An appealing blend of compactness and practicality - but you can get better real-world range for the money

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Very few cars better symbolise how electrification is impacting car design, and opening up the art of the possible, than the single-motor version of the Volvo C40 Recharge

Having joined its twin-motor four-wheel-drive sibling in production in Ghent, Belgium, midway through 2022, this car is broadly what you would expect it to be. It costs a bit less than a C40 Recharge Twin; it uses one drive motor rather than two; it has one driven axle rather than two; and it feaures a slightly smaller drive battery than its twin-motor sibling.

The C40’s backlight fascia trim was apparently inspired by the topography of Sweden’s Abisko national park. Its use as a navigation aid must be limited, but it is, at least, ambient lighting decoration done a little differently. I quite liked it

But dig a little deeper and you’ll discover one key technical point that would have made a 20th century automotive product planner’s eyes roll. Because while the 2023-model-year C40 Recharge (the one we’re testing here, just arrived on Volvo UK’s demo fleet after ongoing production and delivery delays) has its drive motor mounted up front attached to the front axle, the 2024-model-year version (which recently went on to UK order books, goes into production in the second half of 2023, and which you’re more likely get if you put down a deposit today) will have a rear-mounted drive motor and be rear-wheel drive instead. 

The rear-mounted motor will make for better cruising efficiency and a useful torque gain - but it will also make this Volvo the very first car in this tester’s two decades of experience to switch from a front- to a rear-wheel-drive layout midway through its model lifecycle. And isn’t that just electrification in a nutshell? The rulebook we all know is left in tatters on the workshop floor.

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And now we can say, with some confidence, just how few Volvo C40 Recharge owners are likely to notice the difference when this car does make that switch. This is a car with plenty of Volvo-typical strengths, although an unlikely one to be a default choice for anyone comparing EVs rivals on paper for reasons we’ll get to. But, like a lot of Volvos in general and plenty of electric cars more widely, it doesn’t invite much driver engagement. Its performance and handling are of the kind for which descriptors like ‘fine’ and ‘okay’ could have been coined. But it’s comfy, quiet, pleasant, well equipped and reasonably practical - and, being reasonably compact too, it is also fairly easy to manoeuvre and park.

The C40 is the lower-roofed, swoopier-looking crossover coupé silbling car of the Volvo XC40 compact SUV. I’ve often been stuck to find good rational reasons why someone might buy similar cars, whether in connection with one of Audi’s Sportback SUVs or a BMW X4 or a Porsche Cayenne Coupé, but the age of electrification seems to be making it a little bit easier.

Volvo says the single-motor C40 gets 4% better electric range on the motorway than the equivalent XC40 thanks to its more aerodynamic body design, which the WLTP lab test range numbers seem to confirm. Four per cent isn’t much, especially on a car that declined to promise more than 180 available miles on a full charge at any point during our testing. (Around town, you might just see 200 miles, and likewise in slightly warmer conditions than during our time with the car.) 

But, where range is concerned at least, more is definitely more, which is one reason to buy the swoopier model. Unfortunately for Volvo, several of the C40’s rivals offer more battery capacity for similar money and would more dependably carry you 200 miles and farther between charges, whatever your route and the prevailing weather.

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On the road, the C40 drives with plenty of accessible acceleration. It doesn’t feel hyper-sensitive to throttle inputs, nor does it flood its front wheels with so much torque as to trouble the traction control very often, or bring on much steering corruption. It’s easy to drive and assured of character. Even around the national speed limit, though, it has decent overtaking urge, and at low speeds, while regenerative braking and pedal feel can be a bit inconsistent, it’s not a hard car to drive smoothly.

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Grip, agility and body control combine to conjure the air of maturity and moderation you’d expect of a Volvo and ride comfort is typically good, with plenty of suppleness out of town and just a little gentle pitching and wallowing out of it, and some surface roar from the 19in wheels on coarser surfaces.

Second-row passenger space is a little below the class average but still sufficient for growing kids or smaller adults. Rear visbility is somewhat compromised, especially for taller drivers, who'll find they need to duck their head a little to get a useful view out of the rearview mirror. But the C40’s boot is a good size and well furnished with carrying hooks and the like. Material cabin quality feels quite high and the car’s digital technology is clearly presented, simple in theme and easy enough to navigate.

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The C40 Recharge is the kind of EV to be used, abused and generally lived with, then; not really noticed, enjoyed or very often remarked upon - by anyone, or for any reason.

It really ought to offer better real-world electric range for the money – and the 2024 version will, of course. But if there’s a reason to hold on for that rear-motor version, I’d wager that extra range ought to be the only one.

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.