New car review

Volvo XC40 Recharge plug-in hybrid test drive

Volvo has added a plug-in hybrid powertrain to its acclaimed XC40. Is it a worthy addition to the range?

Volvo’s big on electrification, and therefore the XC40 Recharge T5 marks an important milestone for the Swedish car maker, because it means all of its model line-up now has an electrified option.

It’s also the first time the firm’s new Recharge branding has been applied to a car. It’ll refer to all plug-in electrified Volvos that go on sale from hereon in, such as the forthcoming all-electric XC40.

The XC40 is already a hugely popular model for Volvo, and with enticing company car tax on this hybrid variant, it could be a huge seller.

What’s new about the Volvo XC40 Recharge?

Volvo’s other plug-in hybrid models, which wear T8 rather than T5 badging, use a 2.0-litre petrol engine to power the front wheels and an electric motor to power the rears, resulting in all-wheel-drive. However, the T5’s powertrain is all located on the front axle, meaning it’s front-wheel-drive only.

Other than the powertrain it’s all largely familiar from the existing XC40 line-up, with few exterior or interior changes to differentiate this low-emission model from the rest of the range. That’s no bad thing for the most part, because it looks great inside and out.

How does it look?

Volvo’s smart and sophisticated design language lends itself well to its smallest SUV, though it’s easily the least elegant in the line-up compared with the XC60 and XC90. It’s a good-looking thing, though, with its chunky front end giving it a bold look, and Volvo’s signature ‘Thor’s Hammer’ daytime running lights as distinctive as ever.

For those who like to personalise their cars, there are plenty of paint options to choose from including dual-tone combinations, as well as stylish alloy wheel designs. Fortunately for those who don’t want to break the bank, the XC40 is one of those rare premium models that still looks good in its most basic specifications.

What’s the spec like?

Prices for the T5 start at £40,905, with it only available from the R-Design trim level and above. Standard XC40 equipment includes climate control, cruise control, automatic LED headlights, a nine-inch touchscreen infotainment system, and Volvo’s impressive array of safety features.

However, our test car was in Inscription specification, with prices starting at £41,255. This trim level adds extras such as leather upholstery, luxury floor mats, 19-inch alloy wheels, a gloss black front grille with chrome inserts, and a rear parking camera.

There’s no denying the XC40 T5 Inscription is expensive, but it does go a long way to justify the price with decent equipment levels.

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Safety-wise, the plug-in hybrid models get exactly the same equipment as the regular petrol and diesel models. That’s no chore, since the Volvo XC40 is one of the safest small SUVs on the market. It received a five-star rating from Euro NCAP in 2018 with outstanding scores in every category.

What’s it like inside?

Over the past few years we’ve been spoiled by Volvo’s interiors. They’re genuinely unique in design, with a lovely minimalist feel that’s been inspired by the firm’s Scandinavian roots. The portrait-oriented touchscreen is great, but it does take a while to learn your way around.

However, this being on the lower end of the Volvo’s range does show in some ways. While there are few cheap materials on show, the general ambience isn’t quite so plush as other models in the line-up. However, it makes up for it in practicality, because boot space is unaffected by those extra batteries, unlike some rivals.

What’s under the bonnet?

The T5 powertrain comprises of a 1.5-litre, three-cylinder petrol engine and an electric motor, both of which are located at the front of the car and power the front wheels. The electric motor is powered by a 10.7kWh battery, which runs up the spine of the car so that rear boot space isn’t impacted.

The end result is a useful 28 miles of all-electric range, meaning that if you’re able to top it up regularly then a good number of people could drive to work and back without ever bothering the petrol engine. There are also different drive modes on offer that let you adapt the powertrain for power, efficiency, off-road driving, or just force it to stay in electric mode. You can also choose to use the engine to recharge the batteries on the move, which is useful on long motorway drives.

What’s it like to drive?

As you’d expect from the Swedes, a serene, refined drive is the order of the day. Electrification suits Volvo because the quiet surge of power only amplifies the feeling of relaxation and solid build quality.

Unlike some hybrids, the Volvo is keen to keep you in electric mode as much as possible when you’ve got plenty of charge, so you won’t find the engine kicking in annoyingly around town. When you do get the petrol unit going, though, it’s largely unobtrusive noise-wise, but there are some subtle but noticeable vibrations transmitted to the cabin, which is a shame.

Verdict

Overall, the Volvo XC40 Recharge T5 is a very likeable thing. From the moment you silently set off in electric mode it’s clear that refinement was high on the agenda for the plug-in hybrid model, and it succeeds for the most part. It also augers well for the forthcoming full-electric model that is set to arrive in the UK next year.

With such appealing company car tax, the high initial price is easier to stomach, and those looking for a comfortable, practical companion that actively calms you as you drive will be well-served here. Keep the batteries topped up, and running costs should be low, too.

Similar cars

Audi Q3 | BMW X1 | BMW X2 | DS 3 Crossback | Infiniti QX30 | Jaguar E-Pace | Lexus UX | Mercedes-Benz GLA | Range Rover Evoque

Key specifications

Model as tested: Volvo XC40 Recharge Plug-in Hybrid T5
Price (on-road): £40,905
Engine: 1.5-litre petrol plus electric motor
Gearbox: Eight-speed automatic
Power: 260 hp
Torque: 425 Nm
Top speed: 143 mph
0-60mph: 7.1 seconds
Fuel economy (combined): 119.1 – 139.4 mpg
CO2 emissions: 47 – 55 g/km
Euro NCAP safety rating: 5 stars (2018)

Darren Cassey
Darren Cassey
Articles by Darren Cassey are provided for The Car Expert by PA Media (formerly the Press Association). They include test drives of the latest new cars and features on various aspects of automotive life.

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