2022 Volvo C40 Recharge First Drive Review: Imperfect Beauty

Volvo has committed to removing all tailpipe emissions from its cars by the year 2030, and it’s making good on that promise with the 2022 C40 Recharge – the company’s first product powered exclusively by electricity. Of course, that claim comes with a caveat: A very similar vehicle already exists in the Volvo lineup.

In fact, the C40 is pretty much a more stylish version of the XC40, which also offers a Recharge all-electric powertrain alongside gas-powered T4 and T5 versions. The XC40 donates its basic design, front and rear electric motors, and 78.0-kilowatt-hour battery pack to the C40, which differentiates itself with sleek fastback styling and unique interior finishes. In the US, the sleek crossover will get standard 20-inch wheels, a fixed-glass panoramic roof, and an efficiency-increasing heat pump. Some aerodynamic tricks help smooth out the C40’s slipstream, contributing to a range increase from the XC40’s 225 miles to about 230.

Volvo XC40

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Thanks to that added standard equipment and slightly longer legs, the Volvo C40 Recharge could well be considered the company’s EV flagship, with a price to match. At $58,750 plus $1,095 destination, the stylish SUV faces very stiff competition from the Ford Mustang Mach-E, Tesla Model Y, and even its own corporate cousin, the Polestar 2 – all of which offer more range at a lower price. The C40 does its best to compensate with attractive design, sustainable interior materials, and a nice driving experience, making Volvo’s first EV-specific offering a nice alternative to those other segment stalwarts.

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Quick Stats2022 Volvo C40 Recharge
Output402 Horsepower / 487 Pound-Feet
Range230 Miles (est.)
0-60 MPH4.5 Seconds
Cargo Capacity17.3 Cubic Feet + 0.7 Cubic Feet (frunk)
Weight4,700 Pounds (est.)
Base Price$58,750 + $1,095 Destination

Brave New World, Same Volvo Design

In terms of styling, the C40 moves Volvo forward only incrementally, so your opinion of its appearance will largely depend on how you feel about other Volvo products. It shares much of its bodywork below the beltline with the XC40 Recharge, highlighted by Thor’s Hammer LED headlight accents and an attractive grille blockout panel up front, with clean bodysides and standard 20-inch wheels helping liven up the profile view.

Where the C40 diverges most obviously is its roofline, which is about 2.4 inches lower than its more upright sibling. The Volvo-signature vertical taillights wear a new, dotted-line LED design along the more steeply raked rear window, which represents the company’s first foray into the fastback “lifestyle SUV” space. Attractive little humps on the roof spoiler actually house the hatch hinges, reducing intrusion into the passenger cabin, while a small deck spoiler reduces lift and improves aerodynamics.2022 Volvo C40 Recharge Interior Dashboard2022 Volvo C40 Recharge Interior Front Seats2022 Volvo C40 Recharge Interior Rear Seats

The differences between the XC40 and its fastback twin are less apparent inside, as the C40 gets the same overall cabin design, including the funky carpeted door pockets. The most dramatic departure is the available Fjord Blue interior, which gets a charcoal-colored dashboard, seats, and door panels, with the carpets and flat-woven floor mats done up in a color convincingly inspired by the deep water on Scandinavia’s west coast. With a matching Fjord Blue exterior, it’s arguably the C40’s best colorway, betraying its Swedish heritage and highlighting its devotion to sustainability.

That’s because the EV makes use of a staggering 77 pounds of recycled plastic in the cabin alone. PET plastic bottles get reincarnated as the carpeting and suede-like seat centers, while the floor mats are made from old fishing nets that would otherwise clog those aforementioned fjords. Yes, the monotone charcoal interior scheme boasts the same recycling cred, but by choosing deep blue, you’re putting your eco-friendly priorities on full display. The interior is also totally leather-free, with nice-feeling “microtech” smooth upholstery on the seat bolsters, door panel uppers, and steering wheel rim. A sustainable wool option will come later.

The EV makes use of a staggering 77 pounds of recycled plastic in the cabin alone. Plastic bottles get reincarnated as carpeting and suede-like seat centers, while the floor mats are made from old fishing nets that would otherwise clog Sweden’s fjords.

Those materials are impressive overall, with the ratty-feeling door carpeting actually adding to the charm. There are some hard plastics on the center console – including a fingerprint-grabbing gloss black panel near the gearshift – that betray the entry-level XC40 roots. Part of the cabin’s appeal is a tinted panoramic glass roof which actually improves front headroom relative to the XC40 in spite of the lower roofline. The same isn’t true in back, however; a 3-inch headroom cut means any rear-seat passengers over 6 feet tall have to hunch. A 17.3-cubic-foot rear cargo area and a 0.7-cubic-foot frunk keep gear in its proper place.2022 Volvo C40 Recharge Interior Infotainment2022 Volvo C40 Recharge Interior Infotainment

Tech To Me

Like the Polestar 2, both the 2022 XC40 and C40 will receive a new infotainment system, replacing the aging Sensus interface with Android Automotive. That means a variety of Google-native apps, including Maps and natural-speech Assistant. The cars we drove were pre-production examples, but even so, the new infotainment is reasonably well integrated, offering charging suggestions, EV-optimized route options, nicely organized menus and secondary controls, and over-the-air updates. More logically organized than the outgoing system, the Android-based infotainment feels instantly familiar to Google natives and decently intuitive for others.

