2022 Volvo C40 Recharge First Drive Review: The EV for Comfort and Style

Volvo’s C30 and C40 were introduced about 15 years apart, and the similar-sounding names are not a coincidence. Then and now, the C-prefix denotes a car that breaks from the status quo in a bid to lure younger buyers to the brand. What has changed over the past decade and a half are the traits that these coveted customers look for in a car. In 2006, they were after a small and nimble hatchback. In 2021, they’re seeking a crossover that’s not shaped like a big box but is powered by an electric drivetrain. Something like the 2022 Volvo C40 Recharge.

As for the 40 moniker, it signals that the C40 Recharge is closely related to the XC40 Recharge. They’re part of the same family, but there are enough differences that Volvo isn’t worried about tribal warfare in the 40 aisle. The C40 is its own thing, yet its influence over the rest of the range looks like it will loom larger than the C30’s ever did.

2022 Volvo C40 Recharge: By the Numbers

  • Base price: $59,845
  • Powertrain: 78-kWh battery | dual 150-kW motors | 1-speed automatic | all-wheel-drive
  • Horsepower: 402
  • Torque: 487 lb-ft
  • 0-60 mph: 4.5 seconds
  • Curb weight: 4,710 to 4,770 pounds
  • Anticipated EPA-estimated range: 225 miles
  • 10 to 80 percent charge time: 37 minutes with 150 kW DC charger
  • Seating capacity: 5
  • Cargo volume: 14.6 cubic feet (rear) | 0.7 cubic feet (front)
  • Quick take: The C40 Recharge is quick, stylish, pleasant to drive—and sporty for a Volvo.

Fraternal Twins

Volvo didn’t lump its gasoline-powered cars under the Refuel label, so why are its EVs called Recharge? Good question: The C40 and the XC40 Recharge symbolize how executives are recharging the brand—or so I’m told by Volvo’s head of strategy Jonas Engström. It’s also a way to deviate from the industry’s obsession with the letter “e” (e.g., Ford Mustang Mach-E) that reminds motorists to plug the thing in from time to time.

Recharge it is, then. Viewed with x-ray vision, the C40 Recharge is nearly identical to the XC40 Recharge. Both are built on the Compact Modular Architecture (CMA) platform, which also underpins the Polestar 2, and they use the same 402-horsepower electric drivetrain. It’s design that primarily sets them apart.

The C40’s swoopy look serves two purposes. First, in the words of Volvo designer Anders Gunnarson, the C40 was created as a car “for people who want to be seen” and the new look plays a big role in this very un-Volvo exhibitionism. If you do not want to be seen, there are other options including a more subtle-looking crossover, which Volvo makes, and an invisibility cloak, which Volvo does not yet make.

Second, stream-rolling the roofline also makes the C40 about six percent more aerodynamic than the XC40, an improvement that unlocks additional driving range. French designer Robert Opron figured this out decades ago at Citroën, and Toyota looped back to it when it released the original Prius; this basic silhouette is a very aerodynamic way of drawing a car. It’s when you jack up the body to create a crossover that some of the benefits get lost. So, while at first glance the C40 looks like an XC40 shaped in the mold of a speed bump, there’s a lot more going on design-wise than initially meets the eye.

Volvo transplanted everything we like about the XC40’s interior into the C40, including numerous storage bins (there is even a wastebasket in the center console), user-friendly tech, and thoughtful packaging. Buyers will have some model-specific trim and color options to choose from, and the C40 is notably not offered with leather, but the visual differences are blatantly minor. It’s a pleasant place to travel in and the front seats make a good case for Volvo-built office chairs. Rear legroom is adequate unless you’ve got flamingo-like legs but headroom is predictably tight, even for the average adult.

One of the tricks up the C40’s sleeve is an Android-based infotainment system with Google services baked right in. It looks almost exactly like the Sensus system that anyone driving a late-model Volvo is familiar with, so the graphics are sharp and the layout is intuitive, but the Silicon Valley influence becomes apparent when Google Maps greets you after you tap to open the navigation app. I’m not here to settle the Google versus Apple debate; what’s certain is that having a major company that specializes in developing software design the infotainment system in a car makes a tremendous amount of sense. Volvo’s previous system wasn’t bad by any means, but this just feels right—and conveniently familiar.

One of the secondary but nonetheless significant differences between the XC40 and the C40 is that the latter is the first Volvo available exclusively with an electric powertrain. If you spot one parked in front of a Chevron station, the owner is either craving a snack and a pop or making a momentous mistake. The reasoning behind this decision is that the Swedish carmaker plans to become an electric-only brand in less than a decade. It has decided that gasoline-powered cars are bad, though it’s committed to selling them through 2030, and making the C40 all-electric, all the time, is part of the weaning process.

The C40’s power comes from a pair of electric motors (one over each axle) that jointly develop 402 horsepower and 487 pound-feet of torque. They draw electricity from a 78-kWh lithium-ion battery pack and give the C40 through-the-road all-wheel-drive—meaning there’s no mechanical connection between the axles. Rather, it’s a symmetrical system: Each motor has an identical output, which speaks volumes about the driving experience that engineers wanted to create. While some carmakers assign a bigger motor to the rear axle to create a sportier, rear-biased driving experience, Volvo played the safety card.

