Volvo C40 Recharge Ultimate (2023) review – tech-savvy, tech-savvy comfort
The beginning of the future of electric cars
The Volvo C40 Recharge is one of the company’s newest models, which was built from the beginning as a fully electric vehicle. It’s a sporty compact SUV packed with technology. It’s (mostly) excellent to drive and at R1.3 million, it may be the most affordable luxury EV available in South Africa.
Information and entertainment
The Volvo C40 Recharge is one of the latest battery electric cars to make its way to South Africa. Things I spent a few hours behind the wheel at a local launch event in the Western Cape several months ago. Lately, we’ve been spending a little more time with it, trying to figure out if this is the electric car that will convince more people to ditch their gasoline-hungry machines. Imagine a future where you don’t have to monitor gasoline prices every month. Wouldn’t that be nice?
The C40 Recharge appears to be the first Volvo to be designed solely as a pure electric vehicle, while the Swedish manufacturer’s other EV offerings, such as the XC40, are also available in hybrid and ICE derivatives. It certainly won’t be the last electric-only car from the company as it aims to sell only electric cars by 2030.
The XC40 and C40 Recharge share many similarities. In fact, the C40 is just a sportier version of the XC40, in terms of looks and performance. From the outside, this is most evident in the XC40’s sloping rear rather than the XC40’s boxy appearance.
Along with the ramp, Volvo has included a few embellishments that nod to the C40’s understated performance – a drop-top rear roof and a spoiler. The rear styling is supposed to make the C40 more aerodynamic to help with battery range, but it costs you 15 liters of cargo space and 62mm of rear passenger headroom while only getting you an extra 10km over the XC40.
Go across the distance
The total range of the 78 kWh lithium-ion battery pack inside the C40 Recharge is supposed to be 510 kilometres, according to Volvo’s website. This will depend on your driving style, conditions and how well you use the built-in range enhancer.
You have a few options when it comes to shipping. During the week we spent driving our review model around Johannesburg, the full charge it came with lasted all the time with an average usage of 22.6kWh/100km.
C40 Recharge buyers will receive a Volvo wall charger and a seven-metre charging cable with their car. Although this is a great addition, it does make you dependent on the availability of electricity at home which we all know is not guaranteed and not exactly cheap if you get it from Eskom or City Power.
If your home has three-phase power, a wall box charger is capable of producing 11 kWh, so it takes approximately eight hours to fully charge. That’s not bad, considering that the provided cable used to connect it directly to the wall can only do 2.3 kWh. When you don’t have to wait all night for a charge, publicly available chargers can be found spread across the country.
If you’re lucky enough to find a 150-kWh fast charger that’s unoccupied, Volvo says a 10-80% charge will only take 27 minutes. We recommend that you become a friend of GridCar’s interactive charging station map if you are a potential electric vehicle owner.
These horses are electric
Although the sporty trappings may seem a bit out of place in a Volvo, they make sense when you’re behind the wheel. Although the C40 Recharge still looks a lot like a Volvo — a Volvo crossover — it still features the kind of performance we’ve enjoyed from electric cars.
Maximum power and peak torque are rated at 300kW and 660Nm respectively. The 0-100 km sprint takes just 4.7 seconds, and the top speed is 180 km/h. That’s a bit more than other similar vehicles in this segment and not something we’d expect from a brand known for its sensible, safety-first approach.
Volvo only offers the top-spec C40 Recharge Ultimate in South Africa. It features a dual motor setup, one for each axis. This means that the all-wheel drive system is ready to apply all its available power to the road below you at a moment’s notice.
There’s something special to be said about passing other vehicles as if they were stationary with little to no sound except for the slight sound of the electric motor. Especially when the occupants of said stationary vehicles have to do a double take because they didn’t expect that from a Volvo.
Performance around turns didn’t bring the same pleasure. There’s no getting away from the fact that it feels like you’re driving a tank sometimes, having to carry all that battery weight. Despite the sloping rear, the C40 Recharge still feels a bit more top-heavy and we would have liked the steering to feel more present. But we tend to let that slide. After all, this is still a crossover SUV.
The sporty, sloping rear end may have hinted at the C40 Recharge’s performance, but inside the cabin it’s a different story. Volvo has designed a wonderfully sophisticated cabin that will feel familiar to previous Volvo owners but is still advanced enough in 2023.
Comfort, meets technology
That was evident from the moment we climbed in and instinctively looked for the “start” button. There is no one. All you have to do is climb inside and select ‘Drive’ or ‘Reverse’ via the central selector and you’re off the car. It took some time to get used to but we enjoyed the ease of use. Just as we enjoyed “one-pedal” driving, as Volvo calls it. This activates regenerative braking with maximum effect and eliminates the need to manually brake in all but a few scenarios.
We also appreciate the fact that Volvo’s infotainment system now runs on Google’s Android Automotive. This means the 9-inch vertical central screen works just like an Android smartphone. It makes managing over-the-air updates much easier on Volvo’s part, so you won’t have to visit the dealer as often. This also means that if you’re not very familiar with Android, you may not have a good time right away. The phrase “unnecessarily complicated” comes to mind.
Google Maps, Google Assistant, and the Play Store are all supported natively and pre-installed, expanding your choice of just about everything. Climate is also controlled through the central display. There aren’t any physical buttons, so we recommend spending some time getting to know the layout as it’s not always as intuitive as Volvo intended.
The C40 Recharge’s 12-inch driver display is located where you’d normally find the instrument cluster. It provides you with information while driving although we would have liked to have a few more customizable options here than the current two – ‘Calm’ or ‘Navi’.
Other interior highlights include an ambient lighting system that you might not care about, an air filtration system that you’ll probably care about a little more, and a 12-channel Harmon Kardon sound system that you’ll totally care about if you’re under 40.
We did find one fairly big issue during our time with the C40 Recharge – driver visibility. Our model’s windows were tinted a little too aggressively for our liking, which affected visibility, especially at night.
The standard panoramic sunroof is fun when the sun is shining but isn’t much help at night. Besides the small rear window thanks to that sloping rear fascia, there were times during our review when getting in and out of tight spaces took longer than it should. This is with the help of Volvo’s 360-degree camera system.
Speaking of which, Volvo’s other assistive safety features are also present, such as cross-traffic alert, blind-spot information system, collision avoidance, and lane-keep assist. It’s there if you want it or can be turned off if you can find it in the menus.
Verdict Volvo C40 Recharge Ultimate (2023).
If it wasn’t already obvious, the Volvo C40 Recharge really impressed us. They offer a triple combination of cutting-edge comfort, effortless instant power, and technical capabilities that we think many people will find very attractive. The starting price of R1,324,000 certainly isn’t cheap so we don’t expect the streets to be full of C40 Recharges any time soon. But if you’re looking for an all-electric, tech-packed luxury compact SUV, put it at the top of your shortlist, or at least in the top three.