Electrification is coming fast, and the greatest ideological quandary for manufacturers that embrace it is whether to buy or build an EV platform. Is it better to invest the huge amounts necessary to create an all-new architecture or hammer out an existing vehicle for electric operation? While the first approach is braver and more future proof, it’s also much more expensive. Lacking the ability to write as many zeros on a check as larger makers such as Volkswagen, Volvo has taken the second option with its 2021 XC40 Recharge P8.
Volvo’s Compact Modular Architecture underpins the Recharge and was designed with electrification in mind—it also forms the basis for the Polestar 2 EV—but its engineers still had to make substantial changes to accommodate the P8’s powertrain and ensure it is as safe as any other XC40. Compact 201-hp electric motors power each axle, with the front end having gained a new reinforcing underbody structure in place of the regular model’s internal-combustion engine. This space also houses the powertrain’s electronic controls and a small frunk designed to accommodate a charging cable. A 75-kWh lithium-ion battery pack is mounted under the floor in an aluminum cage, where it reduces ground clearance from 8.3 inches to 6.9. But in terms of packaging, the only compromise is a nearly 25-percent smaller cargo hold behind the rear seats.
The P8 mostly looks like a regular XC40, too. From the outside, only model-specific badging and the lack of both a conventional radiator grille and any exhaust tailpipes serve to distinguish it from its fossil-fueled brethren. The passenger compartment is similarly unchanged beyond the replacement of the tachometer in the digital instrument cluster with a power-flow meter. As with other XC40s, cabin space is good by the standards of the compact SUV segment, although materials are more redolent of durability than luxury. The only other notable revision is the pioneering arrival of Volvo’s new Android-based operating system that’s shared with the Polestar 2, which combines some vehicle controls and infotainment functions and is navigated via the central portrait-oriented touchscreen.
The P8 shares both its powertrain and 402-hp total output with the Polestar 2, but the two vehicles have very different characters. We expect the slightly heavier Volvo to be almost as rapid as the Polestar with an estimated 4.3-second zero-to-60-mph time; we clocked the Polestar at 4.1 seconds to 60 mph. The immediacy of the powertrain’s response is impressive, and the twin motors give their all almost silently. Traction is excellent, even in the damp conditions we tested the car in, although the level of thrust tails off at higher speeds. We still had no difficulty confirming the 112-mph speed limiter that Volvo now fits to all of its cars.
Abrupt acceleration is the XC40 Recharge’s occasional party trick, but not one that really suits its character. The P8’s suspension settings are pliant and clearly biased more toward comfort than iron-fisted body control. The Recharge weighs an estimated 4900 pounds, or roughly a half-ton more than an all-wheel-drive gasoline XC40 T5. On undulating surfaces the chassis struggles to settle down, and larger bumps had the passive dampers fighting to maintain disciplined control. The mighty electric motors have no difficulty motivating the P8’s bulk, but persuading its mass to quickly change direction results in the front tires quickly surrendering to understeer.
The P8 is far more impressive when driven at a casual pace. There’s something almost Bentley-like about its combination of effortless acceleration and relaxed handling. Cruising refinement is excellent, with only the faintest hint of wind noise coming from the tops of the doors at 75 mph. Volvo’s Pilot Assist remains one of the better smart-cruise-control systems, capable of deftly managing both stop-and-go congestion and flowing traffic.
Volvo’s regenerative-braking setup allows you to select a one-pedal driving mode that delivers forceful deceleration when you let off the accelerator. But we actually found this setting a little too aggressive for smooth operation at urban speeds. Switching it off allows the P8 to coast, with both regenerative and friction braking controlled by the left pedal. Volvo is predicting an EPA range of more than 200 miles, with the P8 supporting DC fast charging at speeds of up to 150 kW—enough to take the battery from empty to 80 percent in just 40 minutes. Maxing our the car’s 11-kW onboard charger with a Level 2 charging station will replenish the pack in around 7.5 hours.
The Android operating system is generally a welcome addition, although Volvo says the version we experienced didn’t represent the final specification. The core interface looks great, with intuitive and crisply rendered app icons on the central touchscreen. But the mapping for the Google-based navigation seemed no better than the one you’d get running Android Auto on a smartphone. It failed to label sizeable towns when zoomed out and rendered minor roads as thin black lines that looked like cracks on the high-definition screen.
Considering Volvo’s pledge that by 2025 half of all the cars it produces globally will be EVs, with the remainder either hybrids or plug-ins, the fully electric XC40 Recharge impresses on many levels. But with an expected price that will just slip under $50,000, not including federal and local tax credits, we expect it will have to fight to find its niche within a quickly expanding premium EV segment. While the United States likely won’t get the less-powerful and more affordable front-wheel-drive version that will be sold in other markets, the Recharge P8 does nicely illustrate Volvo’s commitment to electrification.
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