Volvo’s most affordable plug-in hybrid has arrived. But is it the pick over regular petrol versions of the XC40 that have made it our favourite compact luxury SUV?
Get used to rechargeable Volvos. The Swedish company is going full steam ahead towards a showroom of electrified vehicles, with an ambition for half its global sales to be fully electric cars by 2025.
Volvo’s first fully electric car – the XC40 Recharge Pure Electric – is due here about mid 2021, though freshly arrived a year ahead of that is the XC40 Recharge Plug-In Hybrid.
Wearing the same ‘Recharge’ umbrella label now being applied to petrol-electric and electric Volvos, the plug-in hybrid XC40 will sit in the middle of the compact luxury SUV’s future range – below the fully electric version but above more affordable ‘mild hybrid’ petrol-engined variants.
For now, the XC40 Recharge Plug-In Hybrid acts as a flagship model … and is priced accordingly.
Although the $64,990 price tag (plus on-road costs) makes it much more affordable than the ‘T8’ plug-in hybrid versions of the XC90, XC60, S60 and V60, the XC40 Recharge carries a hefty $8000 premium over the T5 R-Design with which it shares its trim and equipment.
It’s more like double figures if you factor in the T5’s all-wheel drive; the Recharge is front-wheel drive.
That’s just one of the technical differences. Where T4 and T5 XC40s are powered by 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engines, the Recharge Plug-In Hybrid combines a 1.5-litre turbocharged three-cylinder engine with an electric motor and 10.7kWh lithium-ion battery pack.
The 132kW/265Nm engine and 60kW/160Nm electric motor create combined outputs of 192kW/425Nm that exceed the T5 R-Design’s 185kW/350Nm, though this is offset by the plug-in hybrid’s weight – at 1760kg, it’s by far the heaviest XC40.
Volvo says the 76kg-lighter and all-wheel-drive T5 remains the fastest XC40 to 100km/h from a standing start, taking 6.4 seconds compared with 7.3 for the Recharge. That still makes the plug-in hybrid the second quickest, with the T4 Momentum quoted at 8.4 seconds and the T4 Inscription AWD quoted at 8.5 seconds.
Fuel consumption is the Recharge’s primary drawcard, however, and it’s significantly more frugal. Its lab-tested fuel economy is 2.2 litres per 100km where the petrol-only XC40s range between 7.2 and 7.7L/100km.
Make that 0.0L/100km when you use the electric motor that can be used alone for up to 46km, according to the Swedes.
|Volvo XC40 Recharge PHEV|
|Engine configuration||Three-cylinder turbocharged petrol / electric motor|
|Displacement||1.5L (1477cc) / 10.7kWh Li+|
|Power||132kW @ 5800rpm / 60kW @ 4000rpm|
|Torque||265Nm @ 1500-3000rpm / 160Nm @ 3500rpm|
|Power to weight ratio||109.1kW/t|
|Transmission||7-speed automatic w/ EV mode|
|Fuel consumption (combined cycle)||2.2L/100km|
|Fuel tank size||48L|
When you start the ‘ignition’ (the engine stays turned off), the electric-range indicator reads only 40km when the battery is fully charged.
Because the vehicle starts in its default Hybrid mode, to get the full indicated range you have to switch into Pure mode – which focuses entirely on the electric motor rather than switching automatically between petrol and electric power.
This increases the range to 45km, though we’re not sure what’s happened to the other 1km.
Pure and Hybrid modes bring one of the limited interior differences to a regular XC40 – the large digital driver display swaps the rev counter for a hybrid gauge that indicates when electric power is being used, when petrol engine is being used, when both are being used, or when the battery is being recharged via regenerative braking.
The driver can also access an active drivetrain diagram on the central infotainment screen, though with its mix of ‘flowing’ green and blue lines and constantly changing arrow directions, it’s not quite as easy to figure out what each component is doing when compared with similar displays found on hybrids such as the Toyota RAV4.
Unlike a RAV4 (non plug-in) hybrid, though, you can stay on electric power for much longer and at much higher speeds. The XC40 will keep the petrol engine at bay even on the freeway at 110km/h, even if this isn’t the most effective use of the vehicle’s battery.
In Pure mode, acceleration is your typical EV driving experience: super-smooth and super-quiet. Although there’s no powerful surge when you push harder on the pedal – the consequence of an electric motor with just 60kW trying to shift 1.8 tonnes of Swedish metal – there’s still sufficient response to quickly fill traffic gaps.
(If greater urgency is needed, Power mode is available to use both motors for maximum performance.)
Lifting off the throttle or pressing the brake pedal brings regenerative braking into effect – where the energy created from those actions partially replenishes the battery.
An available 'B mode' (B as in braking) can be selected via the gear selector, which increases the rate at which the vehicle slows when you lift off the throttle, though it’s still quite mild deceleration compared with your average electric car.
Unlike some other electrified vehicles, the regenerative braking strength can’t be adjusted further – such as via the paddle-shift levers. The XC40 Recharge’s display features plus and minus signs either side of the ‘B’, but flicking a paddle changes gears only (after bringing the engine into play).
Using the regenerative braking is a smoother way to slow the XC40 Recharge Hybrid to a stop. The brake pedal feel is stiff and lacks progression when braking more firmly, often resulting in occupants being jolted in the final phase of coming to a halt. The pedal is much better when light braking is involved.
|Volvo XC40 Recharge PHEV|
|Boot volume (min/max)||460L / 1336L|
|Towing capacity (braked/unbraked)||2000kg / 750 kg|
|Wheels/tyres||20-inch / 245/45/20 Pirelli|
The 10 days we spent living with the Recharge Hybrid suggested 40km is a more realistic maximum electric-driving range. This is still sufficient to cover the average return commute in Australia.
