Electrification is moving plenty of goalposts, none more so than when it comes to the new Volvo C40 Twin Pro. Two statistics highlight the braveness of the new world we find ourselves in, firstly that this is a mall rat junior SUV packing a seriously impressive 402hp. But the second will be more surprising to those who haven't been paying attention to EV prices: that the launch-spec C40 is going to cost a very serious £57,400 for the small minority of customers who buy one outright. That makes it more expensive than an entry level XC90.
The price needs a bit of context. Volvo is launching the C40 in full-spec twin motor guise with something close to kitchen-sink spec; the only extra cost option at launch will be a retractable towbar. Cheaper versions will follow, with the example of the closely related Polestar 2 suggesting a single motor C40 ought to be much closer to £40,000. Volvo is also predicting that 95 percent of C40s will be leased or financed, with the company's Care by Volvo subscriptions offering a choice between a £729 per month three-year fixed contract or a £879 per month rolling three-month commitment.
The C40 isn't the first electric Volvo, being mechanically almost identical to the XC40 Recharge that we drove last year. But it is the first Volvo that will run exclusively on flowing electrons, the company confirming there won't be any combustion or hybrid C40 variants. Yet beyond that, there is little radical about it. C is officially Volvo-speak for 'coupe', but while the C40 has a cut-down roofline when compared to the XC40, it definitely isn't low or sporty by most people's reckoning. Inside it is almost identical to its taller sister, although with less headroom in the back and predictably poor visibility through the heavily angled tailgate screen.
While rivals like the Volkswagen ID.4 sit on bespoke EV platforms, the C40 has more old-fashioned underpinnings. Volvo says that the Compact Modular Architecture it co-developed with Geely was always designed for electrification, but it is obviously more biased towards the much greater volumes of combustion models that have been built on it. Like the XC40 Recharge, the C40 has a 78kWh lithium-ion battery pack beneath the floor and positioned between the axles, but from the outside it also still has the front-end proportions that come from lugging a conventional engine around. Popping the bonnet reveals a small 31-litre storage compartment designed to accommodate charging cables, with the rest of the space occupied by electric control gear.
A range of 273 miles under WLTP is respectable by segment standards, and the battery pack supports fast DC charging at rates of up to 150kW if you can track down a sufficiently potent charger. (This will deliver 80 percent charge in around 40 minutes.) The onboard 11kW AC charger designed for domestic use takes a more leisurely 11 hours to fully replenish the pack, but means the C40 can be fully recharged overnight.
It is impressively rapid. With identical 201hp AC synchronous motors turning each axle the C40 has an abundance of both traction and performance. Even using no more than the top quarter of the long travel throttle pedal's range it feels respectably quick. But pushing further proves the ability to generate longitudinal G-loadings which get close to being physically uncomfortable. A 4.7-second 0-62mph time means that, barring the S60 Polestar Engineered, this is the quickest accelerating Volvo of all time.
Yet while the performance is delivered cleanly in straight lines, the C40 willing to launch hard even on greasy surfaces, there is little encouragement to go and play. The chassis settings are gentle, the C40 is heavy - 2,185kg officially - and the Euro-spec test car I drove in Belgium was riding on Pirelli Scorpion all-season tyres with little enthusiasm for sudden changes in vector. The soft springs and passive dampers gave a respectably pliant ride, especially given the huge 21-inch alloys. But the C40 rolls hard under cornering loads, and dives and pitches under power or braking. Accelerating hard on a wet roundabout brought a level of understeer that reminded me strongly of a Mk2 Astra GTE 16V.
Driven gently the C40 feels far happier, but doing so negates much of the point of lugging around such a potent powertrain. Motorway cruising is impressively quiet, with just a hint of wind-whisper starting from the front pillars around 80mph distracting from the hush. The Harmon Kardon sound system is a belter, too. The switchable one-pedal operation deserves praise, operating finely enough to allow almost imperceptible stops. The piloted drive smart cruise control is almost equally adept at chauffeur-like smoothness.
But the C40's interior is another area where it struggles to justify its price tag. Volvo's new Android-based infotainment system has improved over the prototype version of the XC40 Recharge last year; the map display no longer makes the high definition screen look broken when it tries to render multiple narrow roads, for example. Volvo has also simplified the control interface by doing without a conventional handbrake, or even a start button (you just get in and select drive). The result is a cabin that is pared back to not much. And although the leather-free 'vegan' interior has some nice touches, including what seems to be denim trim reminiscent of that jeans-themed Peugeot 106 special edition in the 1990s, it has also resulted in an abundance of cheap-looking black, shiny plastic
As with the XC40 Recharge, the C40's biggest problem arguably comes from within the Volvo family - the Polestar 2 offers the same mechanical package with sharper design, snappier dynamics and lower entry-level pricing. Given the choice, it's the one we'd pick.
SPECIFICATION | 2021 VOLVO C40 RECHARGE TWIN PRO
Engine: 400V Lithium-ion battery, 78kWh capacity, twin AC synchronous electric motors
Transmission: Single-speed, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 402
Torque (lb ft): 487
0-62mph: 4.7 secs
Top speed: 112mph (limited)
Range: 273 miles (WLTP)
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