I’ve said it before and I’m happy to keep repeating it – plug-in hybrids really are fantastic at introducing people to EVs.
Though they can be criticised for their lack of efficiency – not always helped by a small minority of owners not plugging their cars in very often, but instead having them for tax reasons – ‘my’ Volvo XC40 PHEV has so far proven to be a great learning curve to show the joys (and sometimes pitfalls) of electric car charging.
You get used to plugging your car in at any opportunity, learning which chargers are the most reliable and adjusting to planning journeys slightly more than you have to with a conventional petrol or diesel. Yet, at the same time, clinging onto the regular engine as a useful back-up.
So it seemed particularly poignant to take my hybrid Volvo to a new ‘Electric Forecourt’ – essentially a ‘petrol station’ purely for electric and hybrid cars to charge at.
Operated by Greenserve – a UK company that’s aiming to transform electric car charging, and is doing a pretty good job at it so far – the first Electric Forecourt can be found on the side of a slightly random dual carriageway near Braintree, Essex. There’s the hope that there will be 100 of these sites across the UK in five years time, too – a bold aim, that’s for sure.
With a choice of rapid chargers and slower chargers – the latter being ideal for my XC40 Recharge that isn’t compatible with the ultra-rapid chargers – it allows an impressive 36 electric cars to be charged simultaneously. Even on a random Tuesday afternoon when I visit, there are a range of models plugged in, from flagship EVs like an Audi e-tron S to more run-of-the-mill options like a Renault Zoe. There are dedicated Tesla chargers here, too.
I also look slightly in envy at the owner of a Range Rover Evoque P300e PHEV – a direct rival to ‘my’ XC40 – who is able to rapid charge his car (it’s one of the few hybrids that can) meaning his Evoque’s battery can be charged in just 20 minutes, compared to the three hours that the Volvo’s takes.
Thankfully I’m here for an event, meaning the Volvo is going to be parked up for a few hours anyway, so I simply plug the car in, tap the chargepoint with my contactless card and away we go. It really couldn’t be much simpler. As a showcase of how easy electric charging can be, this Electric Forecourt is seriously impressive, while its modern look and layout is a welcome change from the overwhelmingly dingy motorway services we’re used to.
After the event was over, I returned to the Volvo to find it fully charged, and though its 20ish-mile electric range continues to underwhelm, these bursts of electricity are always welcome.
The trip from home in North Yorkshire to Essex also gave me a chance to stretch the XC40’s legs, as for the last couple of months I’ve largely just pottered around locally. It’s on longer trips like this where you really come to appreciate a car, and it’s the XC40’s seats that really stand out. A friend recently said it was the most comfortable car he’d ever sat in, and it’s certainly up there, for sure.
The optional Bang & Olufsen sound system is also an ideal companion on longer trips, and the sound quality is generally superb, though the passenger side front speaker does have an occasional tinny sound to it, which I can’t tell if it’s just a characteristic or if it’s actually broken.
Another highlight on longer trips is the adaptive cruise control system in the Volvo. It’s a feature that can be quite hit and miss in some cars, but the XC40’s is one of the best, and is able to keep a constant speed and ‘look ahead’ far more than others – rather than slamming on the brakes at the last minute when a car’s infront like some systems have a tendency to do. I also love the fact that if you’re coming up behind something on a motorway or dual carriageway that’s moving slower, as soon as you indicate to overtake, the car speeds up, as in many others you have to completely change lanes before it will speed up.
It’s little things like this on longer journeys that really cement this Volvo as one of the better cars in its class, and make it no surprise that you see so many XC40s around, with an increasing number seemingly being the ‘Recharge’ plug-in hybrid models. And if this XC40 is a taste of the future – along with the Electric Forecourt for that matter – there’s plenty to look forward to.