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Volvo’s baby electric crossover is compact, zippy and competitively priced

Volvo’s baby electric crossover is compact, zippy and competitively priced
The Volvo EX30. (Photo: Supplied)

The Volvo EX30 is one of a handful of EVs that are selling for under R1-million in South Africa.

If you’re in the market for a new electric vehicle, you could count the number of EVs sold in South Africa that are priced at less than R1-million on one hand. 

Three of them are manufactured in China: GWM Ora, BYD Atto and the Volvo EX30, with starting prices of about R694,000, R768,000 and R775,900 respectively. 

(Before you get all judgy about quality and safety issues, most of the world’s leading brands are manufactured in China, including Louis Vuitton, Prada, Georgio Armani, Apple, Chanel and Volvo, which was acquired by Geely in 2010.)

The EX30 – Volvo’s smallest SUV yet, a crossover with the ground clearance of an SUV – is by far the best looker and most powerful of the sub-R1-million EVs currently on the South African market. 

Locally, the five-car EX30 range is available in two power outputs and three levels of specification: two rear-wheel-drive versions, and a powerful all-wheel-drive performance flagship with 315kW. 

(Photo: Supplied)

Volvo EX30

(Photo: Supplied)

The entry-level Core Single Motor has a range of 344km; the Plus Single Motor extended range can reach 476km; and the twin-motor EX30 Ultra Twin Performance gets you slightly less mileage (450km) but acceleration is sporty, reaching 0 to 100km within a hair-raising 3.6 seconds, which at R995,900 (VAT inclusive) certainly makes it the most powerful car selling for less than a bar in South Africa.

As part of Volvo’s commitment to go fully electric by 2030 and reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040, all models of the EX30 use recycled denim fabric in the upholstery. The top layer consists of 50% denim fibres from reclaimed second waste from the recycling of jeans. 

Volvo is also working towards becoming a circular business by 2040, which is why it’s embraced the circular economy. Nearly 25% of all aluminium in the new EX30 small SUV is recycled, while about 17% of all steel and plastic in the car comes from recycled sources.

Compared to the C40 and XC40, the interiors of the EX30 range are less luxurious – or rather more minimalist – but the latter is packed with safety, performance and comfort features where they matter.

Beginning with the EX30’s Core or base model, there’s a heated steering wheel (which comes standard), interior illumination with indirect lighting, adaptive cruise control, single-zone climate control, rear park assist, seven airbags, lane-keeping aids, pedestrian, cyclist and scooter steering avoidance, and a raft of safety and driver-assistance features.

It also has LED headlights, a 12.3-inch touchscreen with wireless Apple CarPlay and Google apps, digital key functionality, wireless phone charging, a power-operated tailgate, parking sensors and a premium Harman Kardon sound system.

There is no instrument cluster, which takes some getting used to. Instead, all the driving information, such as speed, battery charge, range and so on is displayed on the central screen. 

There are no buttons to push or dials to turn. It’s disconcerting: At first, I found myself searching for the instrument cluster but soon got into the habit of searching for data on the screen.

The mid-spec Plus adds two-zone climate control and automated parking.

Besides its sporty performance, the top-of-the-range Ultra also has an 11kW on-board charger for convenient AC charging at home or a charging station, a fixed panoramic sunroof, front seat warmers and a heated steering wheel, dual climate control, a 360-degree parking camera with rear and front park to help you manoeuvre into tight spaces, rear privacy glass and ambient interior lighting that can be set to different themes, including Northern Lights and Midsummer, and keyless entry that senses you within a few metres. 

Another bonus is that the car unlocks and switches on lights in the dark as you approach, which is great for safety.

The entire range has a Google infotainment system, with built-in Google apps and services, which include voice-activated Google Assistant that allows you to call, set destinations, change cabin temperature, check the battery’s remaining range, select music (through the Spotify or YouTube apps), or even control connected home devices. 

I test-drove the Ultra, which has two electric motors, 315kW power, 543Nm of torque and a high-voltage battery that has a top range of 460km. 

It’s certainly an “ideal” range because if you use the seat and steering wheel warmers (which are very tempting), or the air-conditioning, you’ll be recharging your EV every couple of days. 

Volvo EX30

(Photo: Supplied)

That’s not an issue if you have a home charger (which I don’t), or live near a fast-charging station (which I also don’t), meaning I spent more time at the nearest fast-charging station twice in the week of the test drive, because life’s far too short for a slow charge.

DC charging from 10 to 80% on a fast charge takes about 30 minutes for all three models.

The regenerative braking mechanism, whereby the EV pumps kinetic energy from the braking into the battery, takes a little getting used to, but once you’s comfortable with single-pedal driving, it becomes a bit of a game to lift your foot off the throttle as you reach the traffic lights and allow it to slow to a halt. It saves your brakes too.

For a city car, there’s enough storage space, with a boot that can safely accommodate 318 litres, or a golf bag and some knickknacks, but you’re not going to be able to fit much by way of luggage and people in the car without making some adjustments. Drop down the back seats and it expands to 904-litre capacity. There’s also not much legroom in the back seat (so if the driver’s tall, that will be a squeeze), and no central console for cup holders, which is a drawback. 

At the front seat, there’s a generous cup holder that shifts for up to two cups, and large door pockets. 

If you’re feeling like you’re being constantly watched in the EX30, that’s because you are – the car has a camera focused on the driver, so if you’re yawning, it beeps and nudges you to take a break. 

It also beeps every time you take your eyes off the road, even very briefly. And if you veer into someone else’s lane, it alerts you. The speed alerts get a bit tedious, and beep even if you’re marginally speeding. All these settings can be turned off, but you’d need to remember to do so every time you start the car. 

It’s very comfortable, not too showy and for the price — given that EVs attract a 25% import duty – it’s good value, considering its premium standing. Mostly, it’s fun to drive and loaded with just enough features. 

Volvo was one of the top-selling EVs in Europe in the first quarter of this year.

Top US site for cleantech news, Clean Technica, citing the Europe EV Sales Report, says Volvo was “full of surprises” in March. 

“Not only did the EX30 jump to third, but the veteran plugin hybrid SUV (the current generation dates back to 2017) scored a record performance.”

It said in the 2024 overall brand ranking, the two biggest growers in the top 20 were two heavily electrified brands, with (#17) Volvo growing 32% YoY to 92,000 units while SAIC’s MG was up 31%, to 59,000 units.

 

In South Africa, the recent AutoTrader Car Industry Report revealed that local EV sales had increased by 132% in 2023, as advancements in battery technology have made EVs more affordable and efficient. 

The Volvo XC40, although only in ninth place in the most searched second-hand EV model, emerged for the first time as the top-selling used EV in South Africa, accounting for 20% of all used EV sales. 

The International Energy Agency’s Global EV Outlook 2024, released last month, is upbeat about sales, especially in the East: it says despite tight margins, volatile battery metal prices, high inflation and the phase-out of purchase incentives in some countries, global sales data are strong, despite some reports that sales were slowing in “more mature” markets such as the US, UK and Europe.

In China, EV sales are expected to reach up to 45% market share; in Europe, 25%; and in the gas-loving US – over 11%, as competition among manufacturers heats up (as witnessed in Tesla’s dramatic price cuts to keep up with BYD, the world’s biggest EV manufacturer), declining battery and car prices, and policy support. DM

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