I don’t get to test a lot of Volvos each year. However, over decades of driving the Swedish brand of vehicles, they certainly have evolved from notably super-safe, boxy family transporters into what may be the most aggressive transition to fully EV models in the industry.
Volvo has had a full line of EVs and plug-in hybrids for several years and they are betting the bank on a near future reliant on EV technology. While Volvo of the past certainly represented several very favorable benefits, none of them were performance – until now.
The 2023 Volvo XC40 Recharge Ultimate I tested arrived in a muted sage green metallic hue, not something that says “fast.” So, to my amazement, jumping onto the accelerator immediately erased my 25 years of Volvo driving experiences and created a flash of things speeding by and the sensation of pushed back hard into the driver’s seat. What fun!
The XC40 is the perfect size for getting around town and sliding into tight parking spots. It doesn’t take a lot to get used to firing off the line with the EV torque pushing you faster than 60 mph in about 4.5 seconds. Doing this will drain the battery quicker – but boy it is fun!
Dual electric permanent magnet synchronous motors at the front and back power the XC40 Recharge, producing an impressive 402 horsepower and instant torque of 486 lb-ft. This SUV can hit a max of 112 mph. Did I mention it has permanent AWD?
With a DC fast charger, the XC40 Recharge can charge up to 80% in less than 60 minutes. Home outlets take a full day to fully charge. Depending on your driving style and how far you commute, the range varies but I found it to be accurate at 200 miles.
The regenerative braking system on the Volvo is incredibly sensitive and it reacts immediately to even the slightest pulling back on the accelerator. In just a short time, I became very accustomed to the intuitive use of the automatic slow down and began driving a lot without braking and simply anticipating stops by feathering down on the accelerator pedal.
My tester featured 20-inch diamond-cut alloy wheels that give the XC40 a bit more of a raised feel. On the outside, the Recharge is a small SUV showcasing a series of distinctly chiseled style lines from the beltline to the lower rocker panel. This gives it an EV flavor without being too far “out there.”
As an EV, there’s no need for a front grille and the standard treatment of the corner-wrap headlights is quite conservative. I did like the metallic paint ($695) and the LED front fog lamps on my XC40 Recharge Ultimate trim.
My tester’s interior looked great with several distinctions integrated into its cabin. Special touches include the dash inlay (that glows in the dark) and a unique fabric combo that is attractive and comfortable. The seating position is elevated, and the power seat adjustments create a perfect position for any body type. The headroom is great in front and in back with plenty of storage space in the front trunk and the rear cargo area.
The Recharge Ultimate is equipped with a seriously cool Harman Kardon sound system, which makes driving a pleasure with no limits on audio levels. Equipped with a two-zone climate control, air purifier, heated front and back seats, interior lighting, suede and leather seats, the XC40 recharge is great to look at. Look for a decent-sized 12.3-inch driver display and a 9-inch touchscreen that is intuitive to use.
The cabin is quiet and comfortable and I enjoyed the huge laminated power moonroof with sliding sunshade. Seating is heated in front and back, and the cabin features an air purifier. Look for keyless entry and illuminated door handles to make entry and exit safe.
Volvo’s motive for removing the Start-Stop button in the EV version of the XC40 is confusing. The Recharge senses the key fob and automatically puts the car in “ready” mode. All you must do is put your foot on the brake and shift the car into Drive. In addition to the awkwardness (I never fully got used to it over a week of driving) of not having a Start-Stop button, there’s a blank plastic circle inserted where the vehicle on/off control is located on the gasoline XC40. Not exactly what you’d expect from a vehicle costing more than $60K.
The more EVs I drive, the more I see the driving evolution happening within a gas-powered universe. My tester started at $59,500, a pretty steep starting spot for a small SUV, and it landed at $61,890 with the upgraded paint, LED headlights and destination charge. Even as an Ultimate model, it feels like there’s not enough premium in this vehicle to justify the price.
While I truly loved the huge EV acceleration, the limitations of a max 200-mile range do not provide enough charge to squelch my standard level of range anxiety. I think Volvo’s two-motor system is impressive but needs additional range to reach more than a city-commuter-level driver.
• John Stein is a freelance journalist based in Chicago. He has more than 25 years of experience driving, testing and writing about the automotive industry, its latest innovations and vehicles.