Driven: The All-Important and All-New Battery Electric Volvo C40

Volvo is truly alive in this age of electric cars. Clean drive feels right for the cars, which is the right expression for the Swedish marque. The promise of the brand was to deliver safe cars. These were solid family cars, first station wagons and then SUVs that you could trust. As every other carmaker improved its safety record, the promise became less appealing. The marque seems to have found its footing in the digital age.

Volvo is committed to electrifying all of its vehicles and has promised to make all new cars BEV-electric by 2030. Volvo will also aim to become a carbon neutral organization by 2040, with full transparency about the challenges and actions taken. These pledges are not made by all mainstream car manufacturers.

It is exciting to drive the C40 Recharge, which is a car that leads the charge 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.

The vehicle comes with twin motors at the front and rear, and a 78kW/h lithium-ion battery that can be charged to 80% in just 40 minutes. It boasts a range of approximately 260 miles and is likely to get better with software updates. It is also efficient. It is really efficient.

We drove the C40 halfway across the UK to my in-laws. After charging it overnight, we decided to drive the scenic route back via Cotswolds, stopping at villages and detours to country roads. Then, we returned to London in the evening with less than half of our battery. The drive went so smoothly and quickly that we barely noticed the time.

Although I have written extensively about the design and talked to Robin Page Volvo’s senior vice-president of design, the C40 is something quite different on the road. The C40 is a striking design with its sporty profile and sleek roofline, as well as the new electric face. The car’s upright seating position reflects its utility. While the roofline, which is only available in black to identify it from a distance, looks modern and contributes to the car’s overall aerodynamics to aid with the battery range.

Volvo’s new C40 features a frameless grille, the most recent pixel technology headlights and a full beam. This feature is especially suitable for Scandinavian countries due to their long dark winters. The new design of the wheels is aero-styled and adds to the visual identity. A subtle light illuminates the front doors as you unlock the car and approach it. Although this may seem small, it makes you feel safer in the dark.

Inside is an engaging story. It is animal-free which is crucial for sustainable travel. Although it seems obvious for electric cars to follow this approach, I am always surprised at how few do. Many are determined to keep the old auto codes in place: leather and wood for luxury, and cloth and plastics on all other items. It is a shame. We must move on. The C40’s materials are a majority made from recycled PET bottles (carpet, console sides, and door inserts). Seats are also made from recycled materials, which has the double benefit of reducing car’s overall weight relative to leather.

Volvo has learned a lot from Polestar, its electric-only sister company. The two share the same Gothenburg design studio and have been exploring and experimenting using sustainable and recycled fabrics as well as materials from other industries. Page explained that the two brands have different approaches to their designs, but they share many of the same ideas. The C40 was inspired by the natural beauty of northern Sweden, which Page explained that the team used to create a typography pattern for the instrument panel. The light behind it creates a cool and unusual ambient effect. It is layered to give it a unique effect.

My opinion is that Volvo’s mainstream and hybrid SUVs in various sizes and trims are starting to look a bit tired. However, the C40 is fun, fresh, and completely rethinks design. The C40 could be more radical. All car companies have the potential to do more as we move towards a new chapter of transport. Volvo will succeed in the electric age, if the C40 is any indication.

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