Things Haven’t Worked Out As Expected

The author samples Volvo’s first EV-only model.

All images: The author

Thanks to the deep pockets of its parent company, Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, Volvo’s transformation from ICE to electric vehicles is moving ahead at pace. The strategy was devised by outgoing Chief Executive, Håkan Samuelsson, and will be picked up by his successor, Jim Rowan, who takes over this month (March 2022). The days of the fossil-fuelled Swedish car are most definitely numbered.

Having been the proud owner of one of Gothenburg’s finest for the past eighteen months or so, I recently received an invitation to attend a (nationwide) event at my local Volvo dealership in order to sample the new C40 Recharge. This is the first Volvo to be powered solely by electricity, and it comes in a new shape as well, the currently uber-fashionable crossover-coupé.

First impressions on seeing the car on the Volvo dealer’s forecourt were, frankly, rather dissapointing, despite it being the range-topping all-wheel-drive Twin Pro launch model.  While based on the XC40, the shared CMA underpinnings are sufficiently flexible to have facilitated a swift conversion from ICE to EV drivetrain.  This was previewed last year on the XC40 Recharge P8. However, the C40R (as we’ll call it from now on) has a new coupé-style party frock that is intended to accentuate the differences under the skin.

Unfortunately, the styling of the C40R does not sit too well with me. There’s nothing hideously wrong with the way it looks,  but it is far from pleasantly coherent. The front end is a little dumpy. Yes, the Iron Mark is proudly displayed, but character is otherwise sadly lacking. The lower bodyside apes the XC version, whereas the rear is overly fussy. The overall impression is of a collection of gimmicky styling cues that may themselves have been electrocuted. Volvo’s Head of Design, Robin Page, had to try something to make the C40R to stand out from the ever burgeoning crossover gang, one supposes. According to Page, the C40R is “dialled up even more through its dynamic expression and sleek profile.” Er, ok then.

A routine check of my personal credentials precipitated a surprise: the C40R was solely mine for forty-five minutes, with no salesperson to bend my ear. This unexpected turn of events threw your author. There followed a hurried altering of seat and mirrors, muting the (impressive sounding) Harman Kardon sound system, then out onto the mean streets of Sheffield.

Inside, first impressions were far more positive, with comfy seats and a wonderfully bright interior thanks to, a) the sunny weather and, b) the skylight roof. Controls were familiar Volvo fare, but the driving position was noticeably more commanding than in my considerably lower S90 saloon. This was my first experience of sitting higher than ‘lesser’ motoring mortals and part of me felt the instant appeal. And it didn’t wane. Oh dear.

I felt immediately at home, but the silence was unsettling, this also being my first foray into electrical motion. An unfamiliar whine was soon consigned to the oubliette in my head as the progressive forward motion was enjoyed. With 400bhp and 4WD, goodness, this thing shifts! The straight outside the dealership must witness many a lead-footed blast, albeit without the traditional accompanying soundtrack.

All images: The author

Hastily flung into the test drive experience, perhaps one tends not to drive as one normally does.  I was offered next to no information by the cheerful but clueless sales lad, so failed to sample the regenerative braking. In ‘normal’ mode the brakes required a firmer than expected shove. The ‘gear-lever’ took nothing more a flick to operate.

I had checked out internet sources for a heads-up prior to my sampling the C40R. Those fortunate enough to test drive new stuff on a daily basis simply do not know they are born, with their exotic locations and closed road blasts. Whilst we all, no doubt, think we can drive like Verstappen chasing down an under-tyred Mercedes, this test drive quickly settled into something of a familiar routine: heavy traffic, slow moving buses, unexpected manoeuvres from those in front, trying out the (impressive) turning circle and flooring the throttle when (rarely) possible . Even a 0 to 30mph dash is quite thrilling,  however, and 62mph is seen in just 4.7 seconds, apparently.

I noted that many reviewers had lambasted the letterbox-style view rearward. In my short experience, seeing only a part of the lunatic tailgater before he whipped past me proved something of a relief: one could only see the new expression VW logo, as opposed to the whole T-Roc descending upon me. The door mirrors lent perfect rear views, however, so I never felt handicapped when observing gaps or maintaining lane discipline. The front corners are visible, but this is a car wholly dependent on sensors fore and aft for close-quarter manoeuvring.

