The fact that Volvo is capable of making really beautiful cars has spread all over the automobile world. The Swedes have enjoyed a substantial growth of sales in recent years. With the Volvo C40 Recharge, however, they might gear up even more. The BEV (Battery Electric Vehicle) is based on the XC40 compact SUV, which has been well-known for years and was extremely popular. But while the sister model was only electrified in the second attempt, the C40 enters the race as an electric car from the outset – and exclusively all-electric.
Concerning basic technology, Volvo was able to adopt the entire concept of the XC40 and get creative with the body of the coupé-style SUV. The formidable, yet comparatively inexpensive Harman Kardon sound system offering no less than 13 drivers was only left unchanged. Thus, it was already clear before the test drive that not only the eyes would get their money’s worth with the elegant, sporty, yet discreet design. Get your ears ready for some really joyful moments.
Electric drive boosts sound quality
With its 660 watts generated by a 12-channel amp unit, the sound system offers quite some reserve to provide a good deal of drive in the simple but tasteful interior of the five-door vehicle. This was already the case with the XC40 with internal combustion engine, which I had the pleasure to drive on a snowy slope a few years ago. Any driver of the all-new C40 can enjoy the Harman Kardon system without being annoyed by even the slightest hint of engine noise. Lowered noisefloor, as psychoacoustics is teaching us, provides an extra portion of dynamic range and allows even the lowest frequencies to be savored without masking effects, as they are audible with the quite robust turbo noise of the internal combustion variant.
For those being used to the latest achievements in engine design, this might solve two well-known downsides of last decade´s Volvos. Their gasoline engines and especially their diesels cannot compete with the six- and eight-cylinder engines made by German premium brands in terms of smoothness and harmonious rotation. Plus the control concept keeping some more than respectful distance to Audi, Mercedes or BMW.
While it was possible to get easily used to the somewhat idiosyncratic Tesla-like touchscreen menus using an upright central display, the early-version voice control, as installed in the XC40, was a constant source of frustration the longer one tried. The ratio of spoken commands being recognised could only be called frustratingly low. After a few failed attempts, Apple CarPlay with Siri became the preferred method. Using Volvo’s own voice recognition was fairly used to adjust the temperature setting of the air conditioning without having to dive into the touch-screen menus while driving.
Google on board
With the new XC40 the aforementioned problems should be all vanished. Volvo is now using Google Assistant for voice recognition and Google Maps for navigation in all models. And the electric drive is in terms of complete silence closer to a completely acoustically sealed Rolls-Royce than to a six-cylinder with its typical vibrations and background noise. A compact model like the C40 is gaining particular advance from being fully electrified, as in times of downsizing and cost cutting, such a cultivated engine would of course have passed it by anyways if Volvo had one ready from the shelf.
Speaking of advantages: The acceleration of 4.7 seconds from zero to 100 kilometers per hour also accelerates the Volvo C40 to a new level. So from the first go, engine concept plus sound system provided quite some positive vibes without annoying vibrations on board.
A Swede awakens the Italian in you
Let’s put it this way. One situation during a test drive in Belgium might be taken as an example: Just while exiting a small town, a white Maserati Quattroporte flew past me and the small car in front with a lot of noise. Reflexively, I changed lanes and also overtook the city runner before the left-hand bend that stretched up a bridge. Already at the exit of the bend, I hung on to the rear of the hot roaring Italian stallion with its testosterone-flooded pilot keeping a reasonable safety distance – completely nonchalantly with a compact SUV that hardly produced any noise. He then took the following exit suddenly at full throttle, resolving the adolescent-style duel between the systems as abruptly as it began.
A day like on a painting
It turned out being not the only highlight of my test drive in the all-electric Volvo C40. An almost historical moment might be remembered forever as a symbol of times which are a-changing. One might call it a live automotive parable to William Turner’s famous 1839 painting “The Fighting Temeraire.” In the oil painting on display at the National Gallery in London, a small, unassuming steam-powered tugboat tows a once-proud, sail-powered battleship for scrapping. (Let someone say that wind power is modern).
For all the metaphor, this might also bring in a certain breeze of melancholy to any petrolhead. For now, carbon-based internal combustion engines are doomed. So what about fighting the blues with some snappy beats? The perfect moment to activate Harman Kardon´s sound system!
Among Harman Group´s automotive portfolio, Volvo has turned into some kind of flagship brand, as Harman engineers are as well responsible for the implementation of Bowers & Wilkins systems, which can be ordered ex works for the luxury Volvos and more expensive BMWs. Regardless which series and sound system version one is ordering, Volvo shows a great deal of flair for tonal balance and exemplary bass performance. To do so, developers are obviously take advantage of Harman’s in-house acoustical know-how.
This includes Dirac Unison. A technology allowing multiple drivers to be optimized as a whole to achieve even distribution with close-to-ideal impulse response regardless of the position. Bass reproduction, as mentioned a prime discipline at Volvo, also benefits from Dirac Unison. The software developed in Sweden works with virtual channels for which several loudspeakers interact according to a complex pattern.
A bass league of its own
In the Volvo C40 Recharge, developers adopted this unusual but effective subwoofer array concept. As known from double bass arrays (DBA) being popular amongst elaborate home theater concept, one of the two 8″ woofers is positioned in the passenger footwell and one on the right rear in the side wall of the trunk. Thus, as in a DBA, a particularly deep and dry bass reproduction can be achieved through the out-of-phase-plus-delay arrangement of the two woofers, which are located as far away from each other as possible thanks to the diagonal pattern.
The combination of a quiet electric drive and Vehicle Noise Compensation (VNC), an adaptive loudness, allows the immense bass of the Harman/Kardon Premium Sound System in the Volvo C40 to be enjoyed even more than in the combustion engine variants of the closely related XC40.
The extremely dry, contoured and deep bass even tolerates a little extra boost by the separately controlled subwoofer. That’s when the stylish electric SUV really gets grooving.
7.1 surround sound thanks to Quantum Logic