Here comes Volvo’s first fully-electric offering, a car whose full name is too long to fit on its attractively undulating tailgate. The XC40 Recharge P8, priced from a hearty £49,950 (P3.33 million), is tasked with persuading still-wavering punters into its thoughtfully trimmed Scandi-cabin rather than that of a BMW iX3, a Ford Mustang Mach-E, a Tesla Model Y (check out our comparo of the Ford and the Tesla here), a Jaguar I-Pace, or a Volkswagen ID.4.
With its Polestar spin-off doing a different sort of job, the Recharge is the Swedish company’s sub-brand, one that will encompass all its hybrid or fully-electric cars. CEO Hakån Samuelsson reckons electric vehicles will account for 50% of Volvo’s sales volumes by 2025, and the carmaker is also aiming to reduce its life-cycle carbon footprint per vehicle by 40% by the same year. It wants to be climate-neutral by 2040.
The XC40 P8 looks identical to its ICE and PHEV brothers, bar the now obligatory blanked-out body-color grille and the Recharge branding on the C-pillar. The charging port is on the nearside front wing, and there’s a bespoke alloy design as well as some new exterior colors including a green that has an inappropriately militaristic overtone. The XC40’s exterior, as an aside, is the work of British designer Ian Kettle, who was lured away to Tesla not long after its reveal.
Underneath is the same Common Modular Architecture (CMA) that underpins the Polestar 2, various Lynk&Co models, and the Geely Xingyue. Of note, it was conceived to accept an electric powertrain, so the XC40’s functionality is uncorrupted.
The P8 is powered by a 78kWh lithium-ion battery pack mounted under the floor. It feeds two electric motors, with one on each axle to provide all-wheel drive. Power output is 402hp and torque is an outrageous 660Nm, which in turn translates to a decidedly un-Volvo-ish turn of speed: Not many cars in the Swedes’ wonderfully idiosycratic canon have made it to 100kph in less than 5sec. Volvo claims a WLTP range of 414km on a single charge, and hooked up to a 150kW rapid charger, you’ll get to 80% of that in around 40 minutes. On a standard domestic 7-11kW wall charger, you’re looking at eight hours.
If this all sounds a bit familiar, that’s because the hardware is identical to the ‘Long Range Dual Motor’ version of the Polestar 2. Which in turn is a reminder that the challenge in the rapidly evolving EV world is to create something that’s notably greater than the sum of its parts. Design, connectivity, ease of use, and quality all become more significant than ever. Volvo has a head start in all four categories already with the regular XC40. How much better can a fully-electric iteration be?
On the road
The P8 asks you to make a few mental readjustments. This might be the smallest Volvo, but it weighs 2,220kg (100kg more than the Polestar 2, and fully half a ton more than the equivalent ICE XC40). This is one of the paradoxes you simply have to live with if you want zero-emissions electric propulsion: Batteries are damn heavy. Beyond that, however, what we have here is nothing less than the most dynamically capable Volvo ever. Seriously.
Sure, 660Nm fired to the road via all four wheels is guaranteed to raise a smile, but even increased familiarity with the wicked side of electrification doesn’t diminish the wow factor (for the record, I remember the Nineties 850 T5, which begat the funniest touring car of all time—the road car was too busy incinerating its front tires to actually move forward). So yes, the XC40 P8 is deliciously rapid. But again, as with its Polestar cousin, it’s also well-mannered, slingshotting you out of corners or exiting roundabouts in a way that really is as amusing as it is addictive.
Better than that, though, is the control it displays, both in terms of managing its considerable weight, but also in terms of traction. Only on the greasiest of second-gear corners (in old money—this thing doesn’t have conventional gears) does it come unstuck. The rest of the time, it just flings itself up the road with abandon. Or doesn’t, if you prefer to drive in a more sensible and stereotypically Swedish manner.