In my allotted time, I squeezed in around twenty-five miles of driving which included the city grind, a quick motorway blast and some steep country lanes. The outside temperature was a heady nine degrees Celsius, the sun shone the whole time and it was a fortuitously dry event. The battery at the start was, of course, 100%. This had reduced to 83% by the end of my outing. I drove as one would on test; to see how, and to what degree, the C40R differed from my normal, everyday ride. 

And the answer was rather pleasing, actually. As expected, everything is well resolved and expertly screwed together. Entry and egress were a doddle, with no stooping or genuflecting. I didn’t investigate the Android menus, or the glovebox and boot spaces (the latter comprising both front and rear) nor did I come even remotely close to troubling the 112mph Volvo-set limit. 

The unrelenting torque is heady. The cushioned ride, even on 19” wheels, is ample for everyone and everyday. I’m certain that whatever the range is would prove more than adequate in real life. The car’s looks are polarising, mind. The S90 attracted me for its planted stance and devilishly handsome looks. The C40R is just a bit awkward. 

As was the session’s end: like an expectant father awaiting his child’s return, the salesman eagerly solicited my thoughts. Why lie? “That was impressive. Smooth, quiet and effortless,” I replied. Did I have any more questions, he countered, so I asked the price. In this specification, around £55,000. The inevitable “I’ll think about it…” left my lips as I took one last glance at the now dusty silver dawn paintwork. I hastened to my equally dusty but trusty diesel-drinking saloon.

Volvo’s subscription service allows for internet purchasing, home delivery, software updates as applicable and, no doubt, other stress-free options and services for a circa £700 per month outlay. Serious wedge for a serious car. It’s only natural to compare similarly priced, traditionally-engined machines. But, as we plough headfirst into electrical driving, my decision is made.

Regardless of range-anxiety, effortless ease of driving, the sublime peacefulness, or the sticking point of price, the C40R ain’t my cup of tea on its looks alone. But hope holds out for future Swedish fare. Nail the style and I may be prepared to relinquish internal combustion.

The C40R is not a bad car at all, just not my type.

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

26 thoughts on “Things Haven’t Worked Out As Expected”

  1. Good morning, Andrew. I have driven a number of EV’s, the first being the 2012 BMW activeE. It was a very nice driving experience as far as I am concerned. The 170 or so horsepower now sounds a bit pedestrian compared to what we see now, but it was more than adequate. Range was, of course, too limited.

    I haven’t seen a C40R in the metal, even though I live in EV paradise (well maybe that is Norway, but the Netherlands cannot be too far behind). The C40R is not a small car at 4440 millimeters in length, yet it in the photos it manages to look like that. There must be a typo somewhere. It has all the Volvo styling cues, yet it looks hopelessly generic. It weighs 2,045 kgs. I am trying to workout what the payload is, I see figures of 425 kgs (not very impressive) to 525 kgs (good).

    You did 25 miles and the battery charge dropped by 17%, which would extrapolate to range of 147 miles or 237 kilometers. I only use the car for trips of 100 to 250 kilometers or more at the moment, and I want to be able to drive back and forth on a single charge.

    The only redeeming feature this car has is the optional wool blend upholstery. Too bad that comes with the hideous panels on the dashboard.

  2. Good morning, Andrew, and thanks for sharing your impressions of the C40R. Like you, I just cannot get past its overwrought appearance. Volvos should be cars that speak quietly to you. This one shouts. Freerk’s calculation as to real-world range is a bit concerning too.

    Two details of the design are annoying to me. The first is the poorly resolved junction at the base of the A-pillar, where the bonnet looks misaligned with the top edge of the door panel. This issue is shared with the XC40. The second is the ‘blanked-off’ grille. This is expedient in that it allows the C40R to use the bodywork of the ICE version of the XC40, but for £55k I would expect a bespoke treatment.

  3. Very interesting – thank you Andrew. I prefer the looks of the XC40.

    I must say that I too enjoy travelling in an SUV – climbing up in to one gives a sense of occasion and ‘protected isolation’, and the view out is better.

