Volvo XC40 PHEV long-term (2021) test: the six-month verdict

View all Volvo XC40 Reviews

► CAR lives with a PHEV XC40
► This one’s in plush Inscription spec
► Snapper Alex’s monthly reports

It’s all a matter of opinion, they say. Good-looking cars? Entirely subjective, they insist. Well, maybe. But in the case of the XC40, it turns out to be a subjective opinion held by every person on the planet.

When a car is spending so much time parked outside the house, the fact that it catches the light so elegantly brings a smile to my face whenever I open the curtains.

And inside, it does that modern-Volvo trick of being clean and uncluttered but also warm and comforting. Because design isn’t just superficial. It’s about the use of space and the relationship between human and machine. For me and my family, the XC40 continues to be welcoming. For a friend of my wife’s, it’s become an object of fervent desire. Even though I tell her that it’s really nothing terribly special to drive, she very much wants one.

This particular car, in Inscription Pro spec and with a bunch of extras, cost £47k, which is on the steep side, although one of the joys of the XC’s fine design is that it seems to work just as well in lower-spec versions too, so you can pay a lot less and still get a car with the same fundamental appeal.

With hindsight, I shouldn’t have gone for the plug-in hybrid version – not when there’s such a wide range of other XC40s that would have been better suited to the way I’ve used it, which has involved mostly short trips but not as much charging as the sensible owner would have done. Fuel consumption would have been much better than my low-30s average if the home charger installation had happened in time.

A comfortable cabin and high-up driving position discourage any attempts at frantic cornering, as does the chassis, which is simply not set up for that sort of use. The combination of petrol engine and electric motor gives lively-ish acceleration – 7.3sec 0-62mph– but it’s not geared for lols.

This car had a thirst for oil, weird in any Volvo, especially a new one. The dealer found a faulty part, much to their surprise, and replaced it, which cured the problem. A software update got rid of the glitch that had triggered a fault message about the battery and put the car in limp-home mode. There have also been a couple of intermittent rattles – hardly the end of the world, but not what you want for your £47k.

By Alex Tapley

Logbook: Volvo XC40 Recharge PHEV T5 Inscription Pro

Price £42,430 (£46,940 as tested)
Performance 1477cc turbo three-cylinder plus e-motor, PHEV, 258bhp, 7.3sec 0-62mph, 112mph
Efficiency 134.5mpg (official), 28.9mpg (tested), 47g/km CO2
Energy cost 18.3p per mile
Miles this month 1372
Total miles 7868

Month 5 living with a Volvo XC40 Recharge PHEV: welcome aboard

xc40 ltt side pan

Like Tom Cruise favouring the shorter leading lady, how big the XC40 appears to be depends on what it’s parked next to. Put it beside a Renault Clio and the Volvo dwarfs it. If its neighbour is a Porsche Cayenne, the XC40 looks decidedly modest. In the Volvo line-up, it’s the prettiest and by far the shortest nose-to-tail, although it towers over all the non-SUVs.

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The boot’s not big unless you fold the rear seats down, but one of the reasons for driving a crossover is because you have a family, so you want to use the rear seats.

And the high seating position of a crossover makes it relatively simple for the parents to reach in and adjust the kids’ boosters, child seats and seatbelts. In this case, where both adults are quite tall, that does make life easier. You could always use a bit more room for that reaching-in performance, but it’s really not bad here.

It’s interesting to compare the figures with the V60, the smaller of Volvo’s two current estates. Although the V has a bigger boot, our car gives the rear passengers more head room, shoulder room, hip room and knee room, although if those rear passengers are adults they’ll want to stick to short trips.

If you’re not using the fifth seat your two rear passengers get the benefit of a fold-down armrest that’s a good width and has two cupholders, so no need for any arguments there. The door pockets could be bigger, and there’s just one USB-C charger back there, with no options for extra charger, iPad holders etc. The rear seats don’t recline or slide.

Don’t tell the kids, but the front seats are more comfortable than the rears. And my Inscription Pro spec involves both the front seats being powered, which makes life that little bit easier. (I also have the £85 optional remote child lock feature, which is money well spent if you’re too lazy to flick a switch inside each rear door.)

