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Photo by Andrew Hawkins / The Verge

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Driving the XC40 Recharge, Volvo’s first electric crossover with native Android Auto

Volvo’s first EV is an impressive blend of Swedish ingenuity and electric performance

There’s been an avalanche of new electric vehicles announced in the past year and a half, ranging from the luxurious to the practical to the garish. So you’d be forgiven if you forgot about the Volvo XC40 Recharge, a great compact SUV with a terrible name.

I won’t judge Volvo too harshly for its name choice. The Swedish automaker wanted to convey the simple message that this was a familiar vehicle with a new powertrain. And “XC40 Recharge” certainly gets that point across. That said, it’s an uninspiring name for what is arguably a fantastic EV.

I got a chance to drive Volvo’s first all-electric vehicle around northwestern New Jersey for around two hours on a recent Friday. The roads were freshly plowed, the sky was a cloudless blue, and the XC40 Recharge was an able and attractive partner for my jaunt through the snowy woods.

I already had an inkling of what to expect with the XC40 Recharge, having driven its sister EV, the Polestar 2, earlier in the year. Like the Polestar 2, the XC40 Recharge is built on Volvo’s Compact Modular Architecture (CMA), an advanced vehicle platform co-developed within the Geely Group, Volvo’s parent company, which already powers the plug-in hybrid version of the XC40.

The XC40 Recharge also comes with Android Automotive, the native version of Google’s Android Auto operating system. This voice-activated system can control everything from navigation (“Hey Google, take me home”) to music (“Hey Google, play some Swedish death metal”) to heating and air conditioning (“Hey Google, turn on my seat warmer”).

Having already driven the Polestar 2, I was familiar with Android Automotive. But it was no less revelatory than the first time. There’s something immensely satisfying about using my voice to control all the in-car minutiae rather than fumble around on a touchscreen.

It’s also uniquely tailored to running the infotainment system in an electric vehicle. When you ask Google to navigate you to a certain location, the Android-powered operating system will take into account your battery levels and incorporate charging stations that are available along the way. That should go a long way toward quelling any range anxiety you may have.

From the outside, the XC40 Recharge looks (surprise!) exactly like the gas-powered XC40, but with a smooth grille and no tailpipes. There are familiar touches, like the “Thor’s hammer” front headlights that are common across Volvo’s lineup. But the XC40 Recharge is delightfully nondescript. It looks like a typical Volvo with a few futuristic flourishes. I received no second glances from passersby and was able to blend into my environment, which typically isn’t the case with a new EV.

The XC40 Recharge has a key — a chunky-looking fob that fortunately is immediately made irrelevant because this is a car that can be turned on using only your phone. Once seated, you only need to close the door, press the brake pedal, and click the gear shift to the desired direction in order to drive.

The 400-volt battery, made by South Korea’s LG Chem and located in the floor of the vehicle, has the capacity of 78kWh (75kWh of which is usable) — on par with other electric crossovers like the Tesla Model Y and the Volkswagen ID 4. But the XC40 Recharge will only get a little more than 200 miles of range per charge, which is significantly less than those other compact SUV EVs.

I didn’t have enough time with the car to test out the range nor the charging experience, but Volvo says drivers can expect to get a lot of power pumped back into the battery thanks to the XC40 Recharge’s regenerative brakes, especially while using one-pedal driving. The battery charges to 80 percent of its capacity in 40 minutes on a DC fast-charger system, the automaker claims.

It’s surprisingly sporty for a compact SUV. The two 150kW motors in the front and rear axle put out 402 horsepower, 486 foot-pounds, and 330 Newton-meters of torque, giving the XC40 Recharge that familiar zippiness down any straightaway. It will do 0 to 60mph in 4.7 seconds, a couple of tenths slower than the Polestar 2. I actually found the acceleration to be more impressive than the 333 hp Ford Mustang Mach-E, which I had the chance to drive only a few days prior.

What a world to live in, where an electric Volvo somehow feels more powerful than an EV named after Ford’s iconic pony car!

Unlike the Mach-E, though, Volvo only has one driving mode, which speaks to the commitment to simplicity. If one-pedal driving isn’t to your liking, you can toggle through a couple of screens to turn it off.

Inside, the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster behind the steering wheel comes in three modes, including a minimalist “calm” mode with only crucial information, “navi” for full-screen maps and navigation, and “car centric” for help using the car’s driver assist function. The ability to view full-screen maps in the “navi” setting is a definite upgrade over previous Volvo vehicles.

I appreciated Volvo’s decision to eschew the oversized main touchscreen in favor of a more modest 9.3-inch display. The screen is divided into four quadrants, or “tiles,” which is similar to other Volvos running the automaker’s Sensus operating system. The difference here is the XC40 Recharge’s display is powered internally by Android.

Again, shouts to Volvo for having the prescience to team up with Google for its first electric vehicles. The inclusion of Android Automotive gives the XC40 Recharge a definite advantage over other electric crossovers in its price range.

Not only is it easy to use, but it should reduce driver distraction as well. Being able to toggle between the directions, temperature, and Spotify while keeping my eyes on a road made me a better driver and reduced the likelihood that I’d swerve or let my attention wander. Smartphones and digital infotainment systems that invite a lot of scrolling or tapping are obvious distractions, and tech companies need to come up with better ways to mitigate that problem.

It’s also demonstrably better than non-native Android Auto, which just mirrors your smartphone’s display on the main infotainment screen. A recent study found that despite their simplified controls, drivers who are using Android Auto to select music are more distracted than drivers under the influence of marijuana or alcohol.

It’s an extension of Volvo’s reputation for safety, which encompasses other aspects of the XC40 Recharge’s design. The battery pack, for example, is encased in a neon orange aluminum case that Volvo is calling “a safety cage.” Embedded in the middle of the car’s body, the safety cage creates a built-in crumple zone around the battery. Leave it to Volvo to put as much thought into keeping passengers safe as it does its drivetrain.

Volvo kicked off production of the XC40 Recharge in October, almost a full year after the vehicle was first introduced, and customers will start taking delivery before the end of the year. Volvo’s suggested price is $53,990 (not including the $7,500 federal tax credit), which isn’t cheap, but feels right for the XC40 Recharge’s impressive blend of Swedish ingenuity, crossover utility, and electric performance.

Photography by Andrew Hawkins / The Verge


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