XC40 T5 R-Design Recharge on test: Volvo puts its best plug forward
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Volvo XC40 T5 R-Design Recharge
- Impressive EV range
- Petrol engine has plenty of character
- Stunning cabin environment
- Easy to break FWD traction with 192kW
- Weird double-tap gear selection
- Fiddly cubist key fob
There’s a lot of excitement about the new XC40 T5 R-Design Recharge, but this Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) thing is certainly not new to Volvo. In fact, the Swedish maker is one the pioneers in mainstreaming the technology, introducing the XC90 T8 “Twin Engine” back in 2015.
The XC40 Recharge (for short, because that name is a mouthful) is not as outwardly clever as its sister S/V60, XC60 and XC90 PHEV models. They all have a petrol engine driving the front wheels and the electric motor connected to an “e-axle” at the back, creating a seamless AWD system. The XC40 T5 Recharge carries it all up front, because it’s FWD.
However, the new XC40 is still arguably the most important of any of Volvo’s plug-ins. For a start, it completes the set: the company now has a plug-in version of every model in its lineup.
It also introduces the “Recharge” brand, which signals Volvo’s move towards being a pure-electric carmaker only by 2030. It’s a very important transitional model.
Most importantly of all, the XC40 Recharge is a compact SUV. It’s the ideal size for a PHEV powertrain, given that premium-compact SUVs are primarily urban vehicles. Urban vehicles driven by people who aren’t scared of a $84,900 pricetag.
That’s twelve grand more than the conventional T5 R-Design, which makes the Recharge the most costly XC40 you can buy. If it helps, it carries extra kit like Comfort seats in leather, a great Harman Kardon sound system and panoramic roof that’s worth well over $6k.
But it’s also the most powerful XC40 you can buy, with 192kW/425Nm from its hybrid powertrain (conventional T5 185kW/350Nm). Not quite the fastest, though: the standard T5 still gets to 100km/h nearly a second quicker, thanks partly to its AWD system.
The Recharge ditches the 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four employed by every other NZ-market XC40 in favour of a character-filled 1.5-litre three-cylinder. The plug-in battery is 10.7kWh.
In terms of everyday driving it’s standard PHEV stuff. You can charge up the battery at home overnight (on a standard three-pin plug it’ll take about five hours) and it’s good for a claimed 48km of zero-emissions driving. The claim and the real world are pretty close in this instance – we got 40-45km pretty consistently in city driving.
If the battery’s full, the Recharge will start on battery power as default, but you can also lock it into electric-only operation with the “Pure” drive mode. When that runs out it reverts to hybrid mode, using petrol and battery power together – including recovery of electricity to charge the battery under braking and coasting.
Even in Pure mode it will fire up the petrol engine if you ask for maximum power, but if you’re obsessed about keeping it on battery you can manage your right foot by keeping an eye on the power meter in the digital instrument cluster, which swings around towards an end mark the harder you work the throttle. If you get there, it’s fossil fuel time.
Don’t expect BEV levels of acceleration on electric power, but the Recharge is more than capable of keeping with the traffic flow in Pure.
The transition between EV and hybrid operation is commendably smooth and with all systems go its sprightly indeed. Not necessarily a sporty SUV, because the suspension is set up more for comfort than speed. But a healthy chirp of the front wheels under full power underlines the accelerative potential and there’s a fun soundtrack from the three-pot engine.
The smaller petrol powerplant and FWD means there’s no weight penalty for the Recharge compared with the standard T5. But 1871kg is still relatively hefty for a small-medium SUV.
PHEV powertrain or not, the XC40 remains a standout product in terms of design and practicality. The cabin is stunning, different to the larger XC60 and XC90 SUVs but still with signature features like the portrait infotainment screen.
It's not totally without quirks. The gearlever requires a double-tap for Drive or Reverse (the first selects Neutral, then you get the gear you actually want) and the key fob goes minimalist to the extent that only Ant Man could identify the controls for locking/unlocking secreted on the side.
But the seats are excellent, cabin space is generous and the boot is surprisingly large for the segment at 586 litres. It’s a real feelgood machine that has its priorities straight.
The pure electric Volvos will come, of course. In the second half of 2022 we’ll see the C40 Recharge, essentially a Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV) coupe-style iteration of the XC40. There’ll be a full BEV XC40 after that, too.
But as way of getting Volvo buyers a lot more engaged with the idea of electric vehicles, the XC40 T5 PHEV is a great start. It’s fun and funky as well as being ultra-frugal.
VOLVO XC40 T5 R-DESIGN RECHARGE
ENGINE: 1.5-litre turbo-petrol three-cylinder with 10.7kWh lithium-ion battery pack and electric motor
POWER: 132kW/265Nm (petrol), 60kW/160Nm (electric), total system 192kW/425Nm
GEARBOX: 7-speed automated dual-clutch, FWD
0-100KM/H: 7.3 seconds
ECONOMY: 2.2l/100km, 50g/km