Four Hour Drive: 2021 Volvo XC40 Recharge

 

I borrowed a 2021 Volvo XC40 Recharge for a few hours (thanks Rob!), which I used to drive from San Francisco to Sonoma and back. Overall, I really liked it -- comfortable, easy to drive, excellent audio system, and plenty of power (perhaps too much, see below). It also has the advantage of actually fitting in our garage (made possible by power folding wing mirrors), which is something that neither the Tesla Model Y nor the Ford Mach-e can say. 

Here are some impressions, in no particular order: 

It feels like a regular car. Some EVs (see, e.g., Tesla) seem committed to making the EV experience feel very different from regular ICE cars, leaning into huge screens and new interface conventions. This Volvo is not like that. It all feels very familiar. There's a screen, but there's also the familiar window buttons, steering wheel buttons (real buttons, not touch/swipe, thank god), buttons for defrost. Nor have they departed from familiar digital dash cluster design (speedometer on one side, "power" on the other). At the same time, all the modern features are here -- Android Auto, navigation that appears in the center of the instrument cluster (reminiscent of Audi), 360 camera, lane keeping, adaptive cruise, Google Assistant, etc. Overall, I really like the under-stated "it's a normal car" vibe. My only regret is that they put climate control functions into the screen, rather than leaving the actual physical controls. 

Great steering wheel. All the steering wheel controls make sense, are intuitive to use, and well laid out. I figured out the adaptive cruise immediately, without needing to consult any instructions. 


Excellent audio. The premium Harmon Kardon stereo sounds very good. You not only get a subwoofer, but also some fancy "seat optimization" controls and a surround mode. After dialing down the sub and the treble a bit, choosing to optimize the sound for "driver", and deactivating the surround, I was a happy camper. It doesn't scale the heights of the S Class Burmester High-End system, but it seemed very much on par with the Tesla 3 and Mach-e. 


Too much power. This was the dual motor variant, which sports 402 horsepower and 486 pound feet of torque, getting the car to 60 mph in 4.3 seconds. That's just too much power for this chassis. Punch the accelerator and it snaps your neck into the headrest. And under hard acceleration, the car goes up on its toes, rather than feeling planted and stable. The high seating position exacerbates the feeling that things are not entirely in control when under hard acceleration. In the end, this isn't a problem for a mature driver -- just never use the last 50% of the accelerator pedal. But this begs the question -- why is it there?

Heavy steering. The steering is surprisingly heavy for an SUV. Cars in this category usually have very light steering, almost encouraging single finger driving. Not this one. In fact, I suspect the Volvo engineers did this deliberately to nudge drivers to keep both hands on the wheel. Sure, you *can* drive it one-handed, but the heaviness of the steering mildly discourages you from doing so. 

Nice interior, but not luxury. Yes, there's more hard plastic here than you get in a Benz or Audi or Genesis. And they haven't been as clever as Tesla 3 at hiding the cost saving compromises. But it's perfectly nice. And there's no unnecessary bling that might not age well (I'm looking at you, Kia/Hyundai/Genesis). Nevertheless, I sure would like the open-pore wood trim that comes in the XC60 and XC90. Also, while I respect the leather-free direction that Volvo is going, I can't help but think that they haven't yet landed on an equally pleasing alternative. 

All in all, a very pleasant car to drive. Unfortunately, the rear cargo area is just a bit small for a Newfoundland, and also a bit too high. So the Honda Fit remains!   

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