The Volvo C40 Recharge is one of the company's newer models, built from the get-go as an all-electric vehicle. It's a compact SUV with a sporty flare that comes packed with technology. It's (mostly) an excellent drive and at R1.3 million, it might be the most affordable luxury EV available in SA.
The Volvo C40 Recharge is one of the latest battery-powered electric vehicles to make its way to South Africa. Stuff spent a few hours behind the wheel at the local launch event in the Western Cape several months ago. Recently, we spent a little longer with it, trying to work out if this is the EV that’ll convince more folks to ditch their petrol-thirsty machines. Imagine a future where you don’t have to keep tabs on the price of petrol every month. Wouldn’t that be nice?
The C40 Recharge is apparently the first Volvo to be designed as a pure electric vehicle only, while the Swedish manufacturer’s other EV offerings, like the XC40, are also available in hybrid and ICE derivatives. It certainly won’t be the last EV-only vehicle from the company as it aims to only sell EVs by 2030.
The XC40 and C40 Recharge share many similarities. In fact, the C40 is pretty much just a sportier version of the XC40, in both looks and performance. From the outside, that’s most noticeable in the C40’s sloped rear instead of the XC40’s boxy attire.
Along with the slope, Volvo’s included a few embellishments that hint at the C40’s understated performance – the rear roof overhangs and a spoiler. The rear design is supposed to make the C40 more aerodynamic to help with its battery range but it does cost you 15l of cargo space and 62mm of rear passenger headroom while only netting you an extra 10km over the XC40.
Going the distance
The total range of the 78kWh lithium-ion battery pack inside the C40 Recharge is supposed to be 510km, according to Volvo’s website. That will depend on driving style, conditions, and how well you use the built-in range optimiser.
You have a few options when it comes to charging. During the week we spent driving our review model around Johannesburg, the full charge it came with lasted for the entire time with our average 22.6kWh/100km usage.
C40 Recharge buyers will receive a Volvo wall box charger and a seven-metre charging cable with their vehicle. While that’s a nice addition, it does make you reliant on having electricity available at home which we all know isn’t guaranteed and isn’t exactly cheap if you’re getting it from Eskom or City Power.
If your home is equipped with three-phase power, the wall box charger is capable of an 11kWh output so you’re looking at roughly eight hours for a full charge. That’s not bad, considering the provided cable used for plugging it straight into the wall can only do 2.3kWh. When you don’t have the whole night to wait for a charge, publicly available chargers can be found scattered around the country.
If you’re lucky enough to find an unoccupied 150kWh fast-charger, Volvo says a 10-80% charge will only take you 27 minutes. We recommend becoming friends with GridCar’s interactive charging stations map if you’re a prospective EV owner.
These horses are electric
While the sporty embellishments might look a little out of place on a Volvo, they start to make sense when you’re behind the wheel. While the C40 Recharge is still very much a Volvo – a Volvo crossover, at that – it still features the kind of performance we’ve come to enjoy from electric vehicles.
Peak power and maximum torque are rated at 300kW and 660Nm respectively. A 0-100km sprint will only take 4.7 seconds and the top speed maxes out at 180km/h. That’s a fair bit more than other similar vehicles in this segment and not something we expected from a brand known for its sensible, safety-first approach.
Volvo is only offering the top-specced C40 Recharge Ultimate in SA. It features a twin-motor setup, one for each axle. That means the all-wheel drive system is ready to apply all of its available power to the road beneath you at a moment’s notice.
There’s something special to be said about breezing past other vehicles as if they were stationary with nary a peep save for the slight electric motor whine. Especially when the occupants of said stationary vehicles have to do a double take because they weren’t expecting that from a Volvo.
Performance around bends didn’t bring the same enjoyment. There’s no escaping the fact that it feels like you’re driving a tank at times, having to lug all that battery weight around. Despite the slanted rear, the C40 Recharge still felt a little top-heavy and we would’ve liked the steering to feel a little more present. But we’re inclined to let that slide. This is still a crossover SUV, after all.
The slanted sporty rear may have alluded to the C40 Recharge’s performance but it’s a different story inside the cabin. Volvo has crafted a superbly sophisticated cabin that will feel familiar to past Volvo owners yet somehow still adequately advanced in 2023.
Comfort, meet technology
That was apparent from the moment we climbed in and instinctively looked for the ‘Start’ button. There isn’t one. You simply climb in, select ‘drive’ or ‘reverse’ via the centred nubby selector and you’re off. It took some getting used to but we came to enjoy the ease of use. Just as we enjoyed ‘one-pedal’ driving, as Volvo calls it. This engages regenerative braking to its maximum effect and eliminates the need to manually brake in all but a few scenarios.
We also appreciated the fact that Volvo’s infotainment system now runs on Google’s Android Automotive. This means the 9in vertical centre display works a lot like an Android smartphone. It makes over-the-air updates a lot easier to manage on Volvo’s end so you won’t have to visit a dealership as often. It also means that if you aren’t intimately familiar with Android, you might not have a good time right away. The words ‘needlessly complicated’ come to mind.
Google’s Maps, Assistant, and Play Store apps are all supported natively and come preinstalled, widening your choice for just about everything. Climate control is also handled by the centre display. There aren’t any physical buttons so we’d recommend spending a bit of time familiarising yourself with the layout because it isn’t always as intuitive as Volvo probably intended.
The C40 Recharge’s 12in driver display lives where you’d normally find a gauge cluster. It provides you with info while you drive although we would’ve liked a few more customizable options here than the present two – ‘Calm’ or ‘Navi’.
Other interior highlights include an ambient lighting system that you may not care about, an air purifier system that you’ll probably care about a little more, and a 12-channel Harmon Kardon sound system that you’ll absolutely care about if you’re under 40.
We did find one, rather large issue during our time with the C40 Recharge – driver visibility. The windows of our model were tinted a little too aggressively for our liking which impacted visibility, particularly at night.
The panoramic sunroof that comes standard is fun while the sun’s out but isn’t much to help at night. Coupled with the small rear window thanks to that sloped backend, there were times during our review when pulling into and out of tight spaces took longer than it should have. And that’s with Volvo’s 360-degree camera system helping.
Speaking of which, Volvo’s other assistive safety features are present as well, like cross-traffic alert, blind spot information system, collision avoidance, and lane-stay assistance. They’re there if you want them or can be turned off if you can find them in the menus.
Volvo C40 Recharge Ultimate (2023) verdict
If it wasn’t already obvious, the Volvo C40 Recharge really impressed us. It offers a ménage à trois of sophisticated comfort, effortless immediate power, and technical capabilities that we reckon a lot of people will find very appealing. The starting price of R1,324,000 certainly isn’t cheap so we don’t foresee streets full of C40 Recharges anytime soon. But if you’re looking for an all-electric luxury compact SUV crammed full of tech, put this at the top of your shortlist, or at least in the top three.