Comfortable and fun, but lacking range
THE GOOD
  • Fun to drive
  • Handsome styling
  • Roomy, comfortable interior
THE BAD
  • Driving range
  • Distracting operating system
  • Smaller cargo volume than rivals

Electric vehicles (EVs) still aren’t for everyone, but one key to acceptance is a wide range of configurations to suit various needs.

For those who prefer a compact SUV, one option is the 2022 Volvo XC40 Recharge. It comes in three trim levels, starting at $61,695 before tax but including a non-negotiable freight charge of $2,015, while my top-level Ultimate started at $72,815. It was further optioned to $76,315 before tax, and before any applicable provincial rebates that could reduce the cost, depending on where you live.

Styling: 9/10

Volvo is among the current masters of styling, and the XC40 is no exception. It’s similar to the gas-powered XC40, but without the need for engine cooling, there’s a solid front panel instead of an open grille. The default is 19-inch wheels, but my tester wore 20-inch rims as a $1,000 option.

It’s just as gorgeous inside, and I love the metallic patterned strip that ties the dash together. Everything looks and feels high-quality. However, that elegant Scandinavian simplicity also means too many functions are stuffed into the centre screen rather than remaining easily accessible through buttons.

Safety: 8/10

While the Recharge version hasn’t yet been specifically tested, the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives the conventional XC40 its top five-star rating, while the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives that model its Top Safety Pick+.

Standard equipment includes blind-spot monitoring, emergency front and rear braking, lane-keep assist, road sign recognition, and a 180-km/h speed limiter, while upper trims add a 360-degree camera, and the Ultimate has adaptive cruise control. However, the XC40 is shy of top marks here because so many features that should be easy to access are buried within the touchscreen, such as changing the cabin temperature.

Features: 8.5/10

Depending on trim level, the XC40 Recharge includes such items as rain-sensing wipers, auto-dimming mirrors, hands-free power tailgate, heated front and rear seats, wireless charging, panoramic sunroof, and a premium sound system.

A heated steering wheel adds a surprisingly inexpensive $100 to the price. It may seem odd to include these power-hungry features in an electric car, but if your hands and butt are warm, you tend to turn down the even-power-hungrier cabin temperature. The Ultimate includes a heat pump that improves the efficiency of interior heating and cooling to further the electric range.

User Friendliness: 6/10

Volvo’s old infotainment interface has been replaced with a Google-based system that includes built-in maps and a virtual assistant. It’s better than before, but it can still be quirky. I’m not a Luddite, but I like hard controls for frequently used functions. It’s distracting to double-tap the screen and then push a digital slider just to adjust the heat. Yes, I can ask Google to change it, but all systems – even redundant ones – should be quick and simple, and limit distraction. The screen also takes a while to boot up, and you can’t do much of anything until it does.

You sit in the driver’s seat to start the car, and get out to shut it off. Tesla’s always had this, but it seems like an unnecessary gimmick – especially if your passenger stays behind and has to override the system to keep the climate and stereo working. What’s wrong with a regular starter button?

Practicality: 8/10

The XC40 Recharge’s 528 L of cargo volume isn’t the segment’s most, but the compartment’s squared off-shape makes it easy to load, and it includes grocery-bag hooks – something missing in far too many sport utility vehicles these days. Since there’s no engine, the hood conceals a frunk compartment, but it’s small and mostly good for storing the charging cord.

There’s an open cubby in the centre stack, along with long door pockets and a covered console box. The vehicle is rated for towing, but only to 900 kg (1,985 lb).

Comfort: 8.5/10

Despite its compact outer dimensions, the XC40 Recharge is roomy inside, with good leg- and headroom for occupants both front and back. The seats are as comfortable as they are handsome, and come with cushion extenders on the front chairs so you can adjust to your leg length for better support. The ride is firm but acceptable, and the cabin is quiet.

Power: 8.5/10

The Twin on the emblem stands for twin motors, one on each axle, to provide all-wheel drive. Total output is 402 hp and 487 lb-ft of torque, and of course, as with electric motors, power is instant, unlike a gasoline engine that has to rev up to its potential. The 78-kWh battery pack is stored under the floor.

That’s a lot of power in something this small, and despite its hefty 2,118-kg (4,669-lb) curb weight, the XC40 Recharge can get out of its own way and then some; zero-to-100 km/h is rated at 4.9 seconds. It’s great for highway merging and passing, but on the flip side, it’s easy to regulate the throttle, and you can sedately manoeuvre through city traffic without feeling that your car’s constantly on the muscle.

Driving Feel: 8/10

That under-the-floor battery gives the XC40 Recharge a low centre of gravity, and that plus the all-wheel drive performance gives it grace and confidence around curves. The steering system can be adjusted, and I prefer it at its firm setting, where it’s beautifully weighted and just right for the XC40’s quick response.

You can adjust the energy-recouping regenerative braking to the point of one-pedal driving, where you take your foot off the throttle and the system slows the car aggressively enough that you don’t need to use the brake pedal. I’m not a fan of one-pedal driving – I prefer to drive conventionally – but for those who like it, the XC40 Recharge’s system is smoother than most I’ve used.

Fuel Economy: 7.5/10

The XC40 Recharge is rated by Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) for 359 km on a charge – enough, but low among other EVs. Audi’s Q4 e-tron is rated at 388 km; Tesla’s base Model Y at 393 km; and the Hyundai Kona EV rates at 415 km. In combined driving, the Volvo is rated at 2.8 Le/100 km, for litres equivalent, comparing the electric energy used to the equivalent energy of gasoline.

Factors such as ambient temperature and driving style affect range, but it was difficult for me to figure out how much. The gauge shows how much battery percentage is left, but not how many kilometres are, until your range drops below 50 km. You can ask the Google assistant (if you can remember the right way to phrase the question), or figure it out from the Range Assistant app. Volvo does this because range can vary depending on various factors, but a kilometre range, always visible, would still be useful. In any case, I ran a full battery down to 54 per cent over 116 km, mostly in light-footed city driving at 3°C. That’s more than 100 km shy of the official range, which is a very steep drop.

Value: 8/10

The XC40 Recharge starts at $61,695 before tax, which is about the same as the Audi A4 e-tron, meaning both slide in just under some provincial caps for EV rebates. Among premium entries, Tesla’s Model Y in long-range guise starts at $76,990, while Jaguar’s I-Pace is $99,800.

The Verdict

The base XC40 Recharge tops the highest-priced gasoline XC40 by $10,200. That buys a lot of gas, but the Recharge requires less scheduled maintenance, and if you want the electric experience, there’s no comparison. There are a few things that could be better, but overall, fans of electrified Volvos will find much to like.

Competitors

Specifications

Engine Displacement 300 kW   Model Tested 2022 Volvo XC40 Recharge Ultimate
Engine Cylinders Twin motors   Base Price $70,800
Peak Horsepower 402 hp   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque 487 lb-ft   Destination Fee $2,015
Fuel Economy 22.8 / 26.6 / 24.5 kWh/100 km, 2.6 / 3.0 / 2.8 Le/100 km cty/hwy/cmb; 359 km range (78 kWh battery)   Price as Tested $76,415
Cargo Space 578 / 1,328 L seats down  
Optional Equipment
$3,500 – Climate Package, $1,500; Heated steering wheel, $100; 20-inch wheels, $1,000; Glacier Silver metallic paint, $900