Volvo has truly come alive in the age of electric cars. Clean drive somehow feels right for the cars — the right expression for the Swedish marque. The brand’s promise used to be on delivering the safest of cars; these were solid family cars, first station-wagons and later SUVs, which you could rely on. Then every other carmaker upped its safety game, and the promise began to be less of a unique draw. Now, the marque appears to have found its grounding in the electric age.
Volvo is serious about electrifying its entire range, promising to make all its portfolio of new cars battery-electric vehicles (BEV) by 2030. Furthermore, by 2040 the carmaker will aim to be a carbon-neutral organization with full transparency on the challenges ahead and the actions taken. Not all mainstream carmakers are making such pledges.
Which makes it all the more exciting to be driving the new C40 Recharge, a car that is leading the way in this new chapter. A pivotal product for Volvo, unlike other products in the portfolio which are essentially engineering revisions of current models, the C40 is the company’s first bespoke electrically-designed car.
It comes with twin motors front and rear and a 78kW/h battery which can be fast-charged to 80% in under 40 minutes, boasting an estimated 260-mile battery range which is expected to improve over time with over-the-air software updates. And it is efficient. Really efficient.
At the weekend, we drive the C40 to my in-laws halfway across the UK, charge it overnight, then decide to take the scenic route back via the Cotswolds, visiting villages, detouring to country routes, a spot of lunch at Soho Farmhouse, to return to London in the early evening with just under 50% battery charge. Meanwhile, the drive was so smooth and easy that we hardly registered the time.
I’ve written about the design and spoken at length to Robin Page, Volvo’s senior vice president of design, yet the C40 is quite something else on the road. It certainly looks striking with its low, sporty profile, sleek roofline and new electric face. The upright seating position expresses the car’s utility, while the roofline — which comes only in black to identify the C40 at a distance on the road — looks modern as well as contributes to the car’s overall aerodynamics to help with the battery range.
The C40 introduces Volvo’s new face with a frameless grille and it features the latest pixel technology headlights, so you don’t dazzle oncoming traffic with your full beam — a feature that’s particularly suited to Scandinavian countries with their long dark winters. Broken graphics in the rear light design add to the new visual identity, as do the new aero-styled wheel design which also signifies efficiency. Meanwhile, a subtle light illuminating the front doors welcomes you as you unlock and approach the car, which may seem like a small idea, but makes you feel a little safer in darkness.
Inside tells an exciting story, in that it is animal-free, which is so crucial as we move forward with more sustainable travel. It seems logical for electric cars to take this approach, yet I’m always amazed at how few do. Most are adamant to maintain the traditional auto codes: leather and wood for luxury, cloth and plastics for all others. It’s a shame. We need to move on. On the C40, something like 97% of the materials is based on recycled PET bottles — carpet, console sides and door inserts — and the seats are made of recycled materials which have the double benefit of reducing the car’s overall weight compared to leather.
Volvo has been learning a great deal from its electric-only sister brand Polestar which shares the same design studio in Gothenburg and has been exploring and experimenting with sustainable and recycled fabrics and materials from outside the auto sphere. The two teams share ideas and develop materials together but put different twists depending on the brand, Page told me in our interview. For instance, inspiration for the C40 came from northern Sweden’s natural landscape which the team turned into a typography pattern on the instrument panel. It has a layered effect so the light behind it creates an unusual and cool ambient effect.
Volvo’s mainstream and hybrid SUVs of various sizes and trims, to my eyes, are beginning to look a little samey. The C40, though, is fresh and fun and rethinks design to a degree. It could do more to be radical; all car companies can do more to be radical as we shift gears towards a new chapter in transport. Yet if the C40 is anything to go by, Volvo will do well in the electric age.