At which point you’ll notice how beautifully damped it is, how well-resolved its ride quality is, and the entirely grownup manner in which it erases the shoddy surfaces that can trip up cars from some of the industry’s biggest and most luxurious guns. The front suspension comprises MacPherson struts with coil springs, and there’s a multilink setup at the rear. Volvo has never pretended to be the last word in driving dynamics or suspension kinematics, but the P8 is a deft thing indeed.
It’s also wonderfully simple to use. Given the complexities of the EV world—and the fear of where and how to charge still bothers a lot of people—Volvo is smart to keep things straightforward. There’s keyless entry and no start button; a sensor in the driver’s seat primes the car. Just slide the little drive controller into D and off you glide. There are no powertrain modes to twiddle with, either. You can firm up the steering if you want (it’s better than the floatier calibration), and set the braking to maximum regen for one-pedal operation and improved efficiency. That can take a little getting used to, but quickly becomes second nature.
Naturally, the powertrain is largely silent, but there’s discernible character here, too. Maybe electrification suits Volvo’s generally more sustainable, human-oriented philosophy. Whatever it is, this is a fantastic car to drive, particularly for a crossover with an unpromising center of gravity.
Safety? It remains a core part of the company’s philosophy. New innovations include a rear auto brake that can sense if the car is about to be rear-ended and applies the brakes automatically to stop it from slamming into the car ahead. There’s also an enhanced Pilot Assist, which draws on Google Maps for speed limits and bends in the road. Volvo is probably further along the road to autonomous driving than most, but the P8 doesn’t remonstrate with you by way of warning chimes should you stray across a white line.
On the inside
The P8 takes the opportunity to gently advance the ICE XC40’s cabin architecture. There’s a crisp new 12.3-inch high-resolution digital display, with wonderfully soothing graphics and a configurable setup (you can choose to have the navigation dominate). Oddly, rather than displaying range, it only showed us a percentage countdown for the battery (an interesting way of obviating range anxiety, perhaps, and of course it’s what we’re all used to on our smartphones).
Meanwhile, the central display—with its configurable tiles—is now much easier to operate than its clever but occasionally irksome previous incarnation. It’s also the first Volvo to use an Android-based infotainment system (again, shared with the Polestar 2) developed with Google, which includes Google Maps, the Google Play Store, and Google Assistant (it’s voice-activated and works brilliantly—this is a first in my humble experience). You can sign in to your, yes, Google account to personalize everything, set up Spotify, or navigate with Waze if that’s your preference. There’s extra Volvo On Call functionality: The cabin can be preheated or precooled, and the navigation shows charging points and can plan your route accordingly.
The seats are typically Volvo good, although the driving position feels a little on the lofty side, and the seat doesn’t drop low enough. There’s enough rear legroom for 6’3” inch me to sit behind my front-seat setting, and there’s ample interior storage space. Our car had some pleasing techy-looking trim on the dash and the door trims, with some slightly less pleasing fuzzy felt on the doors further down (along with unexpectedly brittle-feeling plastic bits). It’s no doubt sustainable, and made from recyclable Viking beard or something. And there’s a fold-out curry hook.
Nor has the electric conversion denuded the XC40 of its luggage-toting ability. It has 413 liters of rear cargo space, 47 less than the standard car, but it gains an extra bit of storage in the form of a 31-liter frunk.
We loved the XC40 from the get-go, but had a few reservations about the powertrains. Not anymore. In battery-electric guise, the XC40’s worthier attributes—thoughtful packaging, sense of well-being, and design—are augmented by a remarkable new turn of speed and handling smarts. Like the Tesla Model 3 (and the related Polestar 2), the XC40 P8 makes an almost-irresistible case for electrification.
Sure, it’s not cheap, but it’s loaded to the gunwales with kit, and has enough pace and balance on a good road to keep much more overtly sporting cars honest.
The 2021 Volvo XC40 P8 Recharge in Photos:
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NOTE: This article first appeared on TopGear.com. Minor edits have been made.