Final Report: Flaws yes, but still love it

In my line of work I often have the privilege of talking to senior car designers, and once cheekily made the observation to then head of Volvo design Robin Page – recently made top designer at Bentley – that I found the XC40 to be very similar to an iPhone. In that you forgive it for all the things it doesn’t do well, because of all the other things it does brilliantly. Page’s response was to smile and simply say, “I’ll take that as a compliment”.

Good design can have that effect and the XC40, whether in its original guise as an internal combustion-engined car with conventional grille, or as the all-electric Recharge with ‘closed mouth’ and superb 20in alloy wheels, is just such an example. The strong proportions and geometric graphic originality – using clean diagonal and horizontal lines – make it unlike any other in its mid-size crossover class. The interior is an exercise in ‘less-is-more’ without feeling austere and the experience of driving full-electric, gliding near-silent along quiet streets, to easily keeping up on faster A-roads and motorways with solid steering and a decent ride, makes this Volvo seem well-placed for my life.     

Yes it has annoying traits – like the iPhone – most notably when it unilaterally acts in
the name of safety. Volvo has always laudably taken safety seriously, but when the car decides that my low-speed driving through a twisty section of road with a bollard in the centre and parked cars to the left constitutes an emergency situation that necessitates it slamming on the brakes without prior audio warning to the actual driver, I take umbrage. A similarly unannounced ‘automatic brake slam’ happened when I was merely reversing into an empty car parking space with nothing around me, and the sensors seemed to confuse very bright sunlight for an imaginary nearby solid obstacle. The (non) incident shook up my passenger considerably and was totally unnecessary. 

LTT Volvo XC40 Re - Int Coat class=

I also reported on Volvo’s App being a massive pain to link to the car, but once that hurdle was jumped, it has proved quite useful. Another weird XC40 flaw I only came across recently is the poorly designed coat hook. A standard feature for decades, and previously just a raised nodule on a rear seat passenger grab handle, such designs were imperfect – coat hangers tend to slide if you drive too vigorously – but getting the hanger’s hook off was never a problem. By contrast, the XC40 coat hook is a small two-size hole, which probably intended to solve the sliding issue, but makes getting a standard coat hanger hook into the hole really hard in the first place (let alone two) and can cause a wrestling match when you want to remove it. 

Sat nav was decent with Google Maps and/or Apple Maps via CarPlay but Waze never quite played ball. The late 2022 Recharge set-up is better than the old 2020-era XC40 PHEV I also tried for six months, but there is still work to be done. Volvo’s ex-design boss Page told me he had recruited more than 100 user experience (UX) designers in the past three years, so that should improve later iterations. That the user experience can improve over the lifetime of the vehicle – without changing the physical car via ‘over the air’ updates which worked well – is also heartening. One small UX case in point that many of my ‘late to buckle up’ passengers noticed when moving from Audi to Volvo: the chime reminder to fasten seatbelts in the Swedish car sounds quietly Scandinavian and gently persuasive, rather than harshly German and loud.  

Elsewhere a solid boot divider made securing fragile cargo easy and the 360-degree bird-eye view camera made manoeuvring in tight spaces reassuringly simple. Energy usage varied from 2.6 miles per kilowatt hour in colder months to 3.4m/kWh in warmer ones, but as electricity prices fell in the spring – now 0.37p from my local charging post – the process feels less prohibitively expensive. In summary, I like the XC40 Recharge in a big way, and forgive it all its (small) sins.

5th Report: Surprise and delight

Car designers are often tasked with attempting to differentiate their new vehicles through features which are at best gimmicky and at worst counterproductive. In certain brands’ high-end models gesture control as a method of turning the stereo’s volume up or down – when quickly twiddling a physical knob has done the job perfectly well for decades – is a prime example. It’s not only hit and miss in terms of its efficacy, but also potentially distracting and dangerous for the driver to take their hands off the wheel only to wave them about inside a vehicle in the manner of a panicked hostage. 

Similarly, waving one’s foot under the rear bumper in an all too often forlorn attempt to open the boot when keyless entry, or a one-touch finger press both work just as well and usually better and more consistently – and without endangering the cleanliness of your footwear – is another example. These are low-hanging fruit in the hall of fame of pointless car design function, but thankfully there have been some more subtle ‘innovations’ of late in the Volvo XC40 Recharge that deserve greater scrutiny, and in my opinion, some praise too.

LTT Volvo XC40 Re - Int class=

The first feature is not unique – finger swipe control to open and close the sunroof – but the movement is so natural and smooth on this Volvo. The ceiling-mounted slim slot situated between the driver and passenger cabin lighting is also ergonomically finger-pad shaped, so once tried, the manoeuvre is guaranteed to elicit regular ‘repeat business’. With your input almost instantly confirmed by the sunroof glass sliding backward or forward, its speed of response creates little distraction from the main job of driving which therefore makes it safer too. Which is on-brand for the historically safety-focused marque. either way, I don’t think I’ve ever liked opening a sunroof as much.

