When you have not hit the highway in almost-two pandemic years, all sorts of things play on your mind. What are the roads like now? Are there stretches of major roadworks that threaten to cause infernal jams? Is our car due for a service? Does PLUS (Projek Lebuhraya Utara Selatan) expect a rush of visitors on the weekend we are going? Is this the rainy season? These niggling thoughts dovetail with one overriding concern: safety.
Relief came swiftly and surely when told we could take the Volvo XC40 Recharge T5 R-Design for our brief trip up north. There was a charge of confidence even, knowing we would be in good hands with a vehicle designed by the Swedish marque whose reputation rests on making cars safe.
After relegating safety worries to the back seat, it was easy to step back and admire the distinctly urban look of the new XC40 plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) with its signature R-Design trim. Big wheels and high ground clearance combine power with its stylish design.
Recharge T5 comes in five distinct colours, all with a black roof: Crystal White Pearl, Blackstone, Bursting Blue Metallic, Glacier Silver Metallic and Coral Red Metallic. The Crystal White Pearl stands out for its clean look, which complements the car’s dynamic shape and sturdy build. Tail lights add pops of colour contrast with our vehicle and attracted second looks, especially as day turned to dusk.
It did not take long to settle into the charcoal-coloured leather seats — nubuck textile and perforated fine leather upholstery give the interior a premium feel — buckle up and start figuring out the many function buttons of the sporty SUV. These were quite straightforward but not the digital screen, which had busy graphics that made information such as fuel level and battery capacity hard to read, until we figured out how to minimise the details.
Inside, the sense of safety is heightened by the fuss-free space. You can slip a file or two into the large pockets on the front doors. Plastic hooks — there is even one in the glove box — are handy for hanging the small bags of snacks that are de rigueur on any road trip. Ample legroom gives passengers a feel of space in the compact cabin. The gear shift knob was in leather, and we could not help but wish for the classy Orrefors crystal knobs available in other XC models. Of course, everyone had to try the cordless phone charger.
A nephew who took the vehicle for a spin liked the simple sport steering wheel as it allowed him to slip in and out without hitting his knees. But he felt the function buttons were unnecessarily large and “not easy to find while driving as there are no physical key bumps or divots for my thumbs to identify the buttons I was pressing”.
He did not like having to keep checking the dashboard to ascertain which gear he was in and thought the digital screen should be closer to the driver. “And that’s me, a tall person, commenting,” says the six-footer.
Those travelling with children and bags filled with their many needs will welcome this car’s generous 460-litre boot volume. Those who do not travel light can make room for more luggage by pushing down the back seats.
The Recharge’s hybrid engine provides the torque that powers this efficient car, which looks bulky but feels light once you take off. Its nose is long, making it a tad hard for small drivers who happily sink into the comfy seat to estimate how close they are to a vehicle parked in front.
Built like a tank but equipped with many safety and driver assistance features such as keyless entry and drive, seven airbags, lane keeping aid, run-off road mitigation, hill descent and cruise controls, blind spot information with steer assist and cross traffic alert, and rear collision warning, the Recharge is fun to drive after some initial anxious minutes.
However, the tug that keeps steering you back to your lane on a relatively traffic-free highway can be tiresome after you get a hang of the wheel and are in speed mode. You have to signal each time you want to move to the left or right lanes to stop lane-keeping function.
The Recharge T5 can accelerate from zero to 100kph in 7.3 seconds and has a maximum speed of 180kph, capped by Volvo, which aims for “zero serious injuries and fatalities on the road”. There was no opportunity, nor inclination, to test that out during the journey to and from Penang, although it was exhilarating watching the speedometer climb from city limits to 130, 140, then 150kph and still feel firmly grounded.
At one point, the brakes were put to the test when a vehicle in front slowed unexpectedly. The car stopped immediately, with a grip that barely caused any shudder, making us doubly glad we were in a vehicle that delivered on its promise.
With Recharge T5’s release last year, Volvo became the first and only automotive brand in Malaysia to offer a full range of completely knocked-down PHEVs, all assembled locally. The company plans to sell only fully electric cars by 2030 and aims to be a climate neutral and circular business by 2040. Half of its global sales will be fully-electric cars by 2025 and the other half, hybrid models, it says.
After a weekend of avoiding weaving motorcyclists and squeezing into tight parking spots in George Town, manoeuvring small lanes and the occasional cruise on coastal roads, it was a relief to be able to say the trip was uneventful. The word pales in comparison with the excitement envious friends expected of a drive in a luxury, new Volvo. But would you rather an unwelcome “adventure” or a smooth ride that puts mind and body at ease when you are behind the wheel?
This article first appeared on Jan 24, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.