We huddled together as the light breeze was making the already frigid -16 degrees centigrade feel colder still. “Only in places is it 70 cm of ice and then 30 cm of cold water, and then solid ice all the way to the bottom of the lake,” said the local instructor, trying to warn us about the consequences of straying too far out of the boundary markers. I, part of the Indian quartet of motoring journalists, were standing on the edges of a frozen lake just outside Jukkasjärvi, a small town east of Kiruna, deep inside Swedish Lapland. The previous night’s amazing northern lights show, Aurora Borealis, had, in spectacular fashion, reminded me that I was going to be driving Volvo’s latest full-electric on location 200 km north of the Arctic Circle! To say that I was excitedly looking forward to the morrow, would be an understatement.
I’ve heard mountain climbers talk about the effects of adrenaline and its ability to temporarily shut off the impact of the cold, but there I was, being quite the specimen, experiencing the same symptoms while drifting and counter-locking the wheel while going sideways on what looked like an unending sheet of ice. With all the prevailing news about climate change and the accelerating arctic glacial ice melt, it was good to know that we won’t be contributing to global warming during the planned ice drive. Much of the power generated in these remote parts of Sweden still comes from windmill farms. So even the well-to-wheel metric would be the most ideal mix for delivering on the green promise.
Ice ice baby
The vehicle parked in front of me for the drive was the Volvo C40 Recharge (in Sweden, it is just called C40). This e-SUV coupé, derived from the XC40, bears a striking resemblance from the front. But, unlike the XC40, which has both the ICE and “Recharge” electric versions, the C40 was conceived to be an electric-only model. Across price segments, the SUV coupe body style has become a rage, and the C40, I must admit, looks so much more appealing despite much of its design being identical to the XC40. The curved roof line, sloping down at the rear, is a simple yet convincing visual element that gives the C40 the right mix of SUV and coupe. My test mule wore blue body paint that was nicely contrasted against the blinding white of the frozen lake. The C40 has been built on the same Volvo-Geely CMA platform (compact modular architecture) which underpins the XC40. The C40 is the first all-electric of many to come from Volvo. There are some minor changes to the front for the C40, but these have also been incorporated in the XC40 for the 2023 model year. But at the rear, the C40’s design gives it a unique character.
As luck would have it, my iPhone went blank and refused to turn back on after the previous night’s exposure to extreme cold. So, I was curious and, frankly, a bit concerned about how the “ice drive” was going to turn out for the C40, after all, driving range and performance for battery-electrics in extreme cold weather have been affected in the past. The set of C40 Recharges lined up for our experience were all stock units, with the only change being the 255/40 R20 metal-studded EV-specific tyres that they sported. These tyres shod on 20-inch alloys would offer the necessary extra grip while I try to accelerate out of the edges of the slalom course. After a cup of steaming hot lingonberry juice, I head out towards the course on the frozen lake. It had snowed a bit the previous night, and so a bit of powder white over a translucent sheet of ice is what greeted us.
The experience with the C40 Recharge on ice was meant to demonstrate the performance and abilities of this eSUV Coupe even over slippery surfaces and difficult terrain. Starting from the slalom course to the wide, drifting sectors, or the giant slalom as Volvo’s instructors put it, the C40 manages to deliver “controlled chaos” and excellent grip while being chucked into each of the turns. The vehicle I was piloting was the C40 Twin, the dual-motor version of this BEV. It sports one motor on the front axle and one on the rear axle. The peak output of the system is 408 hp, and the peak torque is 600 Nm. The motors are powered by a 78 kWh battery that can be fast charged from 10 to 80 per cent in just over 30 minutes. The car has a certified range of around 451 km (WLTP combined).
From the 2023 model year, the C40 Recharge is also being offered with the option of a single electric motor on the front axle. This version comes with a 69 kWh battery and an anticipated range of about 438 km on a single charge under the WLTP combined driving cycle. Lap after lap, the C40 hustles its way down the ice sheet with no apparent effort. In the cabin, the action feels like being inside an aggressive ballet dancer, pirouetting while being completely balanced; that complete lack of body roll is thanks to the 500-kilo battery pack under the floor. I didn’t get to drive it long enough to confirm if the driving range is relatively accurate. But the freezing temperatures in Jukkasjärvi didn’t seem to affect the range either. The digital instrument displayed a predictable fall in range over the four hours that we spent on the frozen track.
Speaking of the digital instrument cluster, the C40’s cabin still bears the unmistakable stamp of a Volvo. Minimalist design for the dashboard, comfy seats with sustainably sourced upholstery, the classic 3-spoke steering wheel, and those signature aircon vents on either side of the touchscreen infotainment display are all brand identities by themselves. The materials used and the simpler choice of elements do indicate that this is the baby of the Volvo line-up, but the quality of the interior still feels premium. And there is the one-odd special trim element in a few variants, such as the backlit carved dashboard and door panels for the front, which are meant to capture the contours of the topography map of the famous Abisko National Park in Sweden.
The C40 Recharge’s high seating position is pretty much the same as in the XC40, and it is something that most buyers will appreciate. The standard fixed panoramic roof is the other such feature, which also adds to that feeling of light and space to the cabin. I had earlier driven the eSUV Coupe in and around Göteborg, on the highway and narrow country roads surrounding Volvo’s HQ. The panoramic glass roof cheered up the atmosphere in the cabin even though the weather was grey and overcast almost throughout the day. The C40 is also the first Volvo model with a completely leather-free interior. The new tailored wool blend upholstery in the Recharge models is made from 30 per cent responsibly produced wool and 70 per cent polyester with contrasting white piping. If that would worry buyers who don’t prefer the high-maintenance light shades for the upholstery, there is the option of specifying it in darker colour themes too.
Like the XC40 Recharge, the C40 Recharge’s infotainment system has been jointly developed with Google, and it offers Google apps and built-in services, such as Google Maps, Google Assistant, and apps on Google Play. The C40 Recharge will receive software updates over the air, so some of the features will continue to improve, keeping the system continuously up to date with the latest connectivity tech.
Volvo’s legendary focus on occupant safety continues in the C40 Recharge too. The battery is protected by a safety frame made from extruded aluminium. It has been embedded in the middle of the car’s body structure, creating a built-in crumple zone around it. The underfloor battery also lowers the centre of gravity of the car for better roll-over protection. At the rear, the electric powertrain has been integrated in the body structure to realise a better distribution of collision forces away from the cabin. The C40 Recharge also gets Volvo’s latest Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS), which uses an array of radars, cameras, and ultrasonic sensors for delivering active safety systems such as the detection of other road users, auto braking, and collision avoidance. Through the Pilot Assist function, it also allows for gentle driver support from a standstill up to highway speeds.
Some of these features came in handy during the drive in Göteborg. I can’t talk about the ride quality in detail, given the excellent tarmac quality on all the roads we drove over in and around town. The overall experience was good, with the suspension being neither too firm and bouncy nor too supple. The active pretensioner for the seat belt was annoying during ice drive, with the system detecting wheel slippage and progressively tightening the belt. It got a bit chokingly tight what with the multiple layers of jackets and cold weather wear that I had donned. But, I’m sure that in a potential real-world collision situation, it will feel reassuringly tight. Remember to buckle up; seatbelts save lives, and that fact can never be stressed enough.
The C40 Recharge will join the XC40 Recharge in Volvo India’s line-up after its launch here in Q4 2023.