A new subdivision of performance car has emerged and nobody really knows what it’s called. These are cars that look and feel like ordinary hatchbacks and crossovers, yet are capable of outrunning most older supercars in a straight line, pinning unsuspecting passengers to the back of their seats in the process. They’re EVs, of course, and they rewriting everything we know about what it means to go fast while retaining the practicality of five doors.
The new Volvo EX30 is the perfect example of this. From every angle, it comes off as a smart-looking compact crossover primed for school runs, activity-packed family holidays and everything in between. It’s actually the smallest model in the Swedish carmaker’s line-up: a total length of 4,233mm makes it only a touch longer than a Ford Fiesta, while a starting price of £33,795 means it’s comfortably the cheapest EV in the range - with an even more affordable Core trim apparently due later on. That version will start from just £31,000.
So far, so meh. Then you look at what it's capable of on paper, and it’s as if someone accidentally muddled up the spec sheet with one belonging to a hot hatch of the spiciest variety. In range-topping Performance format (which, admittedly, is a good bit pricier at £40,995), the EX30 generates 428hp and 401lb ft courtesy of an electric motor on each axle. It’ll fling you from 0-62mph in 3.6 seconds, which is faster than the Smart #1 it shares its underpinnings with and only 0.2 seconds slower than a Ferrari Roma. Speaking to Volvo personnel on the launch, the EX30 being the fastest accelerating car it's ever built was a ‘happy accident.’ More on that a bit later.
Of course, there’s a less potent model in the range. Single Motor cars ditch the front unit, making do with a 272hp motor at the back. Acceleration dips to 5.7 seconds and 5.3 seconds on standard and Extended Range models respectively (still pretty quick), though the upshot is you get more juice from the the latter. Both the Performance and Extended Range make use of a 69kWh battery (64kWh useable), which is good for a range of 280 miles on the Twin Motor and 296 miles on the Single Motor. Standard cars get a smaller 51kWh pack (49kWh useable) for a range of 214 miles. As for charging, bigger battery models will accept up to 153kW, meaning a 10 to 80 per cent top-up takes just 28 minutes, while the charging rate drops to 134kW on the smaller battery option.
So what does the world’s fastest-accelerating Volvo feel like? In a nutshell, it’s astonishingly fast. It could do with its own tannoy to tell passengers to get into the brace position, because the moment you hit the right pedal they’ll be buried into the backs of their seats. Granted, it’s not quite 911 Turbo S or McLaren 720S fast (and it's not like we haven't been here before) but how utterly absurd it is that a Volvo - let alone a compact crossover - can be mentioned in the same breath as supercars worth at least four times its value? It still boggles the mind.
Granted, it doesn’t deliver the full force of its electric motors from the off. You have to dig through the infotainment menu, which contains pretty much everything from the speedo to the side mirror controls, to engage the front motor. From this menu, you can also adjust the weight of the steering and active ‘one-pedal driving mode’. The former is best left in its standard setting, because while the steering is accurate, switching it to its firmest setting doesn’t miraculously turn it into a corner-hungry super SUV - it’s just a bit heavier. Meanwhile, the latter provides noticeably more regenerative braking off throttle, though there’s no adjustability for the regen so you need to keep one foot hovering over the left pedal.
One pedal driving or not, the EX30's brakes cannot keep up with the performance on offer. The sheer speed of the Twin Motor derivative means you feel as though you’re driving a performance car right up to the moment you hit the anchors. At that point, it suddenly remembers it’s a two-tonne family crossover, which, on this particularly twisty ribbon of Spanish mountain road, induced several code-brown moments. Obviously, hit the left pedal with everything you’ve got and it’ll stop, and it’s a non-issue when pootling about. But then the car feels jerky because the throttle response is sharper when the front motor is engaged. Turning off Performance mode brings the EX30 back down to Earth, although at that point you might start wondering why you bothered with the Twin Motor in the first place.
Consequently - and as so often happens with EVs - the cheaper, slower, single-motor version of the EX30 is absolutely the one to go for. It’s less wheel-grippingly concerning under braking, not just because it can’t build up as much pace as the Twin Motor over such a short stretch of road, but also because it's lighter by some 110kg. The spring and damper rates are also different (as are the anti-roll bars) which Volvo says has been done to create a similar driving experience in both cars, though ultimately the single-motor car is the one to benefit.
Admittedly, it’s difficult to critique the ride on marble-smooth Catalonian roads, but the Single Motor definitely seems to handle uneven road surfaces (such as they are in Spain) with more confidence than the Twin - although neither could be called exemplary. Volvo says these are pre-production prototypes, so presumably there’s still some work to be done on rolling refinement. Or we hope so at any rate.
On the plus side - and it’s a very big plus indeed - the overall quality of the EX30 is impressive when you take its pricing into account. Fit and finish is top drawer, with scissor-style metal door handles making the interior feel extra snazzy. Touch controls replace most of the switchgear, which won't be to everyone’s taste but a buttery smooth 12.3-inch portrait centre display is at least intuitive and devoid of any nasty stutters. The buttons on the steering wheel are standard Volvo fare, which is to say they look like touch controls but are actually four-way rockers with a fair bit of travel. Touch controls with haptic feedback would be better, although that's probably a minority opinion.
While we’re on the tech side of things, the EX30 features a new version of Volvo’s semi-autonomous driving software. Most PHers will likely to turn off the driver assists from the get-go, but if you do decide to keep them on then be aware that you're buying the sort of EV that is capable of changing lanes for you when on a motorway when you indicate. No surprises there perhaps, although it's indicative of a) what buyers apparently expect from an all-electric family car, and b) how much tech Volvo has plumbed in for the money. Having said that, if you want everything thrown in you'll need to tick the box next to the £8,250 Ultra package, which also delivers faster charging, a panoramic roof and a heat pump.
Whether you go for an Ultra or the entry-level Plus trim, it's safe to say that you're getting a lot of downsized EV for the money - which is especially impressive when you consider that the more affordable version is the one to go for. Yes, there’s something amusing about driving a Volvo-badged car with 428hp, putting the fear of god into unsuspecting passengers in the process. But, as you tend to find in mainstream EVs with oversized outputs, the novelty wears off after a while - and the fact that its straight-line performance comes as a ‘happy accident’ explains why the chassis and brakes don't always live up to the job of fully exploiting the available power. Without the additional confidence you'd get from a genuine go-faster model, it's easy to recommend the Extended Range car - especially as it seems destined to be the sweeter of the two to drive. Either way, the new EX30 is a sign o' the times in more ways than one. Expect Volvo to have no problem whatsoever shifting them.
SPECIFICATION | VOLVO EX30 TWIN MOTOR PERFORMANCE
Engine: Dual permanent magnetic synchronous electric motors
Transmission: single-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 428
Torque (lb ft): 401
Top speed: 112mph
WLTP range: 280 - 277 miles
Battery size: 69kWh
Max. charge rate: 153kW
Price: £40,995 (price as tested: £44,495 in Ultra trim)
SPECIFICATION | VOLVO EX30 SINGLE MOTOR EXTENDED RANGE
Engine: Permanent magnetic synchronous electric motor
Transmission: single-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 272
Torque (lb ft): 253
Top speed: 112mph
WLTP range: 296 - 287 miles
Battery size: 69kWh
Max. charge rate: 153kW
Price: £38,545 (price as tested: £42,045 in Ultra trim)
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