22 Jun 19

Volvo XC40: a more affordable plug-in hybrid SUV in the premium segment

About one in every nine new Volvos sold in Europe today are plug-in hybrids. That ratio is to change dramatically if the Swedish carmaker is to hit the EU-imposed CO2 target by 2021.

Volvo’s current plug-in hybrid range will not suffice – the T8 Twin Engine models available in the 60 and 90 series today are the privilege of more senior staff rather than junior or middle management. That’s where the new XC40 T5 Twin Engine comes in: Volvo’s first plug-in hybrid compact SUV.

By 2020, this model is to represent 25% of all XC40 sales. That’s ambitious – and that is why Volvo is making sure it ticks all the boxes.

New powertrain with DCT and FWD

Underneath the bonnet is the 1.5 three-cylinder petrol unit already in use by the T3 and soon the entry-level T2 model. The latter’s role is to expand the XC40 range downwards and convince current V40 drivers or those who were waiting for the new model to arrive. They will wait in vain: the final V40s are currently being assembled in Ghent and no replacement is provided. So, if you are in for a V40, now’s the time: the end-of-series Black Edition is likely to sell out quickly.

Back to the Twin Engine. The already nippy 1.5, which in this case produces 132kW/180hp, is supported by a 60kW electric motor built into the transmission. Not the usual 8-speed automatic, but a new 7-speed dual clutch gearbox has the honour of transferring the combined power to the front wheels.

Indeed, to save costs – and maybe because there just wasn’t enough room, the XC40 being built on a smaller platform than the 60 Series – the T5 Twin Engine does not have a separate electric motor to drive the rear wheels.

Smooth operator

Fleet Europe was invited to a closed event in Gothenburg last week to get insights in Volvo’s medium-term powertrain strategy and get behind the wheel of the brand’s latest PHEV, together with remarketing specialists from leasing companies as well as RV experts from various consultancies.

The Swedish roads around Volvotown are hardly the perfect environment for in-depth vehicle testing, with their strictly endorsed speed limits and relative uniform nature, but the test drive at least confirmed the smooth operation we remembered from previous experience.

The battery of our vehicle was not charged – thank you for draining them, my dear French colleagues – so we only sporadically enjoyed the silence of full electric driving. The good news is that the transition between ‘e’ and hybrid is seamless – just like in an XC60 T8. When the three-cylinder awakens, it produces a musical yet never intrusive hum as the needle of the speedometer swiftly climbs to speed zones not tolerated by local law enforcement.

Eco credentials and TCO

The battery pack, which is assembled locally in Ghent based on cells provided by LG Chem or CATL, contains 10.7kWh worth of power. If you believe in NEDC 2.0, you can drive up to 54km without emitting a single gram of CO2. WLTP measurements put the range at 46km tops. You can drive on e-power alone at speeds up to 125kph, incidentally, but at that pace, don’t expect to get much further than 30km without the ICE switching on.

The on-board charger of the XC40 can process AC at 3.7kW, meaning that it takes about 3 hours to top up an empty battery. You can do so intelligently by programming the charging, for instance to benefit from lower electricity rates at night.

When the battery is empty, the fuel consumption is likely to be similar to that of the manual T3, which fluctuates between 6.8 and 7.6l/100km on the combined WLTP cycle. All depends on how much regenerative braking you can do, really. Driving in fluid traffic with an average speed of 40kph and the occasional red light will surely lower this number – that’s what the ‘Medium’ WLTP figures suggest. Motorway cruising at 130kph (the ‘Extra High’ WLTP numbers) will add a few decilitres.


The bottom line

As with every PHEV, driver profiling is of the essence. High-mileage drivers are still better off with a diesel, and with the introduction of the Euro 6d-temp emission standard there is no reason anymore to shun the fuel. If you’re in the middle category, let’s say an annual mileage of 15,000 to 25,000km, this T5 Twin Engine is likely to offer the best TCO on many markets – if you make sure your drivers charge their batteries as much as they can.

Next to charging, another important element in the TCO is of course residual value. All major consultancies are convinced that there will be an increased interest among used car buyers for plug-in hybrids, while volumes will remain relatively low over the next three to four years. That’s good news for the first batch of XC40 T5 Twin Engines that will hit the used car market by 2023-2024 as former leasing vehicles.

And there is more good news: this pluggable Volvo basically has no competition today. The BMW X1 eDrive won't arrive before the summer of 2020 and neither will the Range Rover Evoque PHEV. Audi and Mercedes have not even communicated about a possible e-tron or 'e' model of the Q3 and GLA, respectively. Production of the XC40 T5 Twin Engine will start in Q3, with deliveries commencing by year-end.     

Picture copyright: Dieter Quartier, 2019

Key specs

Base price approx. €38,000 excl VAT
CO2 emissions (NEDC 2.0) from 38g/km
Engine capacity 1,477cc
Basic tyre size 235/55 R 18 V
Gearbox 7DCT
Drive Front wheel
Weight 1,871kg
Boot volume 405dm³
SOP Q3 2019
First deliveries Q4 2019



Authored by: Dieter Quartier