  4. Thank you for your first-hand impressions and real world informations.
    Twenty-five miles on seventeen percent of charge?
    That’s exactly the kind of joke I like.
    And I’m one more who doesn’t like the look.

  5. Hi Andrew, thanks for this report. On cost alone, electric driving is a long way away for me, so all reports about it are interesting to me. I have this strange fundamentalism in me that rejects auto ‘boxes for combusion engines (certain models excluded). This is not helped when I hear a supposedly sporty Merc of VW (driven with cap on backwards, obviously) think, clunk and roar seconds before the actual intended forward motion occurs. (I’m also prone to getting sidetracked in my conversation, by the way.) I enjoy a manual gear shift, but electric drive would be sufficiently different for me to forgo the pleasure. (Is what I was trying to say.)

    Much digital ink has been spilled here about the false security (and inherently greater risk taking) afforded by all the safety equipment that is increasingly getting bolted onto cars. Something similar could be said for the so-called ‘commanding;’ driving position of SUV’s – as evidenced by the way most of them are driven.

    I’m with the others on the looks: the C40 looks to me like an aftermarket special. It accentuates the inherent inbalance in the coupe-suv: a sleek glasshouse on top of a bulbous underbody.

  6. Best not to get too worked up about extrapolating range meter percentages. I’ve yet to find one on an EV which isn’t a damn blasted liar, with a – possibly intentional – tendency towards extreme pessimism when charge is low.

    It takes a bit of learning to drive EVs efficiently. On a first drive it’s easy to be captivated by the effortless and undramatic acceleration. Ordinary rules apply; avoid accelerating hard when there’s no need, don’t rush up hills. However, unlike oil-burning engines, there’s no optimum speed – most IC engines have gearing and engine management set up to give low fuel consumption in top gear at normal highway / motorway speeds. With an EV it’s pretty much linear – at that 112mph maximum[1] you would have seen the range dropping in front of your eyes[2].

    In my i-MiEV days, having got over the novelty, I took some pleasure in trying to minimise the consumption on one particular 10 mile inter-campus round trip. Started off at 3/8 on the gauge, soon down to 1/8, keeping to normal traffic speeds and resisting the temptation to demonstrate the little Mitsubishi’s ability to thrash most supercars in the 0-10mph dash.

    [1] Where safe and legal to do so.
    [2] Which should be concentrated on other things than the instruments, which are more of a ‘desktop’ these days – another irritant from the confluence of automotive and office equipment technologies.

  7. I’ve yet to see a C40R, but it does seem rather too ‘busy’ in its surface design. It’s also too short to look elegant.

    I did a quick check against the Nissan Ariya, which has a 73mm longer wheelbase, and 164mm more overall length, and is the better for it:

    Even in detail the Nissan and Volvo have similarities, but the Ariya seems more relaxed and coherent. Both, of course, are far too damn wide.

    Since Andrew gives him a name-check, we should extend our best wishes to the boy from Greenock who is taking over from the urbane and modest Håkan Samuelsson. Taking the top job at Volvo is one of the nicer posts in the automotive industry as it stands at present. Which is an easy thing to say, given that just about everywhere else is a multi-ingredient poisoned chalice.

    1. Is it just me, or does the Ariya look like it’s ‘bent’ in the middle, not just because of the kink in the sill line, but also because of the way the door skins are contoured, as though they have been forced inwards by upward pressure from below?

    2. Too short to look elegant? When I read the 4440 figure, I was reminded of my Xantia which was quite exactly the same length. It looked kind of compact, but still sleek and long, with an ample wheelbase. So the problem clearly lies elsewhere, not in the length…
      As for the Nissan, the additional length seemed to be spent entirely on the back overhang, which makes it look very tail-heavy and short-snouted. The visual heft seems to be entirely arond the rear wheel. Definitely not my cup of tea.

    3. It’s very easy. In these cars you have to find room for half a ton of batteries. Placint them on the roof would not be a good idea because you wouldn’t be able to go around corners and therefore the batteries are placed underneath the room for passengers. This lifts the car by about twenty centimetres and these have to go somewhere. That’s one of the reasons nearly all of these cars are SUVs and this explains the trend to black rims around the wheelarch cutouts, all there to ‘hide’ the additional metal in the flanks necessary to create the storage room for the batteries.

