Volvo’s first fully electric vehicle, the XC40 Recharge SUV, really is a car you drive by the seat of your pants.
That’s because this elegantly proportioned family-friendly Swedish off-roader has no ignition switch and no dashboard or console button to press to fire up its electric motor.
Instead, your posterior is the trigger to starting this battery-powered vehicle.
Bottoms up: Ray Massey has been driving Volvo’s first fully-electric car, the Volvo XC40 Recharge. It’s not due in showrooms until 2021, but we’ve had early access to a pre-production model on UK roads…
Providing you have the electronic fob about your person, the moment your derriere lands on the driver’s seat, weight sensors inside it send a signal to start up the electric power.
So the second you put your foot on the brake pedal (a safety measure) and move the central transmission lever into ‘Drive’ (or alternatively ‘Reverse’), you are ready to roll.
It acts in the same way that safety sensors detect the presence of child seats or alert the driver that occupants have not fastened their seat-belts.
In truth it’s a rather weird experience, especially if you have spent your life expecting that bit of excitement as an engine roars into action.
Given the near silent start-up, a little bit of sound theatre to mark the moment of the motor sparking into life wouldn’t have gone amiss here too – a cheeky bit of in-built ‘ta-dah!’ to start your driving ceremony.
Weight sensors in the driver’s seat recognise when a driver is seated and sends a signal to start up the electric power
Owners will need this fob to be on their person for the system to activate, though it does away with the traditional twist of a key in the ignition or a push of an ‘engine start’ button
Ray says that, given the near silent start-up, a little bit of sound theatre to mark the moment of the motor sparking into life wouldn’t have gone amiss
To give it its full name, we have been driving the XC40 Recharge Pure Electric P8 First Edition – a fully-loaded compact sports utility vehicle with premium price tag of £59,985 – double the cost of a petrol version.
But Volvo still expects to sell 1,500 in its first year.
And because the price is well over the £50,000 cap, it doesn’t qualify for the Government’s taxpayer-funded £3,000 Plug-in Car Grant. So it’s not a cheap option.
Later variants – including lower-powered and two wheel drive versions – I am assured will be more affordable. And Volvo would be mad not to have a stripped down version nudging £49,995 to get that price for consumers down to a more digestible £46,995. They’ve not confirmed it, though they’ve not denied it either…
It can also now be ordered in the UK on Volvo’s new mobile-phone style subscription service called ‘Car by Volvo’.
The model we’ve driven is the XC40 Recharge Pure Electric P8 First Edition – a fully-loaded version with premium price tag of £59,985
Later variants – including lower-powered and two wheel drive versions – will be more affordable and hopefully slow below the £50,000 ceiling to qualify for the taxpayer-funded £3,000 Plug-in Car Grant
The no-deposit subscription of £999 per month includes the cost of leasing the vehicle, maintenance, breakdown assistance, road tax, MOT, and a 10GB data plan for the in-car entertainment system. There will also be more conventional personal contract purchase (PCP) and personal contract hire (PCH) plans.
Our undeniably Scandi-chic zero-emissions test car was a pre-production model shipped over to the UK.
Having got our proverbial into gear on the electric XC40 we were off on a Covid-compliant launch on UK roads on a drive from the urban and suburban roads of Daventry in Northamptonshire and then over the border into neighbouring winding country lanes and fast-flowing highways of Warwickshire.
Once under way, the XC40 Recharge is a smooth, quiet, genteel and well-mannered mover around town.
Will it fit in my garage?
Volvo XC40 Recharge Pure Electric P8 ‘First Edition’
On sale: Now
First UK deliveries: Early 2021
Ground clearance: 176mm
Mode: Pure electric. Battery
Drivetrain: Two electric motors (one on each axle)
Power: 408 horse-power.
Drive: All-wheel drive
Battery: 78 kWh
0-to-62mph: 4.9 seconds
Top speed: Restricted to 112mph
Boot capacity: 414 litres
Front trunk volume: 31 metres
As is the sweeping generalisation about Scandinavian folk, it is very polite and charming, though a little reserved at first. But then once you get comfortable and have spent a bit of time together, you suddenly discover a rather fun-loving and raucous side to the character as the ‘inner Viking’ emerges.
And sure enough, once we had the opportunity to put our foot down, it really did set sail.
Powered by twin electric motors – one on each axle – producing a hefty 408hp, it wooshes from rest to 62mph in just 4.9 seconds – putting it well into sports car territory.
You can get by extensively driving in ‘one pedal’ mode, using just the accelerator to press ahead and taking advantage of enhanced regenerative braking to slow the car down when you take your foot off the gas.
Consequently, this improves your driving behaviour, as it forces the user to anticipate more for roundabouts, junctions and traffic ahead, when you want to ease off the pedal and slow down with more a natural deceleration, rather than jumping constantly from accelerator to brake.
However, in line with its aim to reduce casualties on the road, all Volvos, including this one, now have their top speed limited to 112mph. So Germans on their de-restricted Autobahns will have their wings clipped.