However, it’s not perfect. Unlike Sensus, which would allow split-screen content, the Google system only displays one app at a time on the 9.0-inch center touchscreen – a problem alleviated somewhat by the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster’s large map display. That said, the gauge panel isn’t configurable enough, and accessing the trip computer is more difficult than it needs to be. Furthermore, on the vehicles we drove, there was a battery state-of-charge readout, but no range estimate, leading to some anxiety as the juice drained. A distance-to-empty feature is in the center screen, but finding it takes some digging.2022 Volvo C40 Recharge Interior Steering Wheel

Additionally, touch response lacks finesse, particularly the map’s laggy zoom and pan inputs. And Apple apologists will be sad that CarPlay isn’t available yet, though it will come via an over-the-air update sooner than later. Most frustratingly, the automatic screen brightness seems to be timed for twilight instead of actual ambient lighting conditions, and day mode only has one illumination level. Folks who regularly drive through rain- or snow-darkened daytime skies will find it bothersome.2022 Volvo C40 Recharge Exterior Side Profile2022 Volvo C40 Recharge Exterior Front Quarter2022 Volvo C40 Recharge Exterior Rear Quarter

Instant Gratification

More universally appealing is the C40 Recharge’s polished road manners and bold performance. The XC40-donated setup is good for a total of 402 horsepower and 487 pound-feet, enabling a sprint to 60 miles per hour in 4.5 seconds and a top speed of 112 miles per hour – roughly equal numbers to the non-GT Ford Mustang Mach-E and Tesla Model Y Long Range.

However, the numbers don’t tell the story of how poised the C40 Recharge feels in just about every traffic situation. The skinny pedal feels progressive and natural, allowing for smooth departures in town without sacrificing swift response when giving it the boot. And the digital speedometer displays numbers one at a time in quick succession, rather than skipping by two or three. When you’re flooring it, the readout is a festive flurry of numbers that adds to the accelerative drama just a bit. Every added inch of pedal travel corresponds to a commensurate shove in the lower back, and the C40 is surprisingly exciting to get up to speed.

In fact, the accelerator might be the best part of the whole car, particularly if one-pedal driving is active. Volvo has tuned its regeneration system flawlessly.

In fact, the accelerator might be the best part of the whole car, particularly if one-pedal driving is active. Volvo has tuned its regeneration system flawlessly – the generator adds exponential resistance as speed drops, a perfect setup for efficiency and stop-and-go convenience. When looking well ahead at traffic, the regeneration is adequate to slow the vehicle, and should you find yourself needing to actuate the friction brakes too, you’ll experience linear response.

Other dynamic areas are pretty well-sorted too. Taut suspension tuning and a battery array mounted centrally in the transmission tunnel ensure reasonable responses in tight corners, with less front-end plow than expected around cloverleaf freeway interchanges (it might even improve on the athletic Mustang Mach-E in this regard). At the same time, passengers aboard the C40 Recharge will appreciate the smooth ride over pockmarked city streets, with large impacts met with a refined “thunk” and little else. Drive mode adjustments are limited to “firm steering” and “one-pedal driving” – you’ll want to toggle them both for maximum fun.2022 Volvo C40 Recharge Exterior Front View2022 Volvo C40 Recharge Exterior Taillight2022 Volvo C40 Recharge Exterior Badging

The only serious complaint we can make with how the C40 Recharge drives is elevated tire noise at freeway speed. Part of the issue could be the absent engine roar, which can sometimes act as a white-noise buffer for other sounds. The other problem could be the European-market Pirelli rubber on our tester – branded with specific Recharge markings on the sidewall. The tires fit Volvo’s criteria for genuine year-round performance and low rolling resistance, but they may add some unpleasant roar. American-market cars will likely be better in that regard.

Friends In Good Fortune

There’s one big elephant in the room when discussing the 2022 Volvo C40 Recharge, and that’s price. At $59,745 with destination (or $60,540 with our tester’s Fjord Blue paint), the C40 is not only the most expensive Volvo EV, it’s also dearer than the dual-motor Polestar 2, which costs $51,200 before options. Speccing it similarly to the C40 means adding a heat pump, panoramic roof, and Pilot Assist, bringing the price to $58,400. Similarly equipped, a Polestar 2 still undercuts the C40 while offering a bit more range (249 miles) and a different take on Scandinavian style.

The $55,800 Ford Mustang Mach-E with the extended-range battery and all-wheel drive is another compelling option, offering tons of cabin space, similar performance, and an EPA-estimated range of 270 miles. And then there’s Tesla, a name synonymous with premium EVs whose Model Y small SUV costs $54,900 and can go 326 miles per charge. As we alluded before, however, neither the Mach-E nor the Model Y drive as fine as the Volvo nor offer as nice of an interior.

With such a wide variety of interesting contestants in the smallish electric SUV space, the Volvo C40 Recharge certainly has its work cut out for it. But we think that anyone who gives it a chance will find themselves utterly charmed by the fastback sport-ute’s avant-garde interior design, luxurious road manners, and funky-yet-familiar Swedish styling. Although accurate, we think Volvo’s range claims are probably still not quite long-legged enough for people to abandon their internal-combustion autos en masse, but as a first taste of the company’s EV future, the Volvo C40 Recharge is a tantalizing amuse bouche.

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