The driving experience is okay from a dynamic point of view, but as a mobile lounge it’s a winner.

By Alex Tapley

Logbook: Volvo XC40 Recharge PHEV T5 Inscription Pro

Price £42,430 (£46,940 as tested)
Performance 1477cc turbo three-cylinder plus e-motor, PHEV, 258bhp, 7.3sec 0-62mph, 112mph
Efficiency 134.5mpg (official), 33.3mpg (tested), 47g/km CO2
Energy cost 15.6p per mile
Miles this month 1205
Total miles 6496

Month 4 living with a Volvo XC40 Recharge PHEV: sweet spot found

It’s not the car for every driver or every journey, but our PHEV Volvo is in its element if your days are full of short trips.

Go quietly
The car has been plugged in overnight, and it’s showing a range of 27 miles of electric running. Pre-Covid, the routine was for my wife to go to the office via the village school and then a nursery (when they’re open), but now it’s a loop back to our home office.

xc40 ltt village

Do no harm
Breezing through the village in pure electric mode can give you a rather smug feeling, especially when the other parents pull up in rattling diesels. Gently passing horses can only be a good thing too.

B-roads? Not a blast
Going cross country to avoid traffic, the XC40 can feel a little skittish across the poor B-road surfaces. The front end can feel vague and the rear can be unforgiving at times, not helped by the weight of the battery.

xc40 ltt motorway

Stretching the legs
A quick jaunt along an A-road, where the short wheelbase can feel a bit choppy, and there’s an odd vibration to the rear around 65-75mph. I’ll check if the wheels need rebalancing.

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We’ve just made the nursery drop-off so we’re heading home via a brief pitstop, not for the car but for some milk to use in the coffees that get us through the day.

xc40 side pan

Home free
We’re back home with three miles of battery left after 19.6 miles – all of it electric (and the car claiming a spurious 150mpg). Time to plug in ready to do the same route again.

By Alex Tapley

Logbook: Volvo XC40 Recharge PHEV T5 Inscription Pro

Price £42,430 (£46,940 as tested)
Performance 1477cc turbo three-cyl plus e-motor, PHEV, 258bhp, 7.3sec 0-62mph, 112mph
Efficiency 134.5mpg (official), 25.9mpg (tested), 47g/km CO2
Energy cost 17.6p per mile
Miles this month 722
Total miles 5291

Month 3 living with a Volvo XC40 Recharge PHEV: liquids regularly required

xc40 ltt oil

It’s a grown-up, smooth, relaxed car, not one that encourages you to push it hard. Do that, and the steering can feel numb. Selecting Power mode tightens the steering feel a little, but also tightens up throttle response and hangs onto the gears, neither of which feels entirely appropriate.

Given that I’m driving smoothly and steadily, it’s surprising that at just 2400 miles the XC40 was asking me for oil. I’m assuming it’s just a one-off, as the mechanicals bed in. It’s also proving quite thirsty for petrol, but that’s at least in part down to me rarely plugging it in to charge the battery.

By Alex Tapley

Logbook: Volvo XC40 Recharge PHEV T5 Inscription Pro

Price £42,430 (£46,940 as tested)
Performance 1477cc turbo three-cyl plus e-motor, PHEV, 258bhp, 7.3sec 0-62mph, 112mph
Efficiency 134.5mpg (official), 32.3mpg (tested), 47g/km CO2
Energy cost 16.7p per mile
Miles this month 1592
Total miles 4569

Month 2 living with a Volvo XC40 Recharge PHEV: safe and sound inside

When you’ve got a newly arrived car with a bunch of options gagging to be tried out, it’s a real shame when a sudden burst of hectic work activity stops you actually spending much time in the car. But I’ve seen enough to know that the inside of the XC40 is every bit as lovely as the outside – and I’ve heard enough to know that the audio is sensationally good.

