around £36,000. For your information, the full-electric P8 Pure XC40 model costs around £53,000. But let's assume you want this T5 Plug-in hybrid model. Well there's a choice of four trim levels - 'R-Design', 'R-Design Pro', 'Inscription' or 'Inscription Pro', that top variant priced at well over £42,000.
The 'R-Design' trimmed variants get gloss black styling details including a contrasting colour black roof, plus diamond-cut or matt black alloy wheels, part-leather seats and aluminium dash inlays. Top-spec 'Inscription' versions meanwhile, enjoy full-leather upholstery, an electric tailgate, wood detailing and a crystal glass gearlever. As ever with Volvo, a key focus is safety. An autonomous braking system is standard-fit and this system can specifically detect people and animals. There's also an 'Oncoming Lane Mitigation' set-up that not only stops you from pulling out into the path of an oncoming vehicle but can also steer you away from such an impact. Pilot Assist, Volvo's innovative semi-autonomous drive feature, is an optional extra on every XC40, as is 'Run-off Road Protection and Mitigation'. And Cross Traffic Alert with brake support', which warn you of oncoming vehicles when you're reversing out of a space.
Cost of Ownership
Volvo claims an all-electric driving range of 31 miles, the kind of typical figure claimed by most Plug-in Hybrids. And, as with most Plug-in Hybrids, the actual real-world result you'll probably get while driving normally is much closer to the 20 mile mark. Accept that at the outset, otherwise, you'll end up disappointed. Like all cars of this kind, unless you regularly plug in, all you'll be driving is a relatively thirsty high-output petrol model. You'll want to tick the box for the £50 optional 3.5kWh Type 2 charger and with this in place, a full charge takes about 3 hours. The fantasy land official quoted efficiency stats are up to 139.4mpg on the WLTP combined cycle and up to 47g/km of WLTP-rated CO2. The important thing is though, that the government believes them, hence this model's low 16% Benefit-in-Kind taxation rate - a major incentive for business purchase. Volvo also throws in a year's free electricity usage.
Maintenance should be relatively affordable for a car of this kind, with three or five year pre-paid servicing packages are available to help you budget ahead. If you pay extra for the useful 'On Call with App' remote connectivity system, this Volvo can be programmed to autonomously realise when a service is due, then automatically book it for you at a dealership of your choice. Finally, we'll tell you that the warranty is the usual three year, 60,000 mile package.
For all of Volvo's trumpeted plans for electrification, the truth is that up until now, models from the brand that are truly electrified have made up a tiny part of its overall sales volume. That has to change - and will with the introduction of models like this one. The company's short term aim is for Plug-in Hybrids to quickly make up 20% of its sales volume and you have to think that most of that total needs to be accounted for by this Recharge T5 Plug-in hybrid derivative.
Given the prices being asked here, that might be a challenging goal for the company to reach, but you can't fault the engineering here - or the way that it's been incorporated into such a pleasing, practicality and stylish overall design. If you want a compact, premium-badged SUV with plug-in tech, this is where it's at right now.