Why The Volvo C40 Is A Giant Leap For The EV Movement

Electric Vehicles / 29 Comments

A detailed look at why Volvo's electric crossover is worth thinking about.

There's a pervasive opinion in tech circles that legacy automakers are disadvantaged when it comes to electric vehicles. What your average tech journalist writes about computers and cellphones for a living forgets is, well, a lot of things. Most importantly, though, are the facts that a drivetrain and infotainment system are just two components of a car. The rest of a vehicle is a complicated mix of physics and ergonomics built to a price point for manufacturing. Also, manufacturing is expensive, complex, and challenging to start. Those are the things that legacy automakers, in most cases, have been developing for decades. That doesn't mean new automakers don't have a chance to step up and get in the game; far from it, it just means legacy automakers aren't starting from scratch. So when they design something with a couple of electric motors and a battery pack rather than an internal combustion engine and a fuel tank, they're already pushing every other aspect of the car forward rather than playing catchup. That's the feeling we got jumping in the new Volvo C40 Recharge for the first time.

CarBuzz / Ian Wright
CarBuzz / Ian Wright

Interior: Unique Yet Volvo

Practicality and versatility are a big part of a crossover's appeal, and to get that into a compact crossover requires creativity. Two crucial factors lead to the C40 having a uniquely practical interior. First, the architecture of the C40 was designed with the sound system in mind, and part of that sound system is a "free air subwoofer." A free air subwoofer doesn't need an enclosure to create solid bass, so it's considerably smaller than a traditional subwoofer. In this case, it's mounted at the front of the dashboard rather than in the cargo area. The door speakers are then carefully placed to allow nice deep storage pockets without sacrificing the Harman Kardon sound signature. Second, as there's no mechanical connection to the transmission, what would typically be the transmission tunnel is now a useful storage area. That isn't unusual in an EV, but Volvo has gotten creative, and there's even a wastebasket that can be removed and emptied.

CarBuzz / Ian Wright
CarBuzz / Ian Wright
CarBuzz / Ian Wright
CarBuzz / Ian Wright
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There are other thoughtful and impactful design features included, like a wire guide for the USB ports so that dangling cables can be a thing of the past.

Interior materials are an essential part of Volvo cars, and the brand is pushing hard to use sustainable and recycled materials. Hence, the C40 doesn't use any leather, and the seat coverings use Microtech material, a suede-like textile made from recycled polyester. The carpeting's main component is recycled plastic bottles, yet the entire interior is as premium feeling and will wear like any other Volvo interior. The C40 is only available in one trim level for now, and leather isn't an option. It doesn't need to be. Detail-wise, the concave dash and door panels are etched with a topographical representation of Lapland's Abisko National Park. At night, the graphic glows as it's backlit with LEDs.

CarBuzz / Ian Wright
CarBuzz / Ian Wright
CarBuzz / Ian Wright
CarBuzz / Ian Wright

Technology: All About Google

Volvo (and its Polestar spin-off brand) is one of the first companies to embrace going directly to the source of smartphone technology for its infotainment system. Google Assistant is baked into the C40 to the point a future Over-The-Air (OTA) update will allow people using Google smart home systems to precondition the climate control using voice control in their house. For now, that is taken care of via Volvo's smartphone app, but right now, you can control the climate functions via voice command while driving and the navigation system without the need to connect a phone. The infotainment system comes pre-loaded with media apps like Spotify and YouTube Music developed for automotive use. More will follow through the Google Play store.

The 12.3-inch digital dashboard display has a Calm Mode that displays necessary information clearly and uses icons to show when features like Pilot Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control, and Speed Limit Assist are in use. Navi Mode is self-explanatory and only shows essential driver information while optimizing the space for navigational use.

