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First Drive

First Drive: Volvo XC40 Electric

The story: Volvo’s first electric vehicle heralds the beginning of the end for other powertrains in the brand’s line-up, with the Swedish firm pledging to be an electric-only brand by 2030
Category:Premium Crossover
Key rival:Lexus UX300e
Efficiency:Range: 257 miles
On sale:Now

Volvo has become the latest brand to join the rush to electric power, with its first full EV arriving as the brand pledges to move to become an EV-only company by 2030.

The XC40 Recharge pure electric follows Volvo’s recent pattern of launching initially as a single high-spec, high-power and high-price trim level, although other versions are set to follow, potentially towards the end of this year. These could be a combination of lower power output, lower trim levels and two-wheel drive, rather than the launch car’s four-wheel drive.

First Drive- March 2021 - Volvo XC40 - Image 5To start with, the XC40 arrives as a £60,000 First Edition 408hp all-wheel drive model with a very usable official range of 257 miles and a frankly crazy sub-five second 0-62mph time.

And it’s as quick as it sounds like it should be, probably more than an XC40 will ever need to be, especially with the searing immediacy of electric vehicle acceleration. The four-wheel-drive sure-footedness in greasy conditions and good body control mean there’s no problem handling the power, but there is a question mark about whether this much performance is necessarily required in such a crossover model. Nevertheless, it’s there, and it’s certainly rapid.

The installation of the batteries hasn’t taken anything away from the car’s practicality, in fact it has enhanced it, with the same hefty 452-litre boot space supplemented by a 31-litre storage area under the bonnet, thanks to the absence of an engine. This is a handy space best used to store the charging cables as it’s plastic lined so damp leads can be kept away from luggage.

First Drive- March 2021 - Volvo XC40 - Image 8The cabin is a lovely place, with the XC40’s combination of good-quality materials laid out in a distinctive and visually pleasing way. The Volvo has always surprised for quite how much interior space its fairly compact dimensions house, and this is maintained in the electric model, which joins petrol and plug-in-hybrid variants.

The electric XC40 is also the first Volvo to get the company’s new Android-based infotainment system, which deploys Google Assistant, Google Maps and the Google Play Store that will be familiar to users of that phone operating system in particular. It’s certainly a cleaner layout than the previous Volvo system, which had a more cluttered but everything-within-a-click approach.

The new system, which will gradually make its way across all Volvos in time, will be helped by a free-of-charge over-the-air update due in the summer that will add Apple CarPlay to the software, enhancing the connectivity.

Until then, streaming from a phone is only over the more old-school feel of Bluetooth, but apart from that short-term frustration, there’s a cleaner modernity to the new system.

As could be expected from an expensive launch model, the XC40 is very well equipped, getting everything Volvo could find to fit to a car, including heated front and rear seats and steering wheel, hands-free powered tailgate, powered front seats, wireless phone charging, panoramic sunroof, 360-degree camera, 20-inch alloy wheels and premium metallic paint all as standard. The only thing left on the options list is a towbar.

The high price puts the XC40 up into the reaches of larger premium electric SUVs such as the Audi e-tron, BMW iX3 and Mercedes-Benz EQC, all of which are within around £5000 of this extremely highly specced but more compact Volvo, which can admittedly out-perform any of them.

The other rival is Lexus’ recently launched UX300e, which is comparable in size terms, and even in fully loaded top Takumi specification costs £6500 less than the Volvo. More affordable XC40 EVs will, in time, be welcomed by businesses.

paul barker

The verdict

Very rapid yet very sensible in every other way, it’s just a shame that we have to wait for the more affordable versions of Volvo’s pricey but otherwise very impressive first electric vehicle.