Driven: The 2023 Volvo C40 Is A Stellar EV That Needs One Change

Test Drive / Comments

With one alteration, the C40 would be close to the perfect EV.

Our first drive of the 2023 Volvo C40 Recharge yielded a glowing review, so we set out to see if that highly positive opinion could stand up to a week of testing. Not to be confused with past C-prefix Volvo models like the C30 or C70, the C40 Recharge is an SUV Coupe version of the standard XC40 Recharge, which is itself the all-electric version of the gas-powered XC40. Sound confusing? Well, Volvo's next EV will be called the EX90 and the Swedish automaker just trademarked the name C60, likely for a larger SUV Coupe.

Based on price, the C40 competes in a rather diverse segment of compact electric luxury crossovers, including the Audi Q4 e-tron, Genesis GV60, Mercedes-Benz EQB, and the Tesla Model Y (after its recent price drop). Each one of these competitors has its own strengths and weaknesses, and the Volvo is no exception. There is a lot to love about the Volvo C40 but there's one reason we'd hesitate to recommend it in its current form.

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An SUV Coupe Done Right

Designing a coupe-like SUV can be a challenging task, which is why so many of them end up looking awkward. Volvo managed to transform the XC40 into a sleeker shape without ruining its attractive design. Especially when finished in the signature (and delightfully Swedish) Fjord Blue, the C40 draw stares from other drivers who want to learn more about it. For just $695, Tesla owners will be green with envy over this eye-catching blue.

Despite only being offered as an EV, the C40 doesn't scream "electric" with its design elements. The grille is mostly covered in body-colored panels, but it doesn't have a faceless front end like some of its competitors. We particularly like the raked rear end, which reminds us of sporty Volvos from the past such as the C30 and P1800.

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The World's Smartest Interior

Some interior designer from Volvo came into a meeting one day and asked, "what if we make an interior that actually works for people?" And everyone else nodded in agreement. The C40 features so many thoughtful little touches that make us wonder why every car doesn't come with them.

For example, the center console has a removable trash bin for those annoying receipts you usually stick in the cupholder. Women who never have a place for their purse with a passenger in the car can now hang it on the flip-out hook in the glovebox. There's a little plastic tab on the windshield to place parking passes and the trunk floor folds up to create a a divider with built-in bag hooks.

Whoever crafted this interior truly understands how drivers actually use their cars. Then for a bit of fun, they added some nifty design elements like blue carpets, Swedish flags on the seats, and topographical trim that lights up at night.

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Google Makes Life Easier

Much like the interior itself, the C40's user interface is highly intuitive to interact with. The system is powered by Google's Android Automotive software, much like the Polestar 2. It features excellent voice command that parallels a smartphone, with the ability to ask any question that a Google device could answer. The system is great at telling jokes, reporting sports scores, or answering obscure trivia, but it's most useful on long road trips. Google Maps can plan your route to include charging stations, and it can even predict and display how much charge you will have when you reach the destination.

Our only criticism of the infotainment lies with the cameras. The backup camera looks like it uses a fish-eye lens and the surround-view camera is low-resolution for a vehicle at this price range.

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More Fun Than A Gas Volvo

We've driven pretty much every Volvo on sale, and we can say with confidence that the C40 is the most enjoyable one to drive (yes, even including the Polestar Engineered models). Volvo only offers the C40 one way: a Recharge Twin with two electric motors combining to produce 402 horsepower and 487 lb-ft of torque. Volvo says the C40 can hit 60 mph in just 4.5 seconds (two-tenths quicker than the XC40 Recharge). Not only is this time comparable to the plug-in hybrid Polestar Engineered cars, but it's also smoother, quieter, and less complicated.

None of the C40's competitors can match its impressive acceleration at this price range, not even the Tesla Model Y Long Range (which takes 4.8 seconds to hit 60). An updated AWD variant with different in-house developed motors has just been announced, as has a single-motor rear-wheel-drive model. It will be interesting to compare those with the version we tested here.

Those impressive acceleration numbers can be a bit underwhelming at first, since the C40's throttle is tuned more for comfort than for hooligan antics. A quick stab of the pedal will result in a rapid jolt forward, but there's no sport mode available for a more thrilling drive experience. That being said, the C40's steering is pretty accurate and body roll is minimal thanks to the low center of gravity.

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Lackluster Range And Charging Speeds

Now we reach our biggest gripe with the Volvo C40: range. The 78 kWh battery (75 kWh usable) only provides an EPA-rated 226 miles of range. This is three additional miles over the XC40, but it's less than the Audi Q4 e-tron (up to 265 miles, Genesis GV60 (up to 248 miles), Mercedes EQB (up to 250 miles), and far less than the Tesla Model Y (330 miles).

Since most EV owners will only ever charge up to 80-90%, this will be the difference between the car showing that magical 200-mile number or a range that starts with a one. When the car was delivered to us, it showed an 88% charge with only 170 miles of range.

This wouldn't be as much of an issue if the C40 offered class-leading charging speeds, but the 150 kW peak rate is slower than all but the EQB and only tied with the Audi. Genesis and Tesla have Volvo completely outclassed in this area. Volvo says the C40 can reach an 80% charge in around 37 minutes on a DC fast charger, but unless you have perfect conditions, our experience says it will take longer.

After we drove the C40 you see here, Volvo announced an improved range (up to 37 miles more for certain variants, albeit on the WLTP cycle) and a maximum charging speed raised to 200 kW. A WLTP range of 315 miles for the AWD version is claimed, and a rear-wheel-drive model was also announced with a 275-mile range in extended range guise. If the EPA supports these numbers, the C40 will be far more competitive following these updates.

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Priced Against Strong Competition

The 2023 Volvo C40 starts at $55,300 for the base Core model, and the Ultimate trim adds $4,800 for niceties such as Harmon Kardon audio, Pilot Assist, adaptive cruise control, a heat pump, heated rear seats, a power passenger seat, and folding rear headrests. Volvo's pricing is higher than Audi or Mercedes, but those cars can overlap the C40 in their upper trims. The Q4 e-tron and EQB offer superior range, but the C40 is quicker and more powerful. It would be a tough choice, but we would likely recommend the Volvo among this trio.

Things get more difficult when Genesis and Tesla enter the conversation. The GV60 and Model Y may not be as quick, but both offer significantly quicker charging. Unfortunately, the Genesis is only sold in Arizona, California, Connecticut, New Jersey, Nevada, New York, Utah and Washington, so if you don't live near one of those states, you're out of luck. After Tesla lowered the Model Y's price to just $52,990 (low enough to qualify for the $7,500 tax credit), it's difficult to recommend anything else.

When the updated C40 arrives with its better range and faster charging speeds, it would do away with our only major gripes of an otherwise very impressive EV.

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