The elegant tan leather, wooden inlays and premium plastics mix beautifully with the vast array of recycled materials – most noticeably the carpet effect on the door cards and transmission tunnel. But the real star is the Harman Kardon audio system (a £550 upgrade). It provides staggeringly clear sound, which you can fine-tune effortlessly, and there’s very little wind- or road noise, leaving you wondering whether there’s a five-piece band playing live in the back seats.

Wireless charging and smartphone integration are always a little wasted on me: I’ve never quite gelled with Apple CarPlay and I always choose to run Google Maps on my phone on those journeys with an unfamilar destination, hence the ugly phone holder (£6 on Amazon) stuck in the window.

I’ve tried Volvo’s Sensus Navigation and, user friendly as it is, it just isn’t as efficient as Google Maps.

Logbook: Volvo XC40 Recharge Plug-in Hybrid T5 Inscription Pro

Price £42,430 (£46,940 as tested)
Performance 1477cc turbocharged three-cylinder plus e-motor, PHEV, 258bhp, 7.3sec 0-62mph, 112mph
Efficiency 134.5mpg (official), 32.2mpg (tested), 47g/km CO2
Energy cost 16.4p per mile
Miles this month 1617
Total miles 2977

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Month 1 living with a Volvo XC40 PHEV: hello and welcome

XC40 LTT static

Don’t panic about that price, or at least not much. So, yes, £46,940 seems a lot for a compact crossover with modest performance. But it makes sense when you look at it in the context of the whole XC40 range, which starts at a less troublesome £25,420.

If you want a mild hybrid, you can get one for £32,760. Plug-in hybrids start at £39,130 for the T4.

This car, the T5, the more powerful of the XC40 PHEVs, starts at £41,030 in R-Design spec, or £41,380 for the more wood ‘n’ leather Inscription. Inscription Pro spec, adding £1050, includes adaptive LED headlights, heated windscreen and electric adjustment for the passenger seat, plus this car also has a bunch of extras, adding a further £4510: the IntelliSafe Pro pack (safety features including adaptive cruise control), the Convenience pack (with hands-free boot opening), and individual options including smartphone integration, a spare wheel, metallic paint, a proper charging cable and an audio upgrade.

So some of the price is because it’s a hybrid, and some because it’s quite a swanky spec.

If you wanted to trim the price by lowering the spec, you might not regret it. The most basic XC40 is still pretty good, thanks to the clever design and interesting materials, although the level of standard equipment is low next to other Volvos.

If you wanted to trim the price by going for a less powerful, or less green, version, would you regret that? Or, at the other end of the scale, are you going to wish you’d gone for the new full-electric XC40 at £60k? This will, I suspect, be a subject that I return to many times in the coming months.

So far, I’m not seeing any great benefit from having an electric motor, with average fuel consumption of 33.6mpg. But then it is very early days, and it may take me some time to get into the right habits in terms of using any available charging opportunity to fill up the 8.5kWh (net) battery, which feeds an 81bhp electric motor to supplement the 177bhp petrol triple. Very little charging has gone on so far, largely because of Covid-related delays in getting a wallbox fitted at home.

All of this talk of value and the measurable benefits of a hybrid overlooks one massive element of life with the XC40: the feelgood factor is vast. Considering it’s a compact crossover, a style of vehicle that usually struggles to cause even a mild tremor of interest, the XC is quite a head-turner. And aside from the vanity of enjoying those admiring glances, there is something highly agreeable about the look and feel of the cabin. That novelty may, of course, wear off, but for now it seems to be a cut above the class.

By Alex Tapley

Logbook: Volvo XC40 Recharge Plug-in Hybrid T5 Inscription Pro

Price £42,430 (£46,940 as tested)
Performance 1477cc turbocharged three-cylinder plus e-motor, PHEV, 258bhp, 7.3sec 0-62mph, 112mph
Efficiency 134.5mpg (official), 33.6mpg (tested), 47g/km CO2
Energy cost 20.0p per mile
Miles this month 765
Total miles 1360

About Tim Pollard

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A tech enthusiast and content writer, has a knack for simplifying complex technical information. He enjoys researching and writing about the latest gadgets and technology trends. He has a degree in computer science and is experienced in creating content for tech blogs and websites.

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