Volvo is charging towards change. The XC40 Recharge plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) is one of the Swedish brand’s most important cars as it gradually transitions to electricity.
Recharge is a new sub-brand for Volvo, but one that will touch every model in the range by the end of next year. It debuts on the XC40 compact SUV, tipped to account for almost one in six sales.
As the name suggests, Recharge models can be plugged in to charge. They’ll either run entirely on electricity or, in the case of the XC40 Recharge PHEV, a mix of petrol and electricity.
Priced from $71,500, the XC40 Recharge is available only in the most expensive R-Design trim, which gets leather, powered tailgate, smart key entry, powered front seats, digital radio, wireless phone charging, various black highlights and 20-inch wheels. A 9.0-inch touchscreen arranged vertically incorporates Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and satellite-navigation.
Safety is taken care of with various active systems, including blind spot warning and autonomous emergency braking (AEB).
Offsetting the circa-$8000 premium over the petrol-only XC40 R-Design is a panoramic sunroof and Harman Kardon sound system.
But however you slice it, you’re paying extra for the 10.7kWh battery pack and electric motor that is the heart of the PHEV system.
Plus the PHEV downsizes the engine from a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo to a 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo. And, whereas the T5 model sends drive to all four wheels the PHEV is front-drive.
Matched to a seven-speed auto the engine makes 132kW and 265Nm while the electric motor adds 60kW and 165Nm.
The combined power output is 195kW, which is 10kW more than that regular T5 model. However, the additional 76kg dulls acceleration slightly.
Still, there’s ample oomph for suburban running, the motor providing a generous dollop of pulling power and the characterful three-cylinder adding pep for more enthusiastic attacks.
The dash to 100km/h takes 7.3 seconds, but at times it feels swifter.
In electric-only mode performance is a lot more leisurely. The power peak drops to 60kW, although it’s boosted by the beautifully accessible 165Nm.
Keeping pace with city traffic is easy enough although a decent hill will need back-up from the three-cylinder if you want to maintain a 100km/h cruise. Similarly, the engine is your friend for overtaking.
The digital instrument cluster keeps you informed on a likely switch to petrol; an oil drop icon in the power meter moves depending on how much charge is left in the battery and what mode you have selected.
Choose Pure (electric), for example, and that icon spins to the upper reaches, prioritising the electric motor.
But drain the batteries or choose Hybrid and the icon has a lower threshold, indicating the petrol engine will chime in sooner, depending on how active your right foot is.
All of which means you’ll be travelling at a more relaxed pace if you want to rely purely on electrons, something that’ll take you around 35km or 40km between charges. Then it’s a circa-five-hour charge from a powerpoint or three hours with a wallbox.
As with other XC40s the Recharge is an engaging SUV through bends.
Sensitive steering rewards gentler inputs and grippy Pirelli rubber reaffirms the inherent competence.
Brakes are less convincing. They stop fine but are touchy, making them difficult to modulate; smooth stopping requires more brain cells than it should.
Elsewhere, the Recharge is on par with other XC40s. There’s a quality flavour throughout, including a dimpled metal and black strip across the dash.
The large volume dial for the audio is a plus but embedding the ventilation recirculation function in the touchscreen is a rare oversight for a car with otherwise terrific ergonomics.
While it’s officially a small SUV it’s a thoroughly useful size, with adults only short on knee room in the rear. Generous storage abounds, from broad door pockets to a slim drawer under the driver’s seat.
Despite packaging batteries Volvo has managed to sneak a space saver tyre beneath the boot. The 586-litre luggage capacity is identical to other XC40s.
While the Recharge is unlikely to satisfy those wanting a full electric transition, it’s an impressive short-range EV that compromises on little except price.
VOLVO XC40 RECHARGE T5 R-DESIGN PHEV VITALS
Price: From $71,500
Warranty/servicing: 5 years/u’ltd km, $1595 for 3 years/45,000km
Safety: 5 stars (2018), 7 airbags, AEB, rear camera, lane keep assist, driver monitor, blind spot warning
Engine: 1.5-litre 3-cylinder turbo (132kW/265Nm) and electric motor (60kW/165Nm)