Automakers are understandably anxious not to let crossovers succumb to the miasma that doomed wagons and minivans. Call it the stink of being square, which turned those body styles into icons of messy familial rumpus. Luckily for carmakers, injecting insouciance into a people hauler seems to require nothing more than adding some degree of declination between the B-pillar and rear fascia. That’s how Audi creates its crossover Sportbacks, Mercedes and Porsche their crossover coupes, and BMW its even-numbered CUVs.
Volvo has joined that Germanic party with the C40 Recharge. The C still stands for “crossover,” the rake in the roof just making this the more dashing counterpart to the traditionally Swedish XC40 Recharge. The C40 Recharge sits on the same Compact Modular Architecture as the XC40 (said architecture also underpins the sister-brand Polestar 2). The C40 Recharge is also driven by the same dual-motor, all-electric powertrain with 402 horsepower and 487 lb-ft of torque and juiced by a battery with the same nominal 78.0-kWh capacity, 75.0 kWh of it usable.
There are entries in the gains and losses columns when comparing the C40 Recharge and the XC40 Recharge. In the C40 losses column, the roof sits 2.4 inches lower than that of the XC40, and rear-seat headroom is down by 1.6 inches, although there’s no issue fitting a five-foot-11 frame, with plenty of room to crane the neck. Thanks to the sloping roofline, the luggage space behind the second row takes the obvious hit and is down three cubes compared with the XC40 Recharge.
And then there’s the back glass, tabbed for a gain and a loss. Volvo claims that the aerodynamic work the designers did aft of the B-pillar, from the roof winglets that cover the liftgate hinges to the rear spoiler, extended range by 6 percent. A software update to the 2022 XC40 Recharge increased last year’s EPA-rated 208-mile range to 223, so Volvo’s estimate that the C40 Recharge will go 225 miles on a charge doesn’t make the impact it could have.
However, the work astern put such a steep rake in the hatch that the rear window presents the effective height of a shoebox. Looking in the rearview mirror shows the upper or lower half of a car behind, but not both. The best view of what’s behind is in the side mirrors.
The rest of the C40 Recharge emphasizes Volvo’s move into an increasingly eco-conscious and digital future. There will be no internal-combustion version of the C40 Recharge, with the company turning its gaze to 2030, when it aims to sell only EVs.
The cabin makes the grade as premium, albeit a somber premium. The C40’s leather-free cabin comes exclusively in black in the U.S. market. The backlit abstract topographical map of Sweden’s Abisko National Park on the dash and door panels is a fancy touch. Depending on the car’s exterior color, the seating, upholstered in Microtech and another synthetic with a nubuck look, can be offset with Fjord Blue carpeting made from recycled plastic.
As with every other EV maker, Volvo plans over-the-air updates to add new features and options, and in some technical respects, the C40 is a canvas awaiting a few finishing strokes. The user-experience designers stressed simplicity over ultimate functionality, omitting some of the perks one expects from integrated digital displays. The digital instrument cluster offers just two configurations, one with the two gauges separated by a blank area and the other with a small navigation display between them. There’s no way to see what music is playing without clicking to the audio page on the main screen (that information can’t be called up on the dash screen). In fact, we wished for an ever-present menu bar on the main infotainment screen so we could get to any important page in one touch—the same kind of menu bar the Android Auto app has, but that this take on the Android Automotive OS does not. And the left and right arrows on the steering wheel’s left spoke don’t do anything yet. Jonas Engström, head of strategy and business ownership, tells us functionality for them is on the way.
There’s a new range-extending function that acts like an Eco mode. We’re told that for now it will affect only climate-control operation but it could expand to tweak other systems that siphon energy from the battery. And there are new pixel headlights composed of 84 LEDs, but their dynamic light patterns aren’t kosher with U.S. regulations, so we get the standard version.
It takes a few starts and stops to get used to having no start/stop button. Once on the go, the C40 Recharge drives much like its twin. The C40 sprints to 60 mph in a claimed 4.5 seconds, but we expect it to match the 4.3-second dash we observed in our testing of the XC40. The dampers do a mostly fine job of keeping roughly 4800 pounds of EV poised as it motors down the road.
There are two settings for one-pedal driving, on or off. When on at speeds below 31 mph, stout regen braking slows the C40 by 0.22 g (that’s cut in half in travel above 31 mph). In dense traffic, it’s a perfect city aid.
The C40 lost its grace around town only when encountering sharp-edged objects like aggressive speed bumps, railroad tracks, and potholed tarmac—the same as we experienced in the XC40 Recharge. Lacking an internal-combustion engine as a masking agent, the suspension sends impacts from the 20-inch wheels vibrating up the steering column and into the seats. Quick changes of direction are also not a forte—at least not until the C40 Recharge is pushed hard enough to turn the average Volvo owner the same Fjord Blue as our sample car.
Driven like, well, a Volvo, there’s nothing to disappoint about the ride 99 percent of the time. Volvo tuned the accelerator for progressive, linear response, making it easy to forget how potent this little guy is. On the freeway, a careless stab at the accelerator will push your head into the headrest. Leapfrogging cars ahead and squirting into gaps in traffic is theme-park fun, and the grunt doesn’t tail off at extralegal speeds. The best we could do for high-speed curves on the Belgian drive route was highway interchanges, but the C40 Recharge was game to arc through them at impressive velocities.
Volvo is only bringing the Ultimate trim to the U.S., priced at $59,845 before tax credits. The figure buys nearly every substantial option, including a panoramic roof, a 360-degree-view camera system, premium audio, Pilot Assist driver-assistance tech, and the Care Package, which includes scheduled services and roadside assistance. That amount also pays for 250 kWh of free charging at Electrify America stations within the first three years. When that’s used up, Volvo will pay for a year of EA’s Pass+ membership, which grants access to discounted charging rates.
An entry-level 2022 Audi Q4 50 e-tron Sportback comes in about $6000 less expensive, for a lot less power and torque and fewer features, but about 16 more miles of estimated range and two more cubic feet of luggage room. A comparably equipped version of the Audi, still down on power, tips just past $60,000.
For those seeking an XC40 Recharge with some visual spunk, here it is. That buyer already understands the compromises described and should understand that they will cost more in crossover-coupe form—in this case, $600 more than the XC40 Recharge Ultimate.
That’s the price of not being square. In a Volvo, no less.
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