2021 Volvo XC40 Recharge review: Middle Ground

Volvo’s efficient plug-in hybrid XC40 is the smallest, least expensive PHEV in Singapore to date, but is it just a middle ground or a real live wire?

SINGAPORE – This is the plug-in hybrid electric (PHEV) version of Volvo’s small, successful SUV, the XC40. It’s an admirably efficient car and the least expensive PHEV on the Singapore market as of March 2021 – but that doesn’t mean it’s destined to charge straight to the top. 

PHEVs are the middle ground between regular, no-need-to-charge hybrids and full only-run-with-external-charging battery electric vehicles (BEVs). The XC40 Recharge packs an 8.5kWh lithium ion battery under the rear seats (compare that to at least 30kWh for a BEV). That gives the car extra electric-only range, while the rest of it operates like a conventional hybrid. 

Like the S60, XC60, and XC90 PHEV models, there are five drive modes – electric only, power, ‘normal’ hybrid, custom individual, and off-road – but for the duration of our drive we left it in normal hybrid mode, allowing the car decide what energy to parcel out, and when. 

That meant cruising quietly along on electric power most of the time, even on the highway, with the three-cylinder turbo engine only kicking in during acceleration. After 25km of driving, the battery was drained and we had only sipped petrol at a rate of 1.5L/100km.

We drove a PHEV head-to-head against a regular gasoline car and the results will shock impress you

Thereon, the car’s engine became the prime mover, and we saw fuel consumption climb to 5.5L/100km by the end of our 100+km test drive. That is very good for a small luxury SUV, though not particularly efficient compared to mainstream hybrids.

One benefit of a luxury PHEV is power – the XC40 has 257hp in total, and the added torque boost of the electric motor means it’s light on its feet, and the flow of power – be it gasoline or electric – is seamless and smooth. Volvo’s three-cylinder engine also seems a little less gruff and with less of the diesel-like injector clatter that its four-cylinder engines have. 

At almost 1.8-tonnes, the XC40 does pay a mass penalty for all its technology. The tall viewpoint delivers excellent vision, and it’s a small car still, so not difficult to park or manuver. But it’s handling isn’t outstanding in any way, and the ride quality is classic small SUV – lots of pitter-patter, and not particularly refined. 

Otherwise, the XC40 Recharge is identical to its conventional stable mates, as described in our drive of the T5 model: A good-looking, well-made SUV with a thoughtful interior and plenty of practicality. The boot space is only a tiny bit smaller in the PHEV – 452-litres instead of 460-litres. 

But PHEV sales haven’t taken off the way hybrid or even BEV sales have, as you can see from our analysis: in 2020 there were 41,845 hybrids on the roads here, and just 552 PHEVs. 

And to make the most of a PHEV and to avoid visiting the gas station ever again, you need a place to charge. And if you have a place to charge, and don’t need to drive to Malaysia, you might as well flip the switch to a full electric. You could drive one without plugging in at all, and it’d still be more efficient than a conventional gasoline car for sure but there’s also the issue of cost. 

PHEVs are confined to the luxury segment for now, and despite the XC40 Recharge being the least expensive PHEV around, it’s still expensive for what it is. At S$220k with COE, the Recharge is S$41k more than the entry-level XC40 T4. 

That could be down to weight: Unlike regular hybrids which often score VES A2 – and a S$15k discount – the XC40 Recharge scores B. Other PHEVs have similar VES bands, like BMW’s X3 xDrive30e. A S$15k price reduction could go a long way to boosting sales for the Volvo. 

The XC40 Recharge is an excellent PHEV and the least costly one to date, but it’s still expensive for what it is, and like other PHEVs could get stuck in between the gasoline-electric divide through no fault of its own. 

Volvo XC40 Recharge 

Engine 1,477cc, inline 4, turbocharged
Power177hp at 5800rpm
Torque 265Nm at 1500-3000rpm 
Gearbox 7-speed dual-clutch 
Electric Motor80hp / 160Nm
Battery type / capacity Lithium ion / 8.5kWh
Charging Time / Type 3 hours / AC Cable
Electric Range 40km 
System Power / Torque 257hp / 425Nm
Top Speed 250km/h 
0-100km/h7.3 seconds 
Fuel Efficiency 2.2L/100km 
VESB / –
Agent Wearnes Automotive
Price S$220,000 with COE and VES
Availability Now 

about the author

Derryn Wong
CarBuyer's chief editor has a keen interest in all things mechanical, technological, animal and mineral. He's particularly fascinated by eco-cars and cars which make no logical sense. An avid motorcyclist and photographer, he also enjoys cats.