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2023 Volvo C40: Intriguing ideas, bothersome bugs

The 2023 Volvo C40 makes a great kickoff to an occasional series of reviews of nine EVs by year’s end, as the company has gone for EV or hybrid for the 2023 model year. But the test has ups and downs.

The 2023 Volvo C40 is a handsome little SUV, with more people space than you might first think, but there's a steep visibility fee for that slick profile.
The 2023 Volvo C40 is a handsome little SUV, with more people space than you might first think, but there's a steep visibility fee for that slick profile.Read moreVolvo

2023 Volvo C40 Recharge Twin Ultimate AWD: Let’s charge things up!

Price: $61,195 for the Ultimate trim level. Still qualifies for the $7,500 federal tax rebate.

Conventional wisdom: Motor Trend likes the “fabulous design and detailing, provocatively quick acceleration, makes brake pedal almost obsolete,” but not the “supercar-esque rear visibility, software needs polishing, mediocre range and charging.”

Marketer’s pitch: “Discover our first pure electric crossover with leather-free interior and Google built-in.” Available online only. Really.

Reality: Really intriguing.

What’s new: The C40 is a new entrant in the nicely sized compact SUV segment. And this one is electrified.

Plug it in: Readers who want to see reviews of electric vehicles definitely make up the bulk of my mailbag. So between now and the end of the year, expect plenty of columns on new EVs — among them the Audi RS GT E-Tron, Genesis GV60, Hyundai Ioniq 5 and G80, Kia EV6, Mercedes EQS 580, and Nissan Leaf. Ride along to virtually experience a wide range of gasoline-free vehicles.

I could see no better starting point than the C40; Volvo is leaning into battery power, going fully electric and hybrid for the 2023 model year. (I tested a 2022 model, but they’re identical.)

Competition: Low-price EVs include Tesla Model 3 and Model Y, the Ford Mustang Mach-E, and Volkswagen ID.4. For a similar size, but a little more cash comes the Genesis GV60.

Start me up: The spiffy new electric car is so super high tech that it doesn’t even need a start button — the seat starts the vehicle when a driver is detected, allegedly. Let’s hope Volvo offers bulletproof reliability and user-friendly design.

Driver’s Seat: Visibility from the car is pitiful. Isn’t one of the critical components of driving being able to see the actual road? The view up front is OK, but the belt line sits so high that side view is short.

Turning attention to the rear, and the designer must have read a motivational poster about not looking back. The rear view is so truncated, it feels like I’m 6-year-old Scott again, peering through the coal chute in my grandmother’s house. Strangely, the camera offers the same view as well, although it does randomly switch to surround view.

Furthermore, one time while backing the car out of a parking spot, the screen never switched to backup camera. Yikes.

The seats are comfortable, though, covered in luxurious Nubuck microtech vinyl in a beautiful blue in the test model. This is not your granddad’s pleather.

On the road: Driving the C40 almost makes up for those initial shortcomings. Highways, country roads, and city streets are all nice places to be in this vehicle. A trip to the winding, up-and-down tree-lined roads around Media really emphasized how nicely the C40 zigs and zags over the hills and curves.

There are no real “drive modes,” although you can adjust the steering feel through the touchscreen, which is a little more trouble than it’s worth.

Up to speed: Like all electric vehicles, the 402-hp C40 has great pickup when you need it. Drivers can feel confident when pulling into traffic that getting up to almost any speed can be an easy and fun experience. The vehicle gets to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds, according to Motor Trend, which says it’s tied for the quickest Volvo ever tested.

Shiftless: The small lever needs a tap forward for Reverse and a tug for Drive, with a button for Park.

Friends and stuff: The rear seat provides ample space for the size, with good legroom and headroom, and decent foot room. The center seat will be less enjoyable.

Cargo space is 15 cubic feet behind the rear seat, expanding to 49 cubic feet with the seat folded down. There’s also a small front load compartment for extra stuff, another bonus for going gasoline-free.

How it’s built: The C40 made it to the Sturgis testing grounds without a hitch, but the same could not be said for its stablemate, the XC40 Recharge EV. That vehicle malfunctioned while being delivered during a rainstorm this spring, never to arrive, on two different occasions, as I recall. An industry insider familiar with Volvos reports seeing a similar problem with the XC40s on rainy days.

Consumer Reports has not rated the vehicle yet, but stablemates, the XC60 and XC90, received a 3 and a 1 out of 5 respectively.

Play some tunes: The Harman Kardon stereo operates through the touchscreen. Adjustments are fairly easy, with a volume dial in the center, some forward/back buttons, and then into the screen.

Sound from the system is about a B or so, with no midrange adjustments, just bass and treble. It can sound a little thumpy.

Bugs in the infotainment system give further pause. I tried to set up my phone with Bluetooth, and was instantly frustrated and shouting at my Volvo. I’d get it all paired and start a song, and a few minutes later, off it would go. Or it would disappear when I backed up and never return.

Eventually I learned that the Bluetooth connectivity is easy to find in the tool button on the touchscreen, so I could just hit that. But this was after I went down the rabbit hole of an identical tool button on the upper right corner of the menu.

Electric range: 226 miles, on the short side. A charge from 10% of range to 80% can happen in 37 minutes using DC fast charging, according to Volvo.

Where it’s built: Ghent, Belgium

In the end: Too many quirks coupled with hit-and-miss reliability scores for Volvo make this otherwise pleasant vehicle worrisome, and puts it low on the list of EV choices.

Next week: Genesis GV60