Volvo is going through a period of change. As we’ve observed on these pages already, it’s ditching the estate cars with which this most sensible of brands was once synonymous. That’s because high-riding SUVs, not low-slung long-roofers, are where it’s at these days. Or, to be more accurate, that’s where the buyers modern Volvo so assiduously courts are to be found.
It is also moving towards selling cars direct, bypassing the regular dealer model, and offers monthly all-in ‘subscriptions’ if you don’t fancy paying for a car, insurance, maintenance and so on separately.
And, like everyone else, Volvo is also going electric. In fairness, it’s further down the road with this than many rivals, with a new, second generation of models waiting to find homes on our driveways from early next year.
Coming first are the EX30 and EX90, the little and large bookends of an incoming all-new line-up.
The EX30, as featured on these pages recently, is a small and, in the correct specification, a price-competitive family crossover which should sell like Christmas crackers in December. At the other end of the price/size matrix is the jumbo EX90, an XC90 reimagined for the EV age. It’s gunning for Range Rover territory, with a launch starting price nudging £100k.
Volvo is doing all this from a position of strength. Its current range of ‘old’ cars remains fantastic, beneficiaries of careful updating over the years including, in the case of the XC40, a thoroughly easy-to-recommend electric version.
Less is more here. The single-motor XC40 is the more satisfying daily companion; it’s still more than quick enough and manages to avoid the discombobulation between chassis and throttle inputs that put the overendowed twin-motor car at odds with the Volvo’s natural easy-going demeanour
You can spot an electric XC40 by its blanked-off grille, which gives the chunky SUV an even more monolithic appearance. It’s a handsome little truck, though. And if it looks expensive, that’s because it is – at least if you’ve got ‘small family car’ prices in your head as a reference point. Viewed as an EV, it’s more competitive, costing the same as the dreary Volkswagen ID4, for example.
The cheapest XC40 Recharge EV on sale today is £45,592, which gets you a single electric motor, rear-wheel-drive, a 69kWh battery and a quoted fully-charged range of just under 300 miles.
Another £5k buys you a second motor, bigger 82kWh battery and a leap in power and performance (from 235bhp and 310lb ft to 400bhp and 495lb ft; 0-62mph from 7.3 seconds to 4.8 seconds) that threatens to ask rather too many questions of the stately SUV’s chassis.
The rapid-fire straight line performance of the twin-motor car is appealing but, as with nearly all zippy electric cars, the novelty soon wears off.
Less is more here. The single-motor XC40 is the more satisfying daily companion; it’s still more than quick enough and manages to avoid the discombobulation between chassis and throttle inputs that put the overendowed twin-motor car at odds with the Volvo’s natural easy-going demeanour.
Drivetrain aside, the electric XC40 is just as accomplished as any petrol-powered version (Volvo doesn’t do diesel any longer). That means an uncommonly sensible and practical interior, conspicuous build quality and an inherent sense of calm quality that elevates it above just about anything else that might be on your XC40-shaped shopping list. Stick to the single-motor XC40, and that might include the VW ID4 (bland), Nissan Ariya (less premium), BMW iX1 (ugly), Mercedes-Benz EQA (yawn) and Audi Q4 e-tron (good).
The twin-motor car’s price puts it too close to a bunch of cars that are larger, longer-legged or both. Tesla’s ubiquitous Model Y looms large here, but so too do the Ford Mustang Mach-E and BMW iX3.
But perhaps the strongest rival to the XC40 now comes from within, in the shape of the EX30. It is smaller, but if that isn’t decisive for you, its price – from £33,795 – is persuasive. And though the XC40 doesn’t look out of date, parked next to the sharp modernity of the EX30 it does look a bit 2017.
Since the outgoing XC90 debuted in 2015, Volvo has barely put a tyre wrong. The excellent EX30 suggests that the Chinese-owned Swedish brand’s winning streak is going to continue.
There’s not a lot wrong with the brilliantly accomplished XC40, whether battery or petrol, and it will be with us for a while longer. There is, however, every reason to believe that its electric-only replacement will be even better and more desirable.