Volvo's first EV gets a 402hp powertrain; costs more than a Tesla Model 3 Performance
By Mike Duff / Thursday, October 1, 2020
Electrification is the cutting edge, but also a fence that all large carmakers are going to have to jump over very soon. Meaning that you are likely to get bored of reading about brand-first EVs with similar-ish performance stats long before the manufacturers concerned grow tired of boasting about them. Give it a couple of months and they are going to be coming as thick and fast as reviews for identikit MQB-based VW Group crossovers, and likely encountering similarly modest levels of interest. So full credit to Volvo for getting ahead of the stampede with the all-electric XC40 P8.
This is the Swedish company's first pure electric production car – although it will actually be built in Belgium – but we have already encountered the powertrain in the Polestar 2 that Dan drove back in July. Both cars sit on the same compact CMA platform and share the same mechanical layout with a low-mounted 202hp synchronous permanent magnet AC motor on each axle, supplied from a 78kW/h lithium-ion battery pack mounted under the floor.
But while the Polestar comes from a futuristic new brand, the 'leccy XC40 has been deliberately designed to be reassuringly familiar. Like the Audi e-tron the idea has been to offer those familiar with the company's combustion-powered models an easy way to migrate to a full EV. Beyond badging and the lack of tailpipes the only obvious external change is the P8's lack of a conventional radiator grille, which is replaced by a body-coloured cover. The interior is similarly unchanged, with the same combination of good space, sensible design and durable materials as its regular sisters. Only the loss of the digital instrument pack's rev counter – swapped for a power flow meter – and the arrival of Volvo's new Google Android based infotainment system distinguish it.
Beneath the surface, bigger changes have been made. CMA was jointly designed by Volvo and Geely to support electrification, but the reality of putting an EV powertrain into a conventional car has caused some engineer head-scratching. At the front the Recharge gets a new impact structure in place of its missing combustion engine, this space also housing electrical control gear and a small 'frunk' designed to carry the car's charging cable. A small amount of luggage space has also been lost from the rear boot, and the battery pack (in an aluminum protection cage) has cut ground clearance by 36mm to 175mm. Overall, impressively small packaging compromises for a car with a total powertrain transplant.
But a more obvious compromise sits on the spec sheet next to 'kerbweight', with the unlikely figure 2,188kg. EVs tend to be porky and that figure isn't outrageous compared to the wider segment, but it is still a very serious number for anything with such dinky dimensions. For perspective, it's 504kg more than the all-wheel driven XC40 T5. Volvo says the battery pack itself weighs 496kg, meaning there hasn't been an obvious mass dividend in losing the combustion engine and gearbox.
Not that this matters particularly in terms of performance, with more than enough urge to negate the podge. The P8 is easily the quickest XC40, and by a considerable margin. As is always the case with punchier EVs the 4.9-second 0-62mph time only tells part of the story – an equal part of the sensation of effortless speed comes from the Recharge's instant responses and total lack of any of the turbo-spooling or gear-shifting delay of a conventional powertrain. The harder you press the throttle, the bigger the longitudinal G-loadings, and although it doesn't have the savagery of a Taycan or a Tesla Model 3 Performance the easily-summoned forces still seem incongruous in something so tall and sensible looking. Incongruous and fun, although possibly not for passengers.
As with all single-speed EVs acceleration tails off quickly as speed rises. So while it is entirely possible to confirm the presence of the 112mph speed limiter Volvo now fits to all of its new cars, a natural fast cruising pace is far closer to the national speed limit. Refinement is excellent. Even under the hardest use the motors barely make a sound, and at 70mph conversations can be conducted in little more than a whisper.
But acceleration is an occasional, violent party trick – and not one that really suits the laid-back handling character of the rest of the car. Suspension settings are soft with pliant springs and passive dampers that often seemed to be struggling to keep the P8's considerable mass under proper control over British tarmac. Even on apparently smooth road surfaces the ride struggled to settle down, and bigger bumps introduced the sort of heaving motions that induce seasickness. Traction is good, as is initial grip, but moderate cornering loads brought a predictable transition to squeally understeer.
All of which is, I know, entirely missing the point of how a car like this is likely to be driven. Piloted at a more respectful pace – or letting the rather good Pilot Assist smart cruise control take the strain – it feels properly relaxed. But the lowness of the natural pace means that, beyond the amusing ability to terrify passengers or dispatch short-notice overtakes, the mighty powertrain feel distinctly over-spec compared to the rest of the car.
The new Android operating system looks good, with crisply rendered icons for the apps on its central touchscreen, but the navigation function didn't seem any smarter or better looking than simply running Android Auto off a smartphone would have been. The combination of the high-resolution portrait display and Google's tendency to show minor roads as small black lines when zoomed out was a particularly unfortunate one, making the touchscreen look like it was covered in cracks.
The new OS is claimed to be updateable over-the-air and also controls various vehicle functions. The P8 doesn't get switchable driving modes, but it is possible to select one-pedal operation, this giving a forceful level of retardation when the throttle is lifted. I actually found this was a bit over-keen for smooth use at low speeds, preferring to allow it to coast and then control stopping through the brake pedal.
Volvo claims 260 mile range under the WLTP testing protocol, with the P8 supporting both AC charging and DC fast charging. Hook it up to a 150kW charger – easier said than done at the moment – and it will be able to replenish the battery from empty to 80 percent in just 40 minutes. A more typical 11kW AC charger will take 7.5 hours to recharge the pack.
Volvo has chosen to launch the XC40 Recharge P8 in fully laden Edition 1 spec. This brings almost every available option as standard, but also comes with a very serious £59,895 pricetag, putting it outside eligibility for the Government's electric car grant. That makes it more expensive than the quicker, slicker Tesla Model 3 Performance, which is also backed by the best charging network going. It's also more than the better-handling Polestar 2, which feels like a much more appropriate recipient for this brawny powertrain.
Volvo promises that less powerful and cheaper front-drive XC40 EVs will follow and, although it's not very PH to admit it, I'm looking forwards to those ones more.
SPECFICATION | VOLVO XC40 RECHARGE P8
Engine: Twin AC synchronous permanent magnet electric motors, one per axle
Transmission: Single-speed reduction (twin), all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 402hp (total system output)
Torque (lb ft): 487lb-ft (total system output)
0-62mph: 4.9 second
Top speed: 112mph (electronically limited)
Range: 260 miles (WLTP)
- 2020 Polestar 2 | PH Review
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