Volvo makes electricity an high-priced commodity in its new XC40 P8
With the sole intention of making its mark, or yuan, reports Iain Robertson, Volvo loads-up its first EV version of the much-admired XC40 with every imaginable bell-and-whistle, which means a hefty price tag and better performance than expected.
Not so long ago, Volvo was serving its term as a producer of consummate safety vehicles, even gifting its three-point safety belts to the motor industry for ‘the greater good’. Although owned by the Chinese today, it remains a Swedish-based company for some aspects of its business and continues to impress with its inherent conservatism, tidy design precepts and impeccable build quality.
However, something has altered in the Volvo mindset, which I can only attribute to its Chinese owners; instead of being Volvo, the company appears to be revisiting that awful period of its fairly recent past, when it was owned by Ford Motor Company for 11 years. That was when it was inveigled into referring to its products as ‘premium’, an American descript that is at least one step above ‘deluxe’, although it might be more. While the company does seem to have reverted to speaking in English (when not relating in Swedish, or Chinese), the ‘p’-word, while not dropped unceremoniously, has a tendency to be inserted into first paragraphs but ignored thereafter.
My concern arises from the expectations of its Far Eastern funders, as it is abundantly clear that Volvo is being pressed into selling big volumes of its motorcars, when Volvo is notionally more of a Jaguar in stature…a specialist, for want of another term…more familiar with modest turnover, which helps to retain a decent POR on each car sold and not a means by which to bolster the company’s coffers. I am not being silly here but Volvo is neither acquisitive, nor greedy, yet, its present stance is losing some of the several attributes that it could boast of reliably before. Among them is unreliability and consumer dissatisfaction, judging by the rumblings around the trade.
Naturally, Volvo is an ideal brand by which Geely Holding Group can ‘EVangelise’. If you think that western governments are having a tough time instigating a consumer shift to Electric Vehicles, just bear in mind the poor air quality extant in industrial China. Its government is pushing really hard to effect the turnaround and, being a Communist-controlled State, it is the leviathan that can turn on a sixpence, when needed. The rest of us receive the spin-off.
Of course, XC40 is one of those cars that, because it is an SUV, has been experiencing phenomenal growth. I shall not knock it for that, because it is a very fine machine in any of the forms, including petrol and hybrid types, that I have tested so far. It looks Volvo, which is very important, but it also behaves Volvo, which is even more crucial to the brand. However, even Volvo appreciates that its greatest notional rival is not other car companies but, rather, the almighty Tesla. Electrifying an XC40 is a relatively easy task, as its CMA platform was designed from the outset to accommodate electric motors and battery packs.
However, Volvo has been playing a major political game in recent times. The EU was determined to accord it a special status, when it was able to respond to its future perceived needs for autonomous transport, by which driver involvement is scant and politicians believe that removal of the driver from the motoring equation will cut to zero the potential of road crash fatalities. In fact, Volvo’s intentions that none of its customers would die in its cars is a 20:20 promise largely fulfilled…but there is more and the push for EVs is it.
The recipe is fascinating: two electric motors (one on the front axle, the other on the rear) and a lithium-ion battery pack consisting of an usable 75kWh, which equates to a whopping 402bhp and 487lbs ft of torque. While this is enough in an XC40 P8 to warrant a 0-60mph dash in a mere 4.6s (not quite Tesla’s ‘Looney-Tunes’ response but quick enough to set you back in the seat in a state of mild shock), the other piece of the political jigsaw is Volvo’s 112mph top whack remit (which makes the Tesla by far the faster option). Volvo has stated, for ‘safety’ reasons, that ALL of its cars are now limited to that figure. To be honest, even with national speed restrictions being what they are, I cannot say that I like it, as it takes nannying to a new carmaker-instigated platform, even though in a neutered ‘autonomous-EV world’ it is probably tolerable.
In some ways, I am glad that Volvo is not playing Tesla’s game. While it tips the scales at a similar rate to a Tesla3 (2.2 tonnes), the P8 can just about manage a 260-miles range on a full charge. Talking of which, even with 150kW DC charging as standard, it will still take around 40-minutes to recharge the batteries to 80% capacity, while a domestic wallbox will demand a minimum of eight hours for a maximum top-up. Yet, it is cheaper than a Tesla but not by much, with the First Edition demanding a far from cool £59,985 from your bank, or funder. Yes. Those are beads of sweat.
In terms of driving experience, I have to state that I am mildly disappointed, because the XC40 P8 both sounds and feels like 99% of the EVs presently on sale. Slightly ‘dead’ on the helm, it is only via judicious electronics that its ride quality can be described as well-resolved. However, even clever engineering cannot disguise the physical mass. Its brake energy recovery system does not rely on shift paddles (a click on the central touchscreen engages it instead) but it will provide single pedal operation.
Its touchscreen is powered by Android Automotive and is more pleasant and reactive to use than the ‘normal’ Volvo Sensus system. While the First Edition is exceptionally well kitted out, with scarcely an XC40 option unticked, promised single motor alternatives and a lower price point will come soon.
Conclusion: Thanks to a decent boot capacity, augmented by the 31-litre ‘froot’ (front boot!), the XC40 P8 is a practical vehicle. However, Volvo needs to tame its pricing team, otherwise a Volvo EV will become an expensive but not premium family car.