Another original feature in the XC40 Recharge, which only reveals itself at night, adds another level of intrigue. By day, the wide horizontal fillets in the dashboard and door cards of the Volvo feature a pleasingly topographical design due to their resemblance to the way hills and mountains are rendered on an old-school physical maps. Layered, and with edges you can feel, the graphic design detail feels quietly smart. 

But by night, these largely one-colour grey layers suddenly come to life, via hidden illumination which changes their colour composition into many shades of grey and white, showing up greater contrast and visual interest, but while remaining subtle and non-distracting. They’re completely unnecessary, as far as I can ascertain, other than perhaps signalling where the door and dash edges are located in relation to the cabin’s occupants. But nonetheless, they provide surprise and delight to this driver, and indeed have done so for many of my passengers who marvel not only at the colour transformation at night, but wonder at how the effect is achieved too. 

I’ve never seen such a car interior lighting feature before and its neutral palette feels suitably Scandinavian and thus very Volvo. It’s a great example of brand enhancement done right and to these eyes very originally. As the old cliché goes, customers fall in love with a car’s exterior, but stay in love (or not) because of the interior. The XC40’s solid exterior – and the Recharge cabin’s hidden extra layers – prove this point in a positive manner. 

Staying on matters positive – and more practical – our average energy consumption has reduced of late too, recording 3.2 miles per kilowatt hour from 2.7 previously, while electricity prices have come down at our local charging post and with more flexible tariffs. More on that next month.

4th Report: App link needs work

As anyone who has had the experience of running a PHEV or full EV will know, having an associated app installed on your smartphone can really help. On a basic level, any good app should be able to tell you how much range your EV holds at any given time and when re-charging, let you know how it’s doing and when it’s back to 100% – or whatever level you set it to finish.

But first of all you need to get your car’s computer brain to acknowledge your phone and app’s existence so that they can talk to each other. Unlike the (now) usually straightforward process of connecting a phone to a car via Bluetooth or setting up a mirror-link of your phone’s home screen via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto – which on this XC40 only requires a phone cable and a few button presses – this Volvo’s app-to-EV process is many stages deeper and more complicated. 

Firstly you need to set up a Volvo ID with a username and password – like a Google or Apple one – luckily something I had already done when using a previous Volvo long-termer. Then you need to locate and jot down the car’s Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) which can take a bit of finding, have both of the car’s keys in the vehicle alongside your smartphone with the app installed, and set aside 10-20 minutes of spare time. 

LTT Volvo XC40 Re - Int Screen (OTA) class=

The ‘double-key’ issue was the first problem for me, because it’s not my car and Volvo’s press fleet not unreasonably keep the spare one. But I only discovered this stumbling block halfway through the syncing process via a message on the car’s centre screen. Once identified, the press office arranged for the spare key to be sent to me and I tried again. But it still didn’t work, this time throwing up another “Computer Says No” type message. The unflappably-fair press man Joe Watters stayed patient and went back to his experts who suggested the time-honoured car version of “turn it off and on again” which I duly did a few days later. This time it worked – just minutes before the spare key was due to be collected along with another short-termer, the C40. It was almost as if the tech was just toying with me. 

Anyway, now the car and its app are talking and it’s already gaining new features that weren’t there when I first downloaded it. Case in point is the way that range is now listed. A long time ago Volvo’s user experience designers decided in their wisdom to show the XC40 Recharge’s range within the vehicle’s driver display as a percentage rather than a mileage estimate. This is seldom helpful considering the wide variance of what 100% means, according to the outside temperature, your driving style and how many people and luggage are onboard the Volvo. But on the upgraded app at least, it now shows that percentage – along with an estimated range delivered in miles. Progress. 

The app’s ‘Driving Journal’ section now logs journeys, which users can assign to ‘business’ or ‘private’ if desired, and the app’s wider features include vehicle location mapping, cabin pre-heating and remote locking or unlocking. I have linked my Spotify and Google accounts – for better music and real-time traffic map integration – and even completed an ‘Over the Air (OTA)’ update to the car’s software, like many of us are well-used to with our home computers, laptops or smartphones. After getting a message on the car’s home screen that an upgrade was available and how long it would take, I simply pressed the ‘Confirm’ button on the car’s centre screen, got out of the car, locked it, walked away and waited 90 minutes or so. Here’s hoping the app will be as simple from now on in. Note to the app developers: knowing the car’s total mileage on the app would be helpful.