CarBuzz / Ian Wright
CarBuzz / Ian Wright
CarBuzz / Ian Wright
CarBuzz / Ian Wright

Drivetrain: Thought-Out And On-Par

It seems that in the transition from internal combustion power to electric power, we are replacing the horsepower war with the range war. This is a mistake. Range is expensive and increases the weight carried around by the vehicle dramatically. The key for people looking to get into an EV is buying one with the right amount of range for their lifestyle. Volvo has done the math for the C40's key demographic, figured out the cost, and come up with a battery that gives an EPA-estimated 261 miles of range. In theory, someone that drives 40 miles per day will still have sixty miles for the weekend if they don't charge all week. In reality, a Volvo owner will have a garage and be able to slow charge overnight to keep it topped off for the weekend. They also have a healthy 402 horsepower with 486 lb-ft of instant torque, creating a 0-60 mph time of 4.7 seconds.

For the nerds, the C40 uses two 150kW permanent-magnet synchronous AC electric motors creating permanent AWD. 500A inverters feed them via a 78 kWh (75 kWh usable) lithium-ion high-voltage battery composed of two lithium-ion cells configured in parallel connected stacks.

CarBuzz
CarBuzz
CarBuzz
CarBuzz

Convenience: The New Paradigm

In a world of sensors and computer control, the start/stop button isn't long for this world. We already experienced this with the Polestar 2, and like the sedan, the C40 doesn't have a start/stop button. With the key fob in your pocket, just get in the driver's seat, depress the brake, put the car in drive, and pull away. At the end of a journey, it's just a case of putting the car in park, getting out, and locking the doors to instruct the car to power down. Also convenient is the single-pedal driving experience. While it's not new for an electric car to automatically start braking when coming off the throttle, Volvo's implementation for the C40 is excellent. We spent the day driving around Palm Springs in California and used the brake pedal exactly twice, and both when traffic lights decided to be inconvenient. The added bonus is that one-pedal driving means that the braking is all regenerative - meaning that an inverter is using the kinetic energy generated to recharge the battery.

CarBuzz / Ian Wright
CarBuzz / Ian Wright
CarBuzz / Ian Wright
CarBuzz / Ian Wright

Pricing: Mega Value

There's one price ($58,750) and one fully-loaded spec for the C40, and it's hard to beat in the premium segment for a top-trim all-electric crossover. While new brands have to come in on the high end to justify the cost of a whole new car, manufacturing process, and headline-grabbing numbers, Volvo can deliver its compact crossover at the price you expect for a premium level model. While people in the comments complain about range, Volvo has done the math while taking into account how far people drive this kind of vehicle in the real world, how much power the C40 should have, and cost. The average Volvo driver has a garage and the means to install a charger. Volvo has even thought through choosing the side that the power source is plugged into on the C40. Volvo puts its fuel-filler caps on the passenger side of its cars so if someone runs out of fuel; they're not standing right next to traffic with a fuel can. However, the plug is on the driver's side for recharging as people worry about forgetting their car was charging and backing out while still being plugged in.

CarBuzz / Ian Wright
CarBuzz / Ian Wright
CarBuzz / Ian Wright
CarBuzz / Ian Wright

Conclusion: Polished To Perfection

Volvo isn't treating its customers as beta testers. Instead, the Swedish brand has taken everything it has been developing and aimed it at people that embrace the company's values of safety and sustainability while offering a forward-thinking drivetrain in a complete package. A full suite of safety features? Check. An ecologically friendly interior designed and built to Volvo's already high standards? Check. Technology designed around how people use their vehicles in the 21st century? Check. Utility wrapped in Volvo's distinctive and ever-evolving design language? Check. Comfortable ride quality and confidence-inspiring vehicle dynamics? Check. A drivetrain that ensures the vehicle is quick and has the range most people need between charges? Check. Is this writer impressed enough that he is thinking about putting his own money where his mouth is? Check.

CarBuzz / Ian Wright
CarBuzz / Ian Wright
CarBuzz / Ian Wright
CarBuzz / Ian Wright
CarBuzz / Ian Wright
CarBuzz / Ian Wright
CarBuzz / Ian Wright
CarBuzz / Ian Wright

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