They’re also sold with a Care Key for parents to issue to their recently-qualified offspring, which allows them to recalibrate the top speed to anything from 31mph when the key is in use.
With a claimed range of up to 260 miles on a single charge, Volvo bosses say it is more than sufficient for the average UK daily drive which averages around 30 miles.
But anyone planning a long distance journey – say 300 miles from London to Newcastle – would have to plan a recharge stop en route.
Happily however, it will just about manage the 253 mile journey from Downing Street to Barnard Castle on a full charge, should Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s political adviser Dominic Cummings be in urgent need of another eye-test.
The Swedish firm which is owned by Chinese car giant Geely, says batteries will reach 80 per cent of capacity in 40 minutes on a fast charger, with a domestic wall box doing the job at home overnight in about 10 hours.
With a claimed range of up to 260 miles on a single charge, Volvo bosses say it is more than sufficient for the average UK daily drive which averages around 30 miles
The Swedish firm which is owned by Chinese car giant Geely, says batteries will reach 80 per cent of capacity in 40 minutes on a fast charger, with a domestic wall box doing the job at home overnight in about 10 hours
Volvo has optimistic plans for half of its cars to be fully electric by 2025. The other half will be hybrids, it claims
The new XC40 Recharge is the first of five pure electric Volvos to be launched by the Swedish car firm over the next five years – a battery-only flagship XC90 is among those in the pipeline – which aims to have half of its cars fully electric by 2025, the rest as hybrids.
Order books are open now with first UK deliveries from early next year.
Although Volvo’s headquarters are based in the Swedish city of Gothenburg, the new all-electric XC40 Recharge is actually built in Ghent, in Belgium, alongside the rest of the XC40 range which cost from £29,720 for the 2.0 litre petrol and mild hybrid variants, and £39,130 for the plug-in petrol-electric hybrid (PHEV) versions.
Powered by twin electric motors – one on each axle – producing a hefty 408hp, it wooshes from rest to 62mph in just 4.9 seconds – putting it well into sports car territory
In line with its aim to reduce casualties on the road, all Volvos now have their top speed limited to 112mph
With ample rear passenger seat space, the XC40 is a more than capable family car for blossoming families
The petrol XC40 was originally launched back in 2018, when it won the prestigious European Car of the Year Award.
The XC40 Recharge is also first Volvo to include the Google Android-powered infotainment system – using the expertise of that firm rather than trying to devise its own system.
The absence of an internal combustion petrol or diesel engine means extra storage space for the family. An additional 30-litre storage compartment – dubbed a front trunk or ‘frunk’ sits under the front bonnet – while placing batteries under the centre of the car means space is not compromised elsewhere.
There’s a hands-free hatchback door into the 414-litre boot, accessed by wiggling your foot under the bumper to trigger a sensor.
he absence of an internal combustion petrol or diesel engine means extra storage space for the family. An additional 30-litre storage compartment – dubbed a front trunk or ‘frunk’ sits under the front bonnet
There’s a hands-free hatchback door into the 414-litre boot, accessed by wiggling your foot under the bumper to trigger a sensor. Fold the rear passenger seatbacks flat and it becomes a van-like transporter of goods
Other clever interior touches include a removable waste bin, a fold-out hook in the glove compartment for bags – ideal for take-ways, curries and hand-bags – and a useful boot divider complete with hooks for keeping shopping bags separate and upright
Other clever interior touches include a removable waste bin, a fold-out hook in the glove compartment for bags – ideal for take-ways, curries and hand-bags – and a useful boot divider complete with hooks for keeping shopping bags separate and upright. Door linings and carpets made from 97 per cent recycled plastic bottles.
A pair of large front door bins replace loudspeakers traditionally stored in the doors which have been moved to the base of the windscreen. And for the first time on a Volvo car, software and operating system updates will be available over the air.
The XC40 Recharge Pure Electric is also the first Volvo to feature a new version of ‘Pilot Assist’ driver-assistance technology that deploys steering, acceleration and braking support to help take the strain during long motorway journeys and sitting in traffic. The system now uses Google Maps for information such as speed limits and curves in the road to improve its functionality.
A new ‘Emergency Stop Assist’ function brings the car to a safe stop, after a series of warnings, if the driver is not holding the steering wheel.
Despite this array of tech, we were most intrigued as to why Volvo had dispensed with the starter button or ignition key on their first pure electric car, in favour of its ‘bums on seats’ philosophy. So we asked the experts who devised it.
Beatrice Simonsson, senior project manager for the XC40 Recharge explained: ‘We wanted to make life less complicated for our users and therefore with an electric car we had the opportunity to take away the start/stop button.
‘The only thing the driver needs to do is to sit down in the seat, close the door, press the brake pedal and choose drive or reverse and then off you go.
‘Of course, for safety reason, put on your seat belt as well!’
As they say in Sweden, it’s ‘skol’ or ‘cheers’ to the new XC40 Recharge. Or, given its posterior-triggered electric motors, should that really be ‘bottoms up’?