When I was handed the keys to my plug-in hybrid Volvo XC40 some 10 months and 9,500 miles ago, I was keen to find out if a PHEV was the ‘stepping-stone’ technology into the world of EVs that it’s often seen as.
Like it or not, this is going to be the future of driving if you’re buying a new car, as petrol and diesel cars are slowly phased out over the coming decade. Throughout my time with KM70 XKO, it’s certainly been a great way of introducing me to the world of electrified cars.
Arriving home, plugging the car straight in becomes almost second nature, while when out and about, you get into the habit of seeing if there are any chargers around to plug in if you’re going to be parked up for a decent amount of time. These are all things that we’ll be considering more in the coming years, and in that respect, I’ve found this Volvo a superb introduction to charging, its pitfalls and its benefits.
But, of course, this long-term test hasn’t just been about plug-in hybrids but also the XC40 itself. And in that respect, I’m truly smitten with it. This Volvo SUV is now one of the UK’s most popular cars and top of its class for sales, and it’s really not hard to see why.
Even 10 months on, this XC40 is a car that feels special, and that really matters in the premium market where people are paying an…errr… premium. Every time it’s parked up, you can’t help but have a glance back to admire its sleek Scandinavian design. Its cool ‘Thor’s Hammer’ headlights and large LED rear lights always lighting back the way to it in a busy car park.
Our XC40’s interior was also quite different to most, with its ‘Amber’ coloured leather seats and panoramic sunroof really helping the cabin to feel light, airy and cool. I’ve also done a number of longer trips in the Volvo, and on all of them, it’s been sublime. It is, without doubt, one of the most comfortable cars I’ve ever travelled in – something other passengers regularly comment on – while its superb safety systems helped to take the hassle out of longer trips, and the inevitable jams on the M25.
And though the XC40 might be Volvo’s junior SUV, it often left me wondering why you’d upgrade to the slightly bigger XC60. Its boot has proven especially useful, from taking dogs on walks, to Christmas trees to multiple golf bags and my mountain bike, there isn’t once when I’ve thought ‘I could do with something a bit bigger’. Unlike other PHEVs, the XC40’s boot is just as practical as regular petrol versions too, even having space under the boot floor for a spare tyre, which thankfully has never had to be used.
In terms of reliability, the XC40 has also not put a single foot wrong in all the time I’ve had it. Volvos are two-a-penny around here, and I know of family friends that have had a few troubles with their cars over the years. But even after a decent chunk of miles and hard graft at times, it was perfect – even given a full clean bill of health by local dealer Ray Chapman Motors when it went in for its first service a few months ago.
And any grumbles? Well, I’m sad to report, yes. In fact, my only real gripe with the XC40 in all its time was the plug-in hybrid powertrain, and predominantly its electric range. While many hybrids are now pushing 30 miles plus, in all my time with KM70 XKO, it never achieved more than 20 miles without needing petrol assistance, and sometimes struggled for even 15.
For me and my journeys (which are typically round-trips of 35 miles), it just wasn’t good enough and meant that a lot of the time – even despite being charged each night – I was using it mainly as a petrol car. This meant that across 9,500 miles, the XC40 averaged just shy of 50mpg. Sure, that’s not too bad for a 250bhp SUV, but it fell behind my expectations and was some way off the 100mpg-plus that Volvo claims.
As a side note, Volvo has recently announced its fitting many of its PHEVs with much larger batteries, enabling a far greater electric range – the firm claims more than 50 miles in some cases. The omission? Well, for the time being, these alterations don’t affect the XC40, and it’s a change that can’t come soon enough in my view.
So, in summary. It’s been an absolute pleasure to run ‘my’ Volvo XC40, and I would wholeheartedly recommend one to anyone. I really would. But unless the overwhelming majority of your round-trip journeys are under 15 miles, I’d really think twice about this plug-in hybrid. You would likely be much better off with the standard petrol car, or the new electric model that’s pushing 250 miles from a single charge anyway.