The Down-to-Earth EV

Like most electric cars, the C40 is quick off the line thanks largely to the instant torque provided by its electric motors. Hitting 60 mph from a stop takes 4.5 seconds, and acceleration is linear and silent. Zero-to-60-mph is a fairly unrealistic metric, especially in this segment of the market, but the C40 goes well in real-world conditions, like when you’re merging onto a major road and need to dart into a gap in traffic.

Handling is reasonably sharp, with the steel suspension system keeping excessive body roll at bay, but the C40’s steering is not the talkative kind. Motorists can have it one of two ways: light, which is the standard configuration, and a little bit heavier, which is achieved by tapping the “steering feel firm” option in one of the infotainment system’s menus. Either way, it’s clear that the chassis was tuned for comfort.

And that’s fine. It’s what buyers expect and what Volvo delivered. In the countryside or on the highway, the C40 feels like a much bigger car in the sense that it’s stable, relaxing to drive, and quiet. “Of course it’s quiet, dummy, it’s an electric car!” you might say. Fair point, but wind noise becomes more prevalent when you remove the part of the car that contains thousands of explosions per minute, and yet Volvo still kept things in check.

Adjusting the steering system’s firmness is one of three driving-related options at your fingertips. You can also turn on a mode called Off-Road, which is essentially hill descent control, and you can turn the regenerative braking system on or off. When it’s on, it’s on: It’s strong and it can slow the C40 to a full stop if you give it enough space. There’s no in-between mode like you’ll find in some other electric cars.

“Either you like it and you turn it on, or you don’t like it and you keep it off,” Engström explained. 

But what about driving modes? In 2021, even some dirt bikes have different driving profiles (Sport, Rain, Eco, and so on) that the rider can select, so why didn’t the C40 receive this technology? “We could have added [a sport mode], but we don’t need it. It’s sporty enough for the brand, and a sport mode would make it too complicated. We want to keep it simple for the customer,” Engström replied. This sums up the C40 stunningly well: sporty enough for Volvo, which does not aspire to rule the Nürburgring in the foreseeable future, and imbued with Scandinavian simplicity. It doesn’t pretend to be something it isn’t. 

My time behind the wheel was too short to accurately measure real-world range or put the charging times Volvo provided to the test. The EPA hasn’t gotten its hands on the C40 yet, but I’m told to expect an official driving range rating in the vicinity of 225 miles, which is not awful but not stellar. For context, the XC40 Recharge is rated at 223 miles and an all-wheel-drive XC40 with a turbocharged four-cylinder goes 355 miles on a tank. But while Volvo has not manifested an interest in paying for your gasoline, it will give C40 buyers 250 kWh of free charging on the Volkswagen-operated Electrify America network. In theory, the battery pack can be fast-charged from 10 percent to 80 percent of its capacity in 37 minutes—assuming you have access to a 150-kW charger and the battery’s temperature is in the right zone.

The Niche That Points the Way Forward

Built in Ghent, Belgium, and sold exclusively online, the Volvo C40 Recharge will reach showrooms across the United States in time for the 2022 model year. Pricing starts at $59,845, including the mandatory destination charge, plus any and all available incentives that enter the equation. Even with federal help factored in, the C40 costs more than an entry-level XC90. Expensive? You bet, but the members of Volvo’s target audience (remember: folks “who want to be seen”) have reliably proven that they’re more than willing to pay a premium for style—even if it comes at the expense of practicality.

For the money, buyers will be treated to a relatively long list of standard features that includes 20-inch wheels, a panoramic roof, neat-looking interior trim with graphics shaped like a simplified topographic map, heated front and rear seats, the aforementioned Android-based infotainment system, and a 360-degree camera. The only standalone option for 2022 is metallic paint, which Volvo charges $695 for.

While we’re in the midst of an EV proliferation, the C40 Recharge has very few direct competitors. There are numerous electric crossovers in its price range but none make quite the same fashion statement. Ford charges $59,900 for the Mustang Mach-E GT, for example, but it’s a model that puts a much more pronounced emphasis on performance with 480 horsepower and 600 pound-feet of torque. Tesla’s Model Y also lands in this bracket with enough options piled on, but its main selling points are technology and Elon Musk’s Twitter account. Ultimately, the C40’s closest rival comes from its own ranks: The XC40 Recharge wraps the same basic powertrain in a less fluid-looking package for about $3,500 less.

Although the C40 is ultimately a niche model, it’s an important one that illustrates the direction Volvo has taken in terms of powertrain and infotainment technology, design, and even sales strategy. It’s not for everyone, but those for whom it’s a match will enjoy a quick, stylish electric car with usable range.

It’s this approach to designing and selling a car that makes the C40 more influential than the C30 was. In hindsight, the plucky little hatchback was surprisingly good to drive and interesting to look at thanks, in part, to a few well-placed retro-inspired styling cues, but its legacy is that of an outlier—it’s the exception, not the rule. When you see one, odds are you think, “Holy hell, I forgot Volvo built this!” and not “OK, this is where the rest of the range can trace its roots to.” Not every future addition to the Swedish firm’s lineup will feature a sloping roof, but selling upmarket EVs online is the kind of future I can see sticking around for Volvo.

And, if you’re wondering: Volvo won’t rename its gasoline-powered models Refuel. I asked.

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