From £33,7955

Volvo's small crossover arrives as its cheapest EV yet. Does this low-cost focus hinder the Swedish firm's DNA?

The new Volvo EX30 is terrific to drive. It’s a compact electric crossover with strong performance and is at its most entertaining in its middle-range rear-wheel drive form, more so even than the incredibly rapid flagship four-wheel drive variant which can accelerate from 0-62mph in just 3.6 seconds. 

Few other electric cars, let alone small crossovers, have the levels of agility, grip, adjustability and engagement that the EX30 offers.

And yet I cannot in any honesty recommend you buy this car. It’s tempting to put it more strongly: do not buy a Volvo EX30. As we’ll explore in the following pages, it is frustrating to use to well beyond the point of annoyance, which is such a shame given the rest of the package – the design, the style, the range and value and most of all the driving dynamics – are so strong.

Back to top

volvo ex30 review 2023 002 panning side

The EX30 rides on Volvo parent group Geely’s electric ‘SEA’ platform (like the Smart #1), which offers solid sophistication for a car of this size. The battery runs beneath the floor and there are MacPherson struts at the front and a multi-link setup at the rear, which would be unusual for a small electric car in the B-segment (supermini crossover, Ford Puma/Jeep Avenger class), which is what Volvo says this car, its smallest ever SUV, is. At 4.23m long, it’s pushing towards the C-segment, particularly given the interior space offered by the packaging advantages of an EV platform. Not that the distinction matters much to buyers.

The battery options are a 49kWh (usable) pack, which comes with a 268bhp single rear motor, or a 64kWh pack in either 268bhp single motor ‘Extended Range’ form or with four-wheel drive as a Twin Motor Performance variant, offering 422bhp, which is the version we’ve spent the most time in.

It’s an attractive thing, immediately a Volvo, and not obviously taller than many hatches of its type. It seems unlikely that SUV-haters would let your tyres down at night, anyway – unless it was the more rufty-tufty XC version that Volvo says it will introduce in 2024, though doesn’t know if it will bring to the UK. The top spec twin motor variant weighs 1960kg, the extended range single motor 1850kg.

volvo ex30 review 2023 016 interior

Inside the EX30 is clean, crisp, light and airy. There are fine material choices, seemingly well assembled, with lots of storage space, great cubby design, decent roominess front and rear. Lovely air vents, too. But it’s inside where the problems start. Mostly where they end, but by that time they may be insurmountable. They would be for me.

Volvo has gone touchscreen heavy. More so even than next-generation Polestar, which is saying something. This Volvo has physical switches only for the front windows (a supplementary button makes them operate the rears), the door locks (though this is a haptic pairing on the centre tunnel rather than feelable physical items) and, on the ceiling, for the emergency and hazard warning switches which it’s obliged to have.

The left-hand column stalk deals with indicators and wipers. The right stalk is the gearshift. Steering wheel haptics control audio or cruise control. Everything else is operated via the central touchscreen: lights, unforgivably up to and including foglights (two menus away from the home screen); wiper sensitivity; glovebox (on the home screen [!] but small); door mirrors (two); climate (one push for temperatures, a different push for circulation/demisting); heated seats (on one of these menus, but which one? Exciting!); audio (push once for volume, once again for detailed volumes, and the separate apps menu for source); driver assistance systems (three pushes); one-pedal driving (one)... You get the idea.

When static, you can learn it. When in motion, it’s as difficult and distracting as you might expect. Jack, behind the camera, said he has never seen me so cross as when I was demonstrating its functions for our video, and given he’s seen my reaction to big wheely bags pretending to be hand baggage on aeroplanes, that’s saying something.

Most manufacturers are sensing the temperature on this trend and starting to back out it: Volkswagen has admitted being stung by criticism of its systems, Skoda has promised rotary controllers, Renault some years ago said that retaining physical controls for climate control was a “mature” decision.

And yet Volvo, the car company that wants to be the world’s most responsible, which gave the world the seat belt, puts safety and responsibility as its guiding tenets, which limited its cars to 112mph and its engines to no more than 2.0-litres and walked away from diesels before most of the world, gives us an interior as frankly unusable on the move as this. I’d say it’s unacceptable, but like so many cases, the word is overused and, clearly, ineffective: they’ve done it.

