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Swede ride: Volvo takes sustainable design to new levels in the C40 Recharge

Swede ride: Volvo takes sustainable design to new levels in the C40 Recharge
The XC40 P8 Recharge won the New Energy Vehicle segment in the recent SAGMJ Car of the Year competition. (Photo: Volvo Cars)

With an exquisitely designed leather-free cabin, the new all-electric Volvo C40 is a car for those with a classy conscience.

Volvo is serious about going all-electric. While other manufacturers add an EV or a hybrid powertrain here and there to their model range, the Swedish manufacturer is committed to making sure that by 2025, half their cars will be fully electric.

By 2027, only a third of Volvo’s cars will offer internal combustion engines (ICE), with the rest being plug-in hybrids and all-electrics.

By 2030 the entire range will be electric.

I was recently invited to the local launch of the C40 Recharge. This all-electric coupé-styled SUV is a perfect example of Volvo Cars’ plans for the future: it’s the first of their models that’s offered only as a pure electric.

The C40 Recharge is built on the same platform as the bestselling XC40 midsize SUV that was launched back in 2017. However, the C40 is markedly different to the XC40 in its styling, with a streamlined silhouette and a more athletic stance due to its sloping rear roofline. 

Beautiful cars

Gone are the days when Volvos were associated with old fuddy-duddies in gray suits. Over the past few years, the Nordic design team has been coming up with truly beautiful cars. 

Design-wise, the C40 is undeniably an ode to Swedish minimalist aesthetics. It was born in a flash of creativity when one of Volvo’s designers, Yury Zamkavenka, produced a spontaneous sketch. 

According to the head of exterior design, T. Jon Mayer, the inspired drawing of the C40  “hit the ground running from the initial idea”.

Volvo C40

The C40 offers an all-wheel-drive twin-motor configuration. (Photo: Volvo Cars)

Engine-wise, it’s propelled by an all-wheel drive, twin-motor configuration – one on the front axle and another on the rear. It thus offers all-wheel drive traction, with impressive outputs of 300kW of power and 660 Nm torque. 

The C40 Recharge is also damn quick, silently sprinting 0-100 km/h in just 4.7 seconds, and, as a result, it’s one of the fastest-accelerating Volvos produced.

Locally, there’s not much with which to compare this svelte beauty. All its direct competitors (which include the Kia EV6, the Tesla Model Y and the Mustang Mach-E) are not available in SA.

Closer to home, there’s BMW’s iX1 xDrive30 M Sport, but the Beemer only produces 230kW compared to the C40’s 300kW, and when it comes to the Merc EQA250 AMG-Line, this German all-electric offers a rather paltry 140kW. 

Classy city runner

With the C40 being a near-perfect, classy city runner, its claimed range on a single charge is a pretty decent 444km courtesy of its 78kWh lithium-ion battery pack.

I found the interior “ooh-worthy”. If you’re looking for leather, you’re in the wrong car, mate. All materials used inside the C40 Recharge are eco- and animal-friendly. For instance, the upholstery contains naturally renewable wool fibres and the highly durable carpets are made from 100% recycled PET plastic bottles.

A standout feature can be found on the dashboard — it’s an insert inspired by the topography of Sweden’s famous Abisko National Park. When driving at night, the backlighting on the dash illuminates this highly original detail. Additionally, there’s a huge glass panoramic sunroof and a kickass 600-watt Harman Kardon sound system.

Volvo has always been applauded for its safety systems: after all, it was Volvo engineer, Nils Bohlin, who developed the first modern three-point seat belt. Volvo then offered it to all motoring manufacturers to use, free, in the name of safety. 

The C40 passes safety tests with flying colours and has airbags everywhere: front, side, knee and overhead. 

If there’s anything to gripe about, very tall back-seat passengers may get stiff necks as the sloping roof definitely affects rear headroom.

There was torrential rain on launch day. While it would have been great fun to sweep through the Franschhoek pass on a clear, sunny day, the adverse conditions actually worked in the C40’s favour. 

The solid drive was an ode to stability on very slippery surfaces while offering noteworthy traction and suspension in shocking conditions. The C40 also accelerated and overtook with effortless speed. (It’s in this kind of weather that you really get to test a car’s mettle.)    

Volvo C40

Volvo SA now offers only hybrid and/or all-electric tech in all its cars. (Photo: Volvo Cars)

The current line-up of Volvos available in SA comes in in one or other form of a new energy vehicle, from mild hybrid petrol derivatives of the XC40, XC60, XC90, S90 and V90 Cross Country, to full hybrid tech found in the XC60 Recharge and XC90 Recharge. 

Volvo all-electric tech is available in the EX90, the EX60, the EX40 Recharge, the C40 Recharge (reviewed here) and the newly released most “affordable” all-electric Volvo in SA, the compact E30 SUV with a starting price of R775,900. 

Volvo C40

The most affordable all-electric Volvo in SA, the E30. (Photo: Volvo Cars)

What is noticeably absent from the lineup is their once-celebrated turbo-diesel engine.

In 2021, Volvo Cars took a decision to discontinue global production on all diesel derivatives. Volvo South Africa would have been hard hit as, for years, the turbo-diesel accounted for 65% of Volvo’s local passenger car sales. I was always particularly fond of the XC60 diesel. Anyhoo – boohoo, bye-bye diesel.

I recently spent a week in the XC60 T8 Plug-in Hybrid Recharge R-Design, the flagship derivative offering the best of both worlds. It switches between a mild-hybrid drivetrain with a battery and an electric motor mounted to the car’s rear axle.  

The pure electric range of 77km is backed up for peace of mind by a  2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbo-petrol engine offering a combined 340kW of power and a massive 707Nm of torque. It’s quick as lightning, clearing 0-100km/h in just 4.8 seconds. It’s probably one of my favourite Volvos ever, with its superb 8-speed Geartronic auto transmission.

The drive mode selection may be a little finicky, but once I got the hang of it, my preferred setting was “Hybrid mode”, which allows the XC60’s sophisticated drivetrain tech to intuitively decide the most efficient way to drive. 

Fuel consumption is claimed at 1.8l/100km, which might be possible when primarily using the battery tech, although my figures on a long drive were closer to 4.5 l/100km – still excellent by any standards. 

While Volvo might be making significant inroads into the local all-electric car market, Volvo sales numbers in South Africa remain low overall. However their product is exceptional and in many instances, award-worthy. 

Volvo C40

The all-electric new Volvo C40. (Photo: Volvo Cars)

As a case in point, at the recent South African Mobility Journalists Car of the Year competition, the XC40 P8 Recharge won the New Energy Vehicle award, beating a lineup of excellent competition, including the Audi e-tron. 

With only 50 units earmarked for the South African market, the C40 will obviously have niche appeal. 

Embracing the Swedish automaker’s commitment to an all-electric future, it will undoubtedly attract those who are dedicated to classy, clean living – and with its leather-free interior, the vegans will absolutely love it. 

Pricing: 

Volvo C40 Recharge – R1,285,000
Volvo XC60 T8 Recharge AWD R-Design – R1,278,900

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