New Volvo XC40 Recharge T5 2020 review

The new Volvo XC40 Recharge T5 plug-in hybrid promises almost 120mpg, but it comes at a cost

Overall Auto Express Rating

3.5 out of 5

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For the XC40 Recharge T5’s not-so-inconsiderable price tag, you get a pretty impressive powertrain and a high-quality cabin. If a plug-in hybrid fits in with your lifestyle – and do check first – this Volvo is a sound choice. Low tax rates are a bonus and offset the high-ish price and need to plunder the options list.

With its new XC40 Recharge T5, Volvo has completed a feat that many rival manufacturers are still some way off accomplishing. Until now, Volvo’s baby SUV was the only car in the Swedish firm’s stable without a plug-in hybrid powertrain. But with this newcomer in UK dealerships, any Volvo you desire can be bought with a plug socket and electric assistance.

It doesn’t stop here, either; a pure-electric version of the XC40, with some serious punch and performance figures, is also in the pipeline. But in the case of the XC40 Recharge T5 – the Recharge bit of the name replacing the ‘Twin Engine’ branding used on older plug-in Volvos – you get a 1.5-litre three-cylinder, turbocharged petrol engine working alongside an electric motor and 10.7kWh of batteries.

The batteries line the car’s spine, which leaves the standard car’s 460 litres of boot space unaffected and maintains the XC40’s status as a small premium SUV that’s just about practical enough to be used as an everyday family car. All power is sent to the front wheels, with maximum output rated at 258bhp and 425Nm of torque.

It’s difficult to be unimpressed with the powertrain in action. With all that battery assistance, the three-cylinder motor feels like it lives a relatively unstrained life, but it’s capable of a proper turn of pace. Volvo’s claimed 7.3-second 0-62mph time isn’t to be sniffed at, owing to the strong reserves of torque the XC40 Recharge can muster, and it does it with so much refinement too.

Only at the very fringes of the engine’s rev-band does it begin to err towards slight harshness, and it spends the vast majority of its time spinning away unobtrusively.

It feels much bigger and more mature than the number of cylinders would lead you to believe, and the way it interacts with the electric motor and battery is seamless. Start the car, and it defaults to Hybrid mode, swapping between and combining the two power sources with an almost undetectable management of all the signals your right foot sends through the pedal.

The only real weak point in the whole package is the brake recuperation, which feels a little scrappy and jumpy when you bring the car to a complete standstill.

It’s possible to run the XC40 Recharge on battery power alone, by selecting the Pure drive mode. The Swedes claim that, on a full charge, you’ll run out of power after 28 miles. But in the real world, you’re only likely to squeeze out about 20 miles.

As in many plug-in hybrids, going past the kickdown point on the throttle brings the engine into play. A swipe to the left on the sharp-looking, standard-fit nine-inch central touchscreen display unearths settings for saving and recharging the battery using the engine while on the move – handy if a charging point isn’t nearby and you know you’ll need some more electricity later on in your journey.

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Keep the battery pack topped up (a full charge takes about three hours via the £50 optional 3.5kW Type 2 charger), and Volvo claims you’ll be able to manage 119mpg. However, underneath the electric veneer is a small engine lugging a lot of weight – 1,800kg to be precise. Rely on engine power alone and you won’t get anywhere near that figure, and if you’re a private buyer unlikely to plug in regularly, a less expensive, pure-petrol XC40 will remain a better buy. But a Benefit-in-Kind tax rate of 16 per cent bodes well for company car buyers.

Elsewhere, the car’s weight means that there’s a fair bit of body roll, and the steering remains imprecise. So in spite of the healthy amount of power and the added responsiveness and steering weight injected when you put the car into Power mode, there’s little fun to be had with the XC40 Recharge. Instead, it’s a cruiser pure and simple. Suspension tweaks to cope with the additional weight mean the ride is a little bit firmer, but it still ranks as one of the more comfortable posh small SUVs.

The XC40 is no longer the newest kid on the block, of course, but it still feels fresh enough to cut it with some of the more recent releases in this ultra-competitive class. A few of the interior materials aren’t quite as nice to the touch as you’ll find elsewhere for this kind of cash, but build quality is strong, and this still feels like a thoroughly box-fresh design.

The Recharge is a welcome addition to the pack, but it’s expensive, and not the clear-cut pick of the range. Standard equipment isn’t staggering either, given the money Volvo is asking. Some niceties such as Volvo OnCall assistance and a P-SIM card for constant Internet connection are part of the default package. But everyday conveniences like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are optional, as are heated front seats, a heated windscreen and adaptive cruise control.

To get the car you really want, you’ll need to stick a couple of option packs on top of the £40,000-plus list price – but of course, the impact of this is less severe if you opt for a monthly PCP deal.

Model: Volvo XC40 Recharge T5 Inscription
Price: £41,255
Engine: 1.5-litre 3cyl turbo petrol, single electric motor
Power/torque: 258bhp/425Nm
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
0-62mph: 7.3 seconds
Top speed: 127mph
Economy/CO2: 119mpg/55g/km
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