3rd Report: C40 vs. XC40

“Isn’t this like the other one,” my regular weekly XC40 passenger said when approaching the Volvo C40 the other week, viewing the car through squinting eyes, a slightly furrowed brow and admittedly in the dark of early evening. “Not quite,” I replied, ” This one’s the coupé version, it’s got a sloping rear roof to make it look more sporty.”  “Ah,
I see,” he replied, but in a tone which suggested he didn’t and hadn’t.   

Coincidentally, both cars on test came in similar shades and colour spectrum; the XC40 long-termer in Thunder Grey and the C40 short-termer in Fjord Blue. Still, it’s fair to say, in front three-quarter view especially, it’s hard to tell them apart because they share so much. But there are differences dimensionally and in terms of space and function too. The C40 is a little shorter (-9mm), narrower (-13mm) and unsurprisingly quite a bit lower (-70mm), but thankfully that doesn’t translate to a meaningfully reduced head height in the rear seats. A six-footer in the back can sit behind a six-footer in the front without either feeling the squeeze. It’s more about the perception of space inside, the C40’s rear cabin feeling a little more enclosed, although the addition of a large one-piece panoramic sunroof really helps to offset that feeling. But the C40 does feel smaller from the front seats looking back through the rear-view mirror and to the rear windscreen – which is even more pillar box-shaped than the XC40’s – and once the chunky C-pillars and rear headrests are factored in, the C40’s rearview vision is really poor, especially at night. A reversing camera and parking sensors are vital. 

Volvo C40 Vs XC40 - Ext F3Q R class=

To keep things neat and tidy from the outside – and perhaps due to practical packaging considerations too – the C40 has no rear windscreen wiper, although the built-in rear windscreen heater does a fairly good job once you realise. There is a luggage capacity price to pay for that nicely sloping rear hatch though. Underneath it, the C40 only has 413 litres of space to offer versus 450 litres in the XC40. In truth, neither is very big compared to some full-electric compact SUV rivals, the shorter Kia e-Niro offering 495 litres and the slightly longer BMW iX1 490 litres.   

Both Volvos deploy a 231hp Single Motor and the C40 FWD Plus is £53,100, or £54,760 as tested, which includes a pleasing textile / microtech upholstery in charcoal with Fjord Blue carpets and mats (£1075) to match the same-name exterior metallic paint (a £585 option).  The XC40 Recharge Ultimate is £55,090 with only Thunder Grey metallic paint added (and a no-cost option) so bar a few hundred pounds they’re a similar price too. The C40 claims a slightly longer range – 272 miles vs the XC40’s 259 miles – but both figures are a little too notional in the recent cold snap to be of much use. Real-world for both, when temperature is factored in – is more like 160-180. Which curtailed one recent 200-mile one-way trip with a fixed start point that didn’t allow  enough time to charge on the way. The train then had to take the strain, but was approximately three times more expensive and weather-delayed enough to seek compensation. Capers.

Anyway, living with the C40 for a week was interesting and while somewhat stylish and certainly much rarer on the road, we think we’ve made the right choice in running the XC40 for longer. Its design is more coherent from all angles and its package more practical and functional inside and out.

2nd Report: Swapping Teutonic for Scandi

In a seamless baton pass in early February, editor Martyn Collins handed the keys to the Volvo XC40 Recharge to yours truly. Leaving the elegant Teutonic Audi A6 Avant plug-in hybrid for the stylish Scandinavian XC40 – arguably the best-looking car in the Volvo range – should be no hardship. In Ultimate trim, the incoming Swedish model costs £55,050, a slightly lower price bracket to the outgoing Avant, but with lots of the same accessories which make urban life and beyond easier to navigate (more on which later).

To talk of ‘first impressions’ is slightly disingenuous as I’ve run a XC40 as a long-termer before a few years back. I am fully familiar with its design and packaging, but the crucial difference this time is this one is a full EV (the previous XC40 was only a PHEV). The key visual differentiator is the blanked-off body-coloured section where a front grille would normally reside on petrol and part-petrol versions. But with far less air required for cooling an EV, there is simply no need for an open grille on the XC40 Recharge and the solid bodywork there should result in aero benefits too. Either way, to these eyes, it’s a smart enhancement, rather than an awkward piece of shoehorning and it’s a testament to the original exterior design that the overall effect still looks smart and new. Those carefully weighted angular proportions – around the car’s chunky C-pillar especially – still stand out among the extremely crowded compact SUV throng.

LTT Volvo XC40 Re - Int Screen (park Cam ) class= 

I’d forgotten just how much that exterior design detail obscures rearward vision from within the interior though. Such an aesthetic flourish makes the highly functional 360-degree camera kit within Ultimate trim a necessity and an alloy wheel and bodywork preserver in tight city parking spaces with occasional raised-up tree pit surrounds lurking slightly in-board of pavement edges. The reversing camera alone simply isn’t enough, especially at night. Tick that option box and learn to rely on its excellent technology and the car becomes straightforward to manoeuvre. It’s unnervingly easy to get going too. Just carry the remote fob on your person and the door will unlock itself and then a nudge of the small toggle-style auto gear selector will set the car in motion. No on/off or starter button or electric park brake to worry about. 

