When it comes to electrification, there are three well-trodden paths: pure electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrid. For its foray into the world of electrified vehicles, Volvo has plumped for the third option – plug-in hybrid – although an all-electric XC40 is coming soon.
For now, in Australia at least, Volvo is offering three plug-in hybrid variants of its SUV range, helpfully badged as ‘Recharge’.
The Recharge range forms the backbone of Volvo’s commitment to sell nothing but electrified cars by 2025, consisting of 50 per cent pure electric, the rest hybrids, which according to Volvo are “designed for a better way to move through the world”.
Naturally, Volvo Australia is keen to showcase its new plug-in hybrid technology, so to test its mettle, Volvo helpfully handed us the keys to its most affordable model in the range, the 2021 Volvo XC40 Recharge. Better yet, we have the keys for a three-month loan, and that means we can gauge how the XC40 Recharge plug-in hybrid works in the real world against Volvo’s aims and claims.
We’ll spend plenty of time behind the wheel in what we consider ‘most-likely-use’ scenarios. That means plenty of daily commuting from home to work and back. It means weekend getaways to the country as well as hitting the shops. It means longer road trips where charging infrastructure is scarce, and it means hitting local shopping centres for a weekly grocery top-up and – hopefully – a recharge for the, um, Recharge.
|2021 Volvo XC40 Recharge Plug-In Hybrid|
|Engine||1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol-electric motor|
|Power (petrol / electric)||132kW at 5800rpm / 60kW at 4000rpm|
|Torque (petrol / electric)||265Nm at 1500–3000rpm / 160Nm at 3500rpm|
|Transmission||Seven-speed automatic w/ EV mode|
|Drive type||Front-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||2.2L/100km|
|Boot volume (min/max)||460L/1336L|
|ANCAP rating||Not tested (five stars in 2018 for 2.0-litre models)|
|Warranty||Five years/unlimited km|
|Price as tested (plus on-road costs)||From $69,760|
A quick rundown on the circa $71,500 drive-away (before options) 2021 Volvo XC40 Recharge that is, in effect, certainly on price alone, the range-topper of the XC40 line-up, and by some margin. How much? Try $8000 more than the second-from-top-non-hybrid XC40, which wears a $56,990 price tag against the Recharge’s $64,990 (both before on-road costs).
Some mitigation is granted in the Recharge wearing a panoramic roof and premium Harman Kardon sound system as standard, a $3000 option elsewhere in the range. The main benefit of that extra outlay is better fuel economy. To that end, the Volvo XC40 employs a 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine with an electric motor and a 10.7kWh lithium-ion battery pack.
The petrol engine alone makes 132kW and 265Nm, which is then boosted by the 60kW/160Nm electric motor. All those outputs are sent exclusively to the front wheels, with no AWD plug-in hybrid variant on offer. A seven-speed dual-clutch automatic shuffles those numbers to the front wheels.
Volvo claims the XC40 Recharge will use just 2.2L/100km with a range of 46km of pure-electric driving available. Early indications are that 40km of range is more realistic, which means in theory I should be able to complete my 18km round-trip daily commute twice without the need to top up the batteries. We’ll let you know how we go.
Those batteries come with a weight penalty, the XC40 Recharge tipping the scales at 1760kg, around 50kg heavier than the petrol-only XC50 T5 R-Design. That comes at a cost to acceleration, too, the Recharge taking 7.3 seconds to hit 100km/h while the T5 needs just 6.4 seconds. We’d venture, though, this isn’t high on buyers’ priority lists.
Instead, buyers dabbling with plug-in hybrids want fuel economy and a sense of doing something right for the planet. Certainly, burning less fossil fuel is always a good thing – every little bit counts. But, thanks to its hefty price premium, any fuel savings won’t be felt at the bowser for many, many years.
Volvo is unashamedly a premium product, and as such, the XC40 Recharge is brimming with creature comforts and advanced tech.
A 9.0-inch vertical touchscreen running Apple CarPlay and Android Auto looks sharp and decisive. It’s fitted with satellite navigation and DAB+ radio as standard. While we love how it looks, we’re less impressed with how it functions, as not every swipe is intuitive. You can get lost looking for some of the car’s functions.
The leather interior, finished in charcoal, looks sharp, with the seats comfortable and supportive, even on longer road trips. Aluminium inlays add some visual texture, while the whole cabin looks and feels lush. Solid, too.
There are plenty of storage options, including a cooled glovebox (nice) and a storage box under the driver’s seat for hiding small valuables (clever).
Dual-zone climate control is standard, as is a host of safety tech including autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, driver-attention alert, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring, and adaptive cruise control. A full complement of airbags covers both rows of occupants.
Boot space is rated between 460L (with the second row in use) and 1336L with the back row stowed away. Decent.
Our long-termer came fitted with a few options including metallic paint (Crystal White Pearl, $1050), the Versatility Pack ($230) that adds a cargo net and power-folding rear headrests, Climate Pack ($700) that adds heated front seats, heated windscreen washers and a heated steering wheel, a 360-degree camera ($990), tinted rear windows ($700), heated rear seats ($350) and Park Assist Pilot ($650).
That brings the as-tested price of our XC40 Recharge to $69,760 plus on-road costs. That price premium can buy a lot of litres of unleaded.
Our next long-term update will focus on how the XC40 Recharge copes with a long road trip, where charging infrastructure is scarce and the petrol engine will be doing a lot of the heavy lifting. Does it still make sense in this context?
We’ll also report back on how the Recharge copes with typical daily driving, and whether its claimed range is realistic and how long it takes to top up on some different platforms.
Certainly, first impressions are positive, the XC40 Recharge maintaining its inherent Volvo-ness in a package that is, on the face of it, more environmentally friendly than an equivalent petrol-engined vehicle.