New car test: Volvo C40: the proletarian Polestar?

Until now, Volvo showed off its electric expertise into its top-of-the-range Polestar brand. Announcing its full range electrification for 2030, the Swedish brand must accelerate. Just  what it is obviously doing from now on as it will introduce one electric model per year for the next five years. First one is the C40 built in the Ghent factory…

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On the external design front, this 100% electric Volvo does not revolutionize the current codes of the Nordic brand. Once again, rectangular shapes create a “strongness” feeling. Next to an XC40, the C40 does not hide its inspiration as it resembles it up to the central pillar. From then on, its roofline drops sharply to give it a more dynamic look. Naturally, the rear doors are smaller. The C40 loses 6.5 cm in height but is 1.5 cm longer while its wheelbase is similar to that of the XC40 (2.7m). The rear spoiler and lights are beautifully designed. The fixed panoramic roof is standard but, strangely, the inside blind disappeared. The boot offers 490 litres of cargo space and there is an additional 31 litre storage space under the front bonnet.

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Green and reusable

The interior is typical Volvo, with clean lines and the XC40 dashboard. It features elements made of recycled plastics. The launch version uses carpets and door panels made from recycled bottles in a very 70’s vintage blue shade, we can’t help but thinkink this has a  definite communist Eastern Europe flavour ! However, this is just a matter of taste, obviously. Eventually, the veggy leather makes for a perfect illusion. Unfortunately, the sweet smell of real leather left car interiors a long time ago. The digital screens are pretty large size and the car benefits from a new Google-provided device.

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However, it did not always work quickly enough during our brief test drive. The rear seat is pretty welcoming,  except in its middle part as the passenger sitting there has to deal with a large transmission tunnel. The interior storage spaces are rather well laid out and generously sized. Smartphone induction charging is standard. The back window being reduced to the size of a loophole doesn’t help rear view. You’ll have to get used to looking only in the side mirrors when changing lanes, for example.

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It gets worse…

As is customary with electric cars, the most powerful version will be marketed first. A cheaper single-motor version with 265 hp being scheduled for Spring 2022. Using two electric motors on each axle, the C40’s power is an impressive 408bhp, the torque being an astonishing 660Nm. This setting and figures are shared with the XC40 T8 Recharge. These electric units supplied by Valeo-Siemens, are powered by a 78 kWh gross (75 kWh net) battery, giving them a claimed range of 424 km. Once seated in a comfortable chair (however, the headrest bows too far forward- a bad Scandinavian habit), one looks in vain for the start button. All that’s needed is to press the brake pedal and set the lever to D or R to make the C40 move. It’s even more confusing when you leave the car after having, of course, pressed the P button for parking.

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The first few kilometres immediately highlight the car’s excellent soundproofing and the rather reduced running gear whine. Tipically, it’s usually the only noise that disturbs the peace and quietness of electric vehicles.  It is clear that Volvo has taken particular care in this respect. On the motorway, there is enough torque and power to dismiss any car that would  prevent you from moving forward at the desired pace with a light and measured press on the accelerator. Unfortunately, the picture gets worse once you want to use more power. We were glued to the seat during our first acceleration (Volvo claims 0 to 100 km/h in 4.7 seconds), and we approached the first curves with optimism. However, the Volvo C40 2.2 tons soon made themselves felt and forced us to approach the curves at a much slower pace than we had hoped. Any attempt at dynamic driving is immediately sanctioned by exaggerated roll, while the braking system seems to lack consistency. What a waste!

About average

Using the available power immediately has a trade-off in reducing the range. During this short test, our average consumption was 24 kWh… which is rather high and made the range drop to around 320 km. Fortunately, there is a regenerative system that can be used only when decelerating or with the e-pedal function. This allows you to come to a complete stop using only the accelerator pedal. Activated from the central screen, braking is powerful but not violent. When it comes to recharging, the C40 can only handle 11 kW of AC power, which means an 8 hour recharging time. Using DC, it only offers a maximum charge of 150 kW, but you can still go from 10 to 80% charge in 37 minutes. Let’s talk about the price, now. At € 62,150, the C40 is undoubtedly expensive for the average motorist. According to Volvo, a 2WD XC40 T5 Recharge with the same equipment level and 262 HP costs €61,389.

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It’s obvious that driving an electric vehicle for a few hours is quite pleasant. You can accelerate as you wish and take full advantage of its power, comfort and innovative character without worrying about its range. However, we cannot avoid being worried. While many of our friends have been telling us for a very long time that it is no longer possible to enjoy a sports car, Volvo and other car makers are offering electric vehicles with stratospheric power levels that are impossible to enjoy on some of the forgotten roads of our little kingdom. Their sheer mass and inadequate handling seeing to that… A strange paradox. (Translation: Dimitri Urbain)

Built in Belgium!

The Volvo C40 is assembled in the 590,000m² Ghent factory. There are 6,500 workers and it produces 3 models: XC40, V60 and C40, at a rate of 1,000 cars/day. In 2020, 194,890 Volvos were built in Belgium, 94% of which were exported. The battery assembly hall was inaugurated in 2019 and by 2022, more than half of the facilities will build electric models. In total, there should be  135,000 electric cars leaving the factory, including 55,000 C40s. Like other manufacturers, Volvo aims to limit its CO2 emission levels as much as possible. Recently, the brand  invested heavily in various technologies aimed at reducing its carbon footprint, such as the use of hydrogen to produce part of its energy.
Volvo Cars starts production of C40 Recharge in Ghent, Belgium
Short test drive: Volvo XC60 Recharge T8 AWD

Once again, Volvo improved the Plug-in Hybrid system used in the XC60 and XC90.  Short test drive couldn’t really show the extend of improvement but it is worth noting that they now use a bigger battery and… that their electric driving range is said to have improved, from 50 to 90 km. That’s thanks to a third layer of cells increasing the nominal energy from 11.6 kWh to 18.8 kWh and a more powerful rear electric motor delivering 145 hp. 

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The Recharge T6 has 350 HP and the Recharge T8 has 455 HP ! Here too, the one-pedal drive system so typical of EVs can be used. Volvo hopes to convince the remaining petrolheads to buy an electric vehicle in the future...as well as fleet managers, by offering them CO² emission standards that are compatible with the company car tax system.

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