Even though we only have the 231hp Single Motor version (there is also a 408hp Twin Motor model), it feels plenty fast enough. Despite the Single Motor’s official 7.2-second 0-62mph time, it feels much faster out of the blocks to 30mph, well able to surprise any needlessly revving combustion-engined car driver from twin-lane traffic lights, or more sensibly, to escape potential trouble on the move in sticky road situations with its rapid burst of speed.  

Of more concern to Business Car‘s editor was the XC40 Recharge’s lack of real-world range, especially impacted by the cold winter weather of December and January. Volvo’s official figure is 259 miles but he was getting no more than 170. Running the car in an urban setting more of the time and mainly in the spring and summer months, will hopefully improve things, but it’s something we’ll be keeping a close eye on.  

One more thing we’ll be seeking to delve into deeply is the Google-powered central infotainment system. This was another option unavailable when we last tested the XC40 long-term, but given the US tech company’s highly regarded position in this field, it’s no surprise Volvo is happy to promote the collaboration and we’re very optimistic that its maps and user interface will represent a major leap forward from Volvo’s old in-house system. Given that we have a fair chunk of 2023 allocated with the XC40, we should have plenty of time to find out. 

1st Report: Need more range!

By Martyn Collins

The last time I ran an XC40 long-termer, it had an engine, in fact it was a hybrid – the first plug-in I’ve ever run. That was delayed by the first lockdown in 2020 and sadly the chip crisis also delayed the delivery of this Volvo. A single motor Recharge, I was lucky enough to spec and order this car in my first few weeks of being in the editor’s chair back in September 2021! So, after over 11 months wait, how has the first month been with our electric Volvo?  

There are two electric versions of the XC40 Recharge available, the first being a 78kWh twin engine, boasting an incredible 408hp, yet still capable of 257 mile charges and all at 2% BiK. The single motor on the other hand, has a slightly smaller 69kWh battery, 231hp, 420.3 Nm of torque, and a 7.2 second 0-62 acceleration time. I didn’t get to drive the single-engine version before ordering, as it was new to the range. However, following a week last Summer spent in the mechanically identical Polestar 2, I had a feeling it would be rapid enough – even if there was a question mark over the range despite the warm summer months. 

After waving a sad goodbye to the Cupra Born, the XC40 feels very grown up and perhaps a bit dated (on the inside at least!) – after all it has been on-sale since the end of 2017. Outside, this Volvo still looks sharp and modern, the only obvious difference over ICE models is the sealed, colour-coded grille. I’m pleased with my colour choice too, as metallic Thunder Grey keeps the XC40 looking contemporary and hides Winter muck well. 

Inside, the plastics and trim feel premium enough to justify the £50,000+ list price of our car. The interior, well-equipped in range-topping Ultimate trim, is reasonably spacious, with no complaints from my kids. Then, there’s the front seats, which have loads of adjustment, and offer decent thigh support to hold you in place – I’ve found this to be the perfect recipe for me, as my back is playing up again.  

The vertical tablet-like infotainment has dated, but it earns points for the fixed ventilation controls. The Google Maps-based navigation works well, too. However, it would be nice to have some sort of range indicator in front of the driver, rather than being a tab on the touchscreen. 

Performance is plentiful, plus the Volvo is a surprisingly keen and tidy drive considering the tall SUV shape – with a comfortable ride despite this standard 20in alloys. However, could the performance be at the expense of the range? As this has proved to be the main issue, during my first month with this car. We are in the grip of Winter, and the issues with reduced range of EVs have been previously highlighted. Volvo claim up to 259 miles of range, yet the most I’ve achieved is 170 miles to a charge – more than the Cupra, but only just. It dropped even lower to 150 miles, during mid-December’s snowy and cold snap. Maybe some pre-heating of the battery is in order, for the Volvo’s next keeper Guy Bird. 

So despite the long wait, my tenure of this Volvo will be disappointingly short. As I will be introducing a new model to the Business Car long-term fleet in the next February issue. Even in the short time I’ve been driving the XC40, it has impressed me as a package – but question marks still remain about its efficiency.

Standard equipment:

20in Black Diamond Cut alloy wheels, power and heated front seats trimmed in Connect Suede textile/Microtech upholstery, multi-function, heated three-spoke steering wheel, 12in digital instrument cluster, 9in infotainment touchscreen, power and heated door mirrors, LED headlights, 360 degree camera