The plugged in life: Our XC40 T5 Recharge and our ex-XC40 T5 Momentum

Whilst it was only a week or two ago when I first posted about Pebble-chan, my partner’s “new” XC40 T5 Recharge Inscription, we’ve been driving it around for slightly over a month now. So how does it compare with our ex-XC40 T5 Momentum? Here are some observations for the monthsary.

Drivetrain
Pretty obvious this one right? Unlike the “regular” T5 which has a dinosaur juice drinking 2-litre 4-cylinder turbo under the bonnet packing fair 248 horses and 350Nm of torque, the T5 Recharge instead has 2 powerplants, a 1.5 litre 3-cylinder petrol engine putting out 177 horses and a small electric one mated to a 10.7kWh battery generating an additional 80, at 257bhp combined, the T5 Recharge pips the T5 petrol by a small margin. Torque though is another matter with the T5 Recharge churning out 265Nm from the petrol unit and another 160Nm from the electric motor. With the power plants combined, 425Nm is achieved, a good 75Nm advantage over the standard T5. 

While the numbers game is fun on the internets, it doesn’t matter in real life because when you’re behind the wheel of the T5 Recharge, the last thing you’d want to do is win drag races and destroy whatever reason Volvo had for developing such a vehicle. No, when you’re driving the T5 Recharge, you’d be trying your best to keep it in EV only mode, which means that for most of your driving time, you’ll be running those 80 electric horses and that 160Nm of grunt. 

Those might seem like rather paltry numbers do keep in mind that with no need to wait for an engine or a turbo to spin up in full EV mode, those 160Nm can be accessed almost in an instant making the PHEV XC40 feel much lighter on its feet that it should and with no gear-changes (or perceptible gear-changes) when running electric, progress is also a lot smoother than its gas-guzzling equivalent. Outside of EV mode, the T5 Recharge has also chucked out the T5’s 8-Speed Aisin gearbox in favour of a 7-speed DCT. 

Unlike most full EVs, the T5 Recharge does allow you to “coast” like a normal slush-box, dialling back the regenerative braking attributes commonly associated with most EV vehicles. A secondary “B” drive mode selected by pushing the gear selector down an additional notch after “Drive” can be accessed, this additional “B” mode dials up the regen once you lift off the throttle but is not strong enough to bring the car to a full stop. Personally, I would have preferred an even stronger regenerative braking feature but that’s just my individual preference.

Of course, an added “fun but useless” feature of driving on full-electric mode is a bonnet that remains cool to the touch after a drive.

Another big difference would also be the loss of AWD on the T5 Recharge with the PHEV now only powering its front wheels, a decision I reckon was made to balance off the weight from the batteries and to reduce powertrain loss. While there is not that much of a difference to the way it drives on normal day to day journeys, losing the assurance an AWD system can bring when tropical torrential storms hit is sorely missed.

Suspension
Because the T5 Recharge has a slightly retuned and slightly stiffer suspension setup meant to deal with the car’s added 93 kilos of heft stemming from the batteries, it might handle slightly worse than the standard T5 when making quick directional changes but it’s not quite enough to make it a dealbreaker. You’re not gonna buy any XC40 to bomb down South Buona Vista right?

*Edit*
In an earlier draft, I made the mistake identifying the front suspension setup on the T5 AWD having Independent double wishbones according to local spec sheets and press releases. This is apparently incorrect and I apologise for the confusion.

Brakes
This is a strange but common pet peeve amongst most of the reviewers out there. The brake pedal modulation on the T5 Recharge really requires some getting used to. Unlike the brakes on the standard cars (or most other cars out there), stepping on the brakes does not increase braking strength in a smooth progressive way. Whereas most cars increase braking pressure in a linear way, from 0-10-20-30-40-50-60-70-80-90-100% as you gradually apply the brakes in a similar fashion. The braking pressure in the T5 Recharge goes more like, 0-10-20-30-35-75-80-90-100%, the threshold between low and high braking strength is really small and coupled with a slightly spongey pedal feel might require some practise to smoothly stop the car.

Wading Depth
On the topic of suspension, here’s another major difference between the T5 Recharge and its standard petrol siblings, wading depth. Not entirely super relevant in Singapore except for every other month when those “once in 50 years” floods happen. With a maximum wading depth of 45 cm, the standard petrol XC40s have one of the (if not the) best fording capabilities in its vehicle class. The PHEV though offers no such ability with Volvo recommending that water levels must not be higher than the floor of the car and offering no warranty coverage if the batteries are damaged by water submersion. Considering there are even electric trucks running around today, Volvo’s decision to produce an SUV capable of handling only little puddles up to the lower edge of the door sills is stupid.

Exterior/Interior trim
Something that turned out to be somewhat of a bummer at least on local cars is really the lack of choice when it comes to trim levels. While I totally understand that it makes little sense comparing our previous Momentum with this new Inscription, it turned out during our dealership visit that the Inscription level cars were no longer being offered with R-Design being the one and only trim level of choice across each and every XC40 on sale. With our new car market being how it is, there are also no provisions for you to spec and option out the exact car you’d like, unlike the first-batches of the XC40s.

So, if you’re looking to buy a brand new XC40 T5 Recharge with a fancy crystal gear knob, body-coloured roof, off-white roof-lining and other bits and bobs to visually justify the added premium over other XC40s. You’re shit out of luck as R-Design is the only trim level you can get. Black contrasting roof on all body colours, black seats, black roof lining, black trim and possibly a slightly harsher ride with the R-Design springs. Sorry. 

This meant our only choice was a slightly used management unit which wasn’t a bad thing as other than the black seats, it was specced quite well and included all the tech options our previous T5 had and then some, like those back seat lights!

Boot space
With the electric batteries stuffed under under the floor and under the boot of the T5 Recharge, its loading capacity while still capacious enough for plenty of pee pads is not quite as good as the standard XC40s.

There is also no longer a storage area under the boot floor, instead, lift the cargo floor and instead of additional bins, you’ll see the spare wheel. The T5 recharge also misses out on the versatile folding boot floor which came with some handy bag handles and can be used to split the boot into two distinct sections.

We somewhat solved this issue of course by lifting that special boot floor out of our previous car into this new one. Just don’t tell whoever bought our previous car.

So how’s it like living with a PHEV in Singapore for little over a month? Well, that’s something for the next post!

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