The people of Sweden does not boast. They even have a word not to brag about: Jantelagen. So you may not have heard of Volvo’s all-electric compact SUV, the XC40 Recharge. Yes, you’ve been bombarded with tweets from Elon and his followers about the Tesla Model Y. You’ve also no doubt heard of Ford’s impressive but misnamed electric sports car, the Mustang Mach-E. You may still be trying to unpack Volkswagen’s attempt to market its own compact SUV, ID.4, as the new Beetle. In the midst of all that SU-EV hub, Volvo has quietly introduced a dignified but understated family-friendly model.
The XC40 Recharge (starting at $ 55,300) is built on the same small SUV platform as its gas-powered fraternal twin, the XC40. It also shares bones with Polestar2, the electrified fruit of startup Polestar, which like Volvo is owned by Chinese carmaker Geely. The company is pushing hard for electrification from all its brands.
This electric version of Volvo’s small SUV met the expectations I had when I crawled behind the wheel. There were also some surprises mixed in, as well as some small disappointments. But the XC40 Recharge is worth considering if you are buying a small SUV and your budget has room to think European thoughts. It’s also pretty classic. It manages to impress without drawing too much attention to itself, which of course is very Swedish.
The need for Swedes
The XC40 Recharge does not look like anything that can top the power of a Ford Mustang. But it can with over 400 horsepower — 402 to be exact — and a torque of 486 pounds. Sure, its magnificent SUV looks like a signal that it’s ready to pick up the kids from soccer practice or violin lessons, so maybe tool around town before delivering muffins to the community theater. But it also has the power to do these things very quickly. The Swedish EV has a time of 0 to 60 in 4.7 seconds, which is faster than the Mustang at entry level. This speed outbreak is especially welcome when merging into the highway, or in cases where you need to get out of a sticky situation, and faster speeds are preferable to braking. Such a power can also be fun. I found myself sticking the accelerator just to enjoy the sheer ridiculousness of all the force that snapped my skull back into the headrest.
After scaring your passengers with surprising launches from the line, you can calm their nerves by stopping the small SUV, which the XC40 deftly does. The extra weight of a large battery pack means electric cars are harder to brake than their gas-powered counterparts. But it actually works to their advantage as electric cars use regenerative braking; the act of using electric motors to brake the vehicle also generates a small amount of power that is sent back to the battery pack.
Not only does the XC40 Recharge have great braking power, but it also possesses what I consider the best “one-pedal driving” experience on the road today. This is a feature that, when activated in the car settings section of the infotainment system, gradually brings a car to a halt when the driver takes his foot off the accelerator. It’s a bit like having the brake pedal automatically depressed lightly by the car when your foot backs down from the accelerator. Many of the other electric cars I have driven require me to train myself for a few days as I figure out the correct relationship between speed and distance to get the car to stop where I want it. However, Volvo’s system is much more intuitive. After a few stoplights, I was on a pedal like a pro.
I took the Volvo on a lively drive through a mountain pass near the Calaveras Reservoir east of San Jose, California. Its handling of hairpin bends like a tall vehicle was commendable, but it would not surpass a sports sedan or most hatchbacks in the corners. How it achieves these swinging gymnastics is its low center of gravity (thanks to the battery pack) and tighter than usual suspension setup for a luxury SUV. A stiffer suspension results in the wheels running faster back to the road, so the tires can get more traction. The driveway here comes as standard as a four-wheel drive setup, which definitely helps it stay close to the asphalt while enjoying some fun back roads.