New Volvo XC40 Recharge T5 plug-in hybrid 2020 review

Volvo’s popular XC40 small SUV gets plug-in hybrid tech and that electric boost is free for a yearVerdict4Plug-in power adds to the already sizeable appeal of the XC40, although – as with all plug-in models – you have to make sure the numbers work for you (which is more likely if it’s a company buy). We’ll check if the ride comfort is okay when we drive the car in the UK in a few weeks, while nothing has been done to improve interior quality or the infotainment system. But as the world turns to electric power even more, this plug-in XC40 is another example of the right car at the right time.

Volvo likes a catchy name for its electrified models. First it was Drive-e, then Twin Engine and now Recharge is the latest fancy moniker being used for all Volvos with plugs. It starts with this ­– the plug-in hybrid version of its small and increasingly popular XC40 SUV – and Volvo invited us to its test track at its HQ in Gothenburg for an early drive.

Volvo has been at the forefront of plug-in tech, so you might well ask what took them so long with the XC40? They’re even slower to the full EV party, though; another Recharge XC40 with battery power alone and a range of around 240 miles arrives in the second half of the year.

• Best plug-in hybrids to buy now

The plug-in hybrid, though, is on sale now with prices starting at £40,905 – pricey, yes, but in context that’s just over £4,000 more than a Vauxhall Grandland X PHEV. Take into account Volvo’s very kind offer of paying for a year’s worth of electricity for your Recharge model and the XC40 starts to look very attractive indeed.

Of course, before you can recharge you have to charge, and the T5 takes about three hours on a home charger to top up its 10.7kWh battery. That’ll give you around 28 miles of all-electric running, but you’ve also got a 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine under the bonnet to help out.

If you manage to plug in lots, Volvo quotes a WLTP-certified average economy figure of 141mpg – good luck with that. However, there’s no doubt it has the potential to greatly slash your fuel bills (especially with that free electricity) and your tax bills – company car or otherwise – with a CO2 figure of 41g/km.

A total power output of 262bhp and 425Nm of torque means performance is brisk, especially if you opt for Power as one of the three drive modes; you’ll get from zero to 62mph in 7.3 seconds.

Most people will just use Hybrid mode, which decides on the best blend of electric and petrol power for you, or for EV-only running there’s Pure mode.

Left to its own devices when pootling around, the switch between electric and petrol is seamless, thanks in no small part to the slick 7-speed dual clutch gearbox. As you’d expect, things are quiet, too, even when the engine kicks in.

If you’re a little firmer with the throttle, the three-cylinders make their presence known and not in an especially nice way. In some cars, three-pot engines can make a tuneful noise – in the Volvo it’s less cultured.

Not that this is a car that encourages spirited driving, other than the occasional bit of fun with instant EV acceleration. The steering is rather lifeless, and there’s no hiding from the (relatively) short-wheelbase and upright stance of this SUV – it’ll lean if you corner swiftly, although there’s a decent amount of grip.

As you’d expect, Volvo’s test track is super smooth, but we suspect the Recharge model’s extra weight won’t do the XC40’s already firm-ish ride any favours in the UK.

With the batteries hidden away in the spine of the XC40’s CMA chassis, interior space and luggage room are unaffected. So you get a reasonably spacious five-door SUV with a 460-litre boot.

And as with every Volvo, everything is very well thought through, especially in-car storage, seat comfort and the view out.

Safety, of course, is to the fore; Volvo says the XC40 is its safest model yet, with every conceivable safety system available and extra strengthening in the chassis to protect the batteries.

But while the look of the XC40 inside and out is one of its strongest qualities, we’ve never been blown away by the quality inside. Among the Swedish cool are a few plastics that you wouldn’t find in an Audi Q3 or Range Rover Evoque. The infotainment system could do with an upgrade, too. A new Google-powered system is in the offing for the full EV XC40, but this plug-in model has to make do with Volvo’s fast-dating interface and the need for a £300 upgrade to get Apple CarPlay or Android Auto connectivity. 

Key specs

  • Model: Volvo XC40 Recharge Plug-in Hybrid T5
  • Price: £40,905
  • Engine: 1.5-litre petrol engine plus electric motor
  • Power: 262bhp
  • Transmission: seven-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
  • 0-62mph/top speed: 7.3s/127mph
  • Economy/CO2: 141mpg, 41g/km
  • Equipment: 9-inch touchscreen, satellite navigation, heated and powered front seats
  • On sale: Now

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