Volvo XC40 Recharge T5 review: A plug-in affair with Swedish flair
Although the notion of a plug-in hybrid has only been around for a few years now, the technology is already starting to feel a bit old. Yes, they make for a nice stepping stone between a fully electric vehicle and archaic internal combustion engine technology, but PHEVs also often combine the worst bits of both, alongside the best.
This Volvo XC40, for example, fuses a 1.5-litre petrol engine with a 81bhp electric motor and 10.7kWh battery pack, meaning it now weighs the best part of 1.75-tonnes. This means it isn’t particularly fuel efficient when relying on the petrol engine alone (when hurtling along the motorway, for example) and sees all-electric range limited to around 15 to 20-miles, not the 28-miles claimed by the manufacturer.
Regardless, the electric gubbins help Volvo decrease average emissions across its fleet and dangle the sort of tantalising WLTP CO2 ratings that have company car buyers salivating at the potential tax saving benefits.
Silent but stylish
Volvo’s XC40 is a great looking car, borrowing styling elements for the larger XC90, including the now ubiquitous ‘Thor’s Hammer’ headlights, but its smaller, more squat appearance makes it look sporty and purposeful in equal measure. There’s very little difference between the standard XC40 and this PHEV version, bar a new charging port that has sprung up over the futon wheel arch.
The interior is as brilliantly put together as any Volvo product currently on sale, with its shapely sculpted front seats offering plenty of support and the dash and door cards festooned with premium metallic touches and high grade materials. It feels expensive, yet boasts the sort of restraint found in a great deal of high end Swedish design.
Infotainment is taken care of by a large, portrait orientated touch screen display, dubbed Senus Connect, which operates everything from DAB radio to heating and cooling functions. It is crisp, sharp and responsive but having everything mapped to a touchscreen button can be frustrating. Swiping left and right to get any menu that isn’t pinned to the home screen gets a tad annoying and the jet black tablet becomes covered in greasy finger prints after a matter of minutes.
Things were also a little glitchy in this test car, with the large volume control (one of the phew physical buttons remaining) regularly adjusting volume of the sat nav, rather than the radio or media that was connected. It’s not ideal when driving and serves as a great reminder that mapping certain functions to buttons in really helpful.
Connectivity is understandably excellent, with the ability to easily tether a smartphone and make use of Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. Just don’t expect to be able to use all of the screen real estate for Waze or Google Maps, for example, as CarPlay is only shown in a single tile on the home screen. Something that could be addressed in a software update, eh Volvo?
Plug the XC40 Recharge in every night and you are greeted the next morning with an EV that can travel around 20-miles before the petrol engine is summoned. Obviously, if you kick the accelerator pedal down, the car will have to call upon the 178bhp three-cylinder engine for assistance, but most inner city drives or slow speed town work can be achieved in near silence and with nothing emitted from the tailpipes.
It’s amazing how many short journeys are generally undertaken in a car and I managed to trundle around my local area, popping to the shops and carting around kids, without troubling the petrol engine at all. Having a dedicated charging point at home really helped, as it brimmed the small battery pack in a matter of hours.
That’s a bit of a shame, because the petrol engine actually sounds pretty good when the revs are piled on, emitting a nice burbling note that resonates inside the cabin. Acceleration sin’t particularly swift though and the ride comfort on this specced up R Design model erred on the firm side, thanks to some sports suspension and massive alloy wheels.
On longer motorway journeys, the XC40 Recharge Plug-in hybrid is quiet and comfortable but the seven-speed gearbox is pretty laid back as it hunts for cogs, suiting those who prefer to drive smoothly, rather than attack a favour B-road. Brake pedal feel is also terrible thanks to the addition of regenerative braking technology. It is very hard to gently modulate braking and the pedal itself feels like it needs to be stamped on to bring things to a stop.
And as with many PHEVs, fuel economy on these longer schleps is not particularly impressive. Manufacturers often dazzle customers with combined economy figures well in excess of 100mpg but hustle the XC40 Recharge along a motorway and you will be lucky to achieve 45-50mpg, which falls behind - dare I say it - a modern diesel. Granted, you can get close to those claimed economy figures if you use the electric motor as intended, just don’t be surprised if big road trips rack up large fuel bills.
A step in the right direction
Although a great cost saving tool for those who regularly plug in and make the most of battery power on those shorter journeys, the XC40 Recharge Plug-in hybrid starts to make less sense when tackling greater distances. It’s a bit sluggish, not massively economical and it costs around £40,000 to buy.
Alternatively, Volvo has just announced its fully electric XC40, which is capable of travelling 250-miles on a single charge and boasts an impressive 400+bhp, a 0-62mph sprint time of just 4.9 seconds and fast charging in as little as 40 minutes. To me, it makes more sense to bite the bullet and opt for the EV, even if it costs almost £60,000.
With most governments vowing to ban the internal combustion engine from roads by 2030 or so, the plug-in hybrid was always going to be a stepping stone. Yes, it’s a step in the right direction but a step that’s going to be skipped entirely in a few years.
Specs at a glance
Price From £39,130
Engine 1.5-litre, three-cyl turbocharged petrol, plus electric motor
Power 259bhp (combined output)
Torque 314lb ft (combined output)
Gearbox 7-speed automatic
Top speed 127mph
Fuel economy 119.1-139.4mpg