When the battery gets too low to support electric-only motoring, the vehicle simply switches to hybrid mode – using the turbo petrol engine primarily but with some assistance from the electric motor.
There’s no panic to find a power socket, either. The 48-litre fuel tank (just six litres smaller than in other models) ensures hundreds of kilometres of travel is still available.
The electric motor still moves the front wheels on its own for slower speeds, including parking manoeuvres.
The petrol engine coughs rather uncouthly into life sometimes, though generally the transition between the two motors is seamless.
The XC40 Recharge PHEV's acceleration is at its best in hybrid mode, with notably perkier response. The three-cylinder’s thrum also adds some entertainment to the soundtrack.
Fuel consumption quickly climbs whenever the petrol engine is in use, and matching the 2.2L/100km official average would seem to be a challenge unless you’re getting busy with plugs and sockets. And impossible for out-of-town trips.
The longer, 110km component of our testing resulted in an indicated 5.0L/100km average. This included using the Recharge Hybrid’s clever Hold function, which allows the driver to choose when they want to deploy fully electric driving.
So, with a full battery charge, we drove in Pure electric mode for the earlier part of the journey in built-up areas, then used Hold to preserve battery power by running mainly on the petrol engine for faster, more open roads. We then reverted to Pure mode on our return to the inner suburbs.
Recharging the hybrid XC40 takes between four and a half to five hours using a conventional (10-amp) household power socket. The Recharge will also come with a Type 2 plug as standard so owners can use compatible charging stations.
The vehicle’s port is accessed by a flap on the front-left guard – one of two subtle differences to a regular T5 R-Design. The other is the ‘Recharge’ branding that will feature on the rear pillar – instead of the ‘R-Design’ of our test car, which is an earlier version.
How much will the XC40 Recharge Plug-In Hybrid save you in running costs? The petrol XC40s can certainly be thirsty (we’ve consistently recorded indicated consumption around 10.0L/100km), though calculations are complex and variable.
The XC40 Recharge Plug-In Hybrid’s fuel efficiency all depends on how often it is recharged and whether the owner is paying for electricity off the grid or getting it for free, using solar panels for example.
Volvo says it would currently cost about $2.38 for a full recharge. The Hybrid requires premium (95) fuel as with other XC40s, with current prices about $1.40 per litre.
The upshot is that it would take years to recoup the Hybrid’s $8000 premium: more than a decade based on official and tested consumption figures, even if you drove 15,000km annually.
This could be reduced to about seven years in a best-case scenario, if the owner was able to drive every day of the week using the 40km of electric running only (and compared with a T5 R-Design owner covering 280km weekly with average consumption of 10.0L/100km).
In other markets where the Volvo On Call smartphone app is available, the Swedish brand is currently offering Recharge owners free (recharging) electricity. The app is under consideration for Australia, while Volvo Australia is in talks with charging specialists Chargefox and Jetcharge.
Drivetrain aside, the Volvo XC40 Recharge Plug-In Hybrid is otherwise similar in most ways to regular XC40s.
There’s the same light and accurate steering that makes the Volvo easy to manoeuvre around town and to place on the road, and there’s the same firm, yet generally comfortable, ride from the Sport chassis and 20-inch wheels shared with the T5 R-Design.
The Recharge’s extra weight over regular XC40s is only felt on the twistiest of roads.
The entry-level T4 Momentum remains the pick of the XC40s for ride comfort, though the Recharge is available with no-cost-option 19-inch wheels that might get a little closer to the Momentum's 18-inch wheel and tyre and non-sport chassis compliance.
Inside, you also find the same high level of perceived quality, the same impressive amount of cabin space for a compact SUV, and the same sporty R-Design cues as the T5.
The packaging of the battery pack, which runs along the spine of the car, creates a slightly chunkier transmission tunnel in the rear seat, though a vehicle of the XC40’s size is not realistically designed to take three adults in the back.
The centre console up front also loses the removable rubbish bin, though the clever cabin storage options of other XC40s remain – including the glovebox’s retractable bag hook, the hidden pull-out tray under the driver’s seat, and the super-long front door pockets.
Boot space is also unchanged at 460 litres. However, for an unexplained reason, there’s a simple, flat floor rather than the folding boot floor of other variants that can create a space divider, complete with three shopping bag hooks. A temporary spare wheel sits beneath.
There are currently extremely limited direct rivals for Volvo’s Recharge Plug-In Hybrid. The closest is the Mini Countryman PHEV, which is more affordable at $57,200 and is all-wheel drive. Performance is a bit quicker (0-100km in 6.9 seconds); efficiency is slightly worse (2.5L/100km).
Volvo now backs its cars with a five-year warranty, and servicing costs are the same as other XC40s – a $1595 plan that covers three years or up to 45,000km.
|Volvo XC40 Recharge PHEV|
|Options as tested||$0|
|Warranty||5 years / Unlimited km|
The petrol models have helped establish the XC40 as our current favourite compact luxury SUV. The base T4 Momentum remains our pick of the range for its blend of value, comfort and quality, though the Recharge Plug-In Hybrid is a strong addition.
For those who can afford the big financial step-up to the petrol-electric version, there is the reward of zero-emissions urban motoring (provided their electricity comes from a renewable energy source) and without the range-anxiety factor.