Sorry to labour the point but when I got back into a Genesis G70 after driving the Volvo, I adjusted the mirrors, temperature, heated seats, heated steering wheel and auto wiper sensitivity all by feel on the way out of a car park. Had I tried adjusting those on the move in the EX30, I’d have driven it into a wall. Although after three hours of operating one, that seemed like a tempting option. The road testers see more of these systems than me. Perhaps they’ll think less badly of it in the scheme of it. But for now, I struggle to look past it.

It’s important to separate two issues here too. A separate factor is the latest set of ‘GSR2’ EU safety legislation, such as attention assist, which Volvo must incorporate into its new cars. Volvo engineers “don’t know” if attention assist works well enough (it doesn’t) but admits that the principle and the ambition are noble. And Volvo’s adaptation is better than, say, Hyundai’s. There are some false positives – if you’re looking around you in traffic it’ll tell you to pay attention, when that’s precisely what you are doing – but it’s a subtle ping, more easily forgotten, or switched off.

But the second part – the user experience – is all Volvo’s choice and all its own inexcusable doing. Head of safety Thomas Broberg says that the company’s safety experts are “just engineers” and should be “humble” about designing the user interface. I say his teams have done it soundly for decades and that this is not an area where they should become beholden to tech bros who seem to have never asked the question: “Would you like us to make it harder for you to adjust the mirrors, open the glovebox, or switch on the fog light?”

volvo ex30 review 2023 014 action

So far we’ve tried the 422bhp Twin Motor Performance four-wheel drive variant extensively, and the middle-spec 268bhp Extended Range rear-drive variant over fewer miles.

All are smooth – because electric, of course. There’s a one-speed reduction gear, easy pull away from rest and the option of one-pedal driving, which brings the car to a complete standstill with stronger regen than in normal mode, in which it’ll creep like a combustion car with an automatic gearbox. The rear-drive car has strong performance in its own right. When was a 5.1sec 0-62mph time anything but spectacular for a compact crossover? When the alternative in the range is a 422bhp four-wheel drive variant that can go from 0-62mph in a faintly ludicrous 3.6sec. That level of pace is only there if you really ask for it, though; the Volvo is a car that can be mooched around gently and easily. 

In normal driving, and in a normal mode, even the Performance variant acts with rear-drive most of the time. It’s only in more spirited driving when the car senses the rear wheels may struggle that it engages the front motor and pushes power to the front. Unless, that is, you enter the touchscreen and engage a performance four-wheel drive mode, which keeps the front motor working all the time and prioritises pace over range.

Range estimates for the car, which goes on sale in the first quarter of 2024 and hasn’t been verified by the WLTP drive cycle yet, have the single motor 49kWh variant go 213 miles, the Extended Range version hit 296 miles, and the Twin Motor Performance variant have a 280 mile range. All are claimed to charge at a peak of 175kW.

volvo ex30 review 2023 015 dynamic

This is a particularly good car to drive. The ride in the top-spec variant on 20in wheels thunks a tiny bit around town but otherwise – and always on the rear-drive car on 19in wheels – it’s just nicely controlled and absorbent.

The performance is manic on the 4wd variant, but body movements and power delivery are far more mature and controlled than on, say, the wild Smart #1 Brabus. It’s genuinely spirited and enjoyable, retaining a rear bias thanks to only a 154bhp front motor. But it’s even better in the lighter, more adjustable and even more agile rear-drive long range form.

volvo ex30 review 2023 030 static front

As we write prices start at £33,795 for the shorter range single motor variant and rise to £44,495 for the dual motor version. Volvo expects to offer an even more basic trim on the small battery car, at closer to £30,000, after the initial hubbub. There’s a lot of that because of the way it looks, inside and out.

It’s a very enjoyable car to drive, but ultimately is a compact family car and usability and functionality takes precedence over that. Volvo has already talked about changing the layout of the touchscreen to make some functions easier to find but we have to report as we find on the day, and that’s that the EX30 offers an extremely solid driving experience, is a great looking car inside out, and yet has pitiful ergonomics and usability. If somebody told you the EX30 was a Volvo like no other, I suppose they’d usually mean it as a compliment. With regret, on this occasion, we really don’t.