    4. Hi Dave, That doesn’t at all explain the Tesla S and 3, Taycan, E-Tron GT, EQS, Honda E, (and several others). Perhaps this scene from Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” explains it much better:

  8. The front design of all these E(rror) cars is based upon Renaults Caravelle Cabriolet built from 1959 – 1968.

    Tesla is like a 1:1 copy of Caravelle, whereas Renault parallel Limousine Dauphine was showing up an quite pleasent face.

    I dislike E(rror) cars in principal and their ugly fronts especially, like it happened Ford with the first Sierra and VW with Passat B3 1988-1993

  9. I am a fan of the XC40’s looks, but what they have done to it to create the C40 is lazy and has created an inferior looking car. The grille treatment is poor too – disappointing from Volvo which has been on a design high recently. I note Skoda’s done something similar with the Enyaq Coupe thing, which has a profile like a Model X Tesla but with fussier details. Overall, these SUV coupes are a pretty grim breed.

  10. Great honest article Andrew. Not sure of the shape tbh, but as you say, it’s their start into EVs. Now, an EV S or V90 voujd be interesting. 👍🏻

  11. Doesn´t it seem the beltline is way too high? The distance between the bottom of the door and the glass is enormous. Inside one should feel like he´s seating in a bathtub, it´s a good thing the skylight roof is there. If the stylists wouldn´t have used the trick of painting the sills and the roof in black instead of body color, the sensation of heaviness would be overwhelming. No, I´m not a fan either.

    About the high seating position, I feel uncomfortable in almost every SUV/ MPV I´ve tried because the seat tends to be too distant to the floor and the angle between my thighs and legs is awkward forcing me to “step” on the pedals rather than pushing them. Besides, driving outside town I feel safer if I lower the seat. I suppose the fact of lowering a couple of centimetres 78 kilogrames must do something positive about the centre of gravity.

    The Volvo website declares a WLTP range of 444 kilometres…

    1. Why should WLTP range values for electric cars be any less unrealistic than for combustion engined cars?
      The difference is that in a conventional car it means going to the pump after 800 kms rather than after 1,100 kms but in a battery powered car it means the end of the journey of an additional day for going in a holiday trip.
      The only automotive newspaper daring to quote realistic values for the range of electric cars is Austrian auto revue (highly recommended reading for other reasons also, if your command of Austrian German allows). They quote an every day range derived from their driving in and around Vienna at the speed of surrounding traffic. Their values mostly are around fifty to sixty percent of manufacturers’ exaggerated claims and look a lot more credible.

    2. Oh, the Austrian auto revue. i loved reading it years ago. pure gonzo journalism. i was always surprised that they still had car manufacturers as advertisers. hardly any product was safe from their sharp tongues.

  12. We are now on our third EV in 18 years – always twinned with a traditional Volvo. We started with a Reva G-Wizz (deserving of a story to itself). We have just traded a 2016 e-Up! that we owned for three years for a used Hyundai Kona EV. Alongside is our 19 year old V70 (2.4 automatic) and before that, there was an 850 estate.

    The Kona is also our first SUV and our first foray into what feels like a digital car – the e-Up! places an EV drivetrain in a cheap, well-designed and built analogue machine and is none the worse for it.

    Stated range: After a couple of years we could predict the e-Up! range accurately – it depended radically on the weather and use of heating and AC. The best way to report on range is through consumption. On an optimal run from home in North London to Heathrow (50 miles in all) on a summer evening, keeping up with traffic on the North Circular and A40 and keeping to 55 MPH on the M25 we got our best consumption ever over a distance – 5.6 miles per Kw/H. Multiply by the 16 KwH battery size (useable) and you get a range of about 90 miles. In winter with heating on, cold weather impacting on the battery, consumption could easily be double that – 2.6 miles per Kw/H not unusual. The difference was just enormous. That said, even in winter if range was imperative, you could push to nearer 4 miles per Kw/H by switching the heating off (still have heated seats and demisters going – the front screen had its own heating elements).

    The Hyundai is three years old – and has a huge useable battery and is much larger and heavier than the e-Up!. It is deeply impressive. In winter, heating on, driving at night to the airport and back at 55 MPH or higher on the Motorway is did 4 miles to the Kw/H and with slightly warmer weather seems capable of matching the e-Up!. It is also faster, more spacious, more powerful and has a much larger frontal area than the VW, so this is real progress. Furthermore, the range prediction seems spot-on (although we’ve not come lower than 50 miles remaining yet). Setting off with a full battery in winter we are seeing a predicted range of 255 miles – equating to a whisker under 4 miles per Kw/H – very credible. It is a lovely car – solid, with every driving aid imaginable, the shape is not elegant but not wilfully ugly like the C40 Recharge, which seems to turn its back on elegance and replace it with a mess. Lexus seemingly does the same, but as a statement – not my cup of tea either but it looks contrived rather than inexplicitly improvised like the Volvo.

    And then I use the V70 and I calm down by several notches. It may be familiarity – 22 years of Volvos versus more like 22 days with the Hyundai. The 2002 V70 is a mostly-analogue Volvo. No bongs, bells (unless you leave your seatbelt off). The seats are fantastic. The shapes and colours are calm. Information is where you expect it. Distractions are fewer. The build quality is great – nothing creaks even after 19 years. On a run to Cambridge and back it’ll still exceed 35 miles to the gallon – not bad. Driving takes an adjustment – its amazing how quickly you take for granted lane-keeping and distance keeping aid – quite a disconcerting reflection on myself and how my brain seems to work. It is not at all shamed by the Hyundai and still looks great (except over the rear wheels where I always felt it looks a bit odd). But it is entirely uncontrived – rational and practical an a whole and in every detail. Today’s S and V Volvos still manage that (the S60 best, I think) but the C and XC, less so. Maybe the S will influence the others? Hopefully not the C!

    These are the final days for our V70, though. Needs change. It (and the 850 before it) was always our mainstay car – school runs using the seven seats; family holidays; festivals; moving the kids away from home, back home, away again… I looked at the battery Volvo models – hugely expensive compared with the the Hyundai and worse efficiency. There is no way the purchase could be justified. Once the Volvo has left we’ll think of replacing the e-Up! with something cheap for local drives. Our son may give us back the much loved (by me) Peugeot 107. But maybe an old C30 as a second car to the Hyundai? Now there is a thought! If we are nearing our last-ever internal combustion car, we could still go out in (understated) style.

    1. Hi David, Thank you for this comprehensive report on your experiences. The Kona uses a heat pump (A/C working in reverse) for a main heater instead of direct electric coils, which could partly explain the Kona’s relative efficiency in winter. But that still leaves a disparity for which a number of variables may be responsible, so there must be more to this story, a minor mystery here which fascinates me.

      Also I concur with most of your observations about design. Peter Horbury is still with Geely, so I am still surprised how uncharacteristically dispassionate I feel about the XC40 and C40, which I reconcile by considering them anomalies and failed excursionary experiments for Volvo, from which hopefully they may have already moved on. Christopher Butt’s latest thought provoking piece [at Design Field Trip] on the Polestar 02, which he notes is both perfectly acceptable and also somehow lacking in the lustworthiness department (inasmuch as one might expect from a sports car) is also telling. Yet I find hope in the recent Volvo concept depicted below, a positive indication that that fragrant and comfort inducing gløgg is still flowing in Gothenburg :

      I will hope that it signifies the inner flame lit by Wilsgaard and sustained through Horbury will continue to warm our hearts moving forward. (Never mind the lidar sensor, note instead the adequate glass area and clear sight lines: IMO, the timely “innovative” safety feature the industry needs right now, and a perfect way for Volvo to once again proffer a traditional strength if not a USP.)

  13. Good evening Andrew. A nicely written piece about a vehicle that looks like most of the other SUV’s around. I understand the principle of “higher up is safer” but wonder if it is actually true?
    I was behind a Range Rover Discovery recently that towered over my C Class to the point where I felt overlooked…
    I also find the wheel design on the Volvo not to my liking either I’m afraid.

    1. Agreed about Andrew’s writing which I am remiss to have praised, a lot of points sensitively and coherently reviewed in the allotted space makes for a most pleasant and stimulating discussion.

      My default mode would be to ignore CUVs entirely, nevertheless the measured depth of the discussion is quite fulfilling, like a hearty meal in place of the junk food that is cynicism. I will admit to having at times giving in to the intellectually lazy respite of snark, but it’s more rewarding to become engaged in a deeper and more serious analysis, where we can learn from each other. Thanks again Andrew, and also cheers to the editors for upholding the kind of thoughtful civility and refined taste that more commercially oriented publishing outlets cannot manage to sustain.

  14. Thanks everyone not only for the kind comments but also the real world analysis. I find it fascinatingly polarising.

    I then remembered a quip from the salesman saying that values of ICE cars were now going down as EV’s we’re “beginning to dominate.” Who am I to judge someone who works directly in the trade but most places I look and read suggest, for used values certainly, that if anything prices appear to be rising as demand for known, fossil fuelled cars ramps up? The game of chance continues; stick with what you know and eventually your car will be worthless (just like old times) or switch over to electric, adjust your driving styles and habits and be mindful of your routes charging point. And pay royally for such a thing as the C40R. – the car left an impression but a week on I’m still not rushing down to place an order.

    The Ariya looks quite nice in that shade of copper but no appointments are being made anytime soon to sample other brands electrical appliances.

  15. My 2021 Honda CIVIC EX looks better all the time, despite being a explosion-in-a-mattress-factory “design”. At least it is a sedan with good mpg, decent seats, good power from its 1.5L turbo 4 and some fun-to-drive quotient aided by the hi-po AS Contis I installed! The Civic is rather the exact opposite, to me, of my wife’s 2020 Honda CR-V EX-L. Neither is electric obviously, but the CR-V is a Silly Ugly Vehicle which most sheepullz are now buying-WHY?

    IMhO the current crop of E vehicles still have a long way to go given the recharging capabilities currently (geddit?) available plu$ the very high co$t of battery pack replacement should one keep the vehicle long enough to need a change out. I’ll stick with my ICE vehicles for now! DFO

  16. This was a great read, and addresses some of my curiousity about EVs. I have never driven one before.

    While the looks are not my cup of chai either, I find it amazing how far Volvo has come over the last 40 years. I first drove a Volvo, a yellow 240, back in the mid 80s. This fullsome car had the dynamics of a T-72. Assisted no doubt by the heavy tool box the owner had left permanently in the boot. And one could be forgiven to think the accelerator pedal was broken while gently urging the 240 to go faster.

    To be now told that ‘this thing shifts’ comes as a pleasant surprise. I must dispense some of prejudices against Volvo.

  17. Thanks for this Andrew, an excellent review and the comments have been insightful and informative.

    I have just bought a 2018 MY XC60 T8 which is a plug in hybrid with petrol engine.

    This offers a compromise of reasonable battery range, say 20-30 mile real life range alongside the security blanket of an ICE engine where a longer range is needed. We do tow and there is no pure electric car that fills that brief at the moment – plenty can tow, the problem is the range is understandably much reduced so most trips would need an intermediate charge which would in turn mean uncoupling the caravan . Which doesn’t sound much but it’s not a two minute job – more like fifteen – twenty just to uncouple and recouple.

    The very strong performance is a nice side benefit. Combined the ICE and motor produce 399 hp which makes it the most powerful car I’ve ever owned by a country mile. Not that there’s any real point to all the performance on today’s roads but it did bring a smile to my face when I first tried the full fat acceleration.

    I was very tempted by the V90 version of the same power train, it is a great looking car and I have always had a love of longroofs. In the end the higher driving position won out and there seemed to be better availability of the SUV version. Sign of the times.

    On the C40, I don’t mind the styling, it’s not German shouty, although perhaps that’s faint praise.

    We looked at the Germans but preferred to travel the road (a little) less trodden.

    Thanks again Andrew, keep enjoying Nimrod.

  18. One point regarding the “unfamiliar whine”. Have only passenger’ed in a few but every electric car I have encountered a whine which I find intensely annoying. Not the volume, they are quiet, a ‘fingernails on blackboard’ effect that I find hard to ignore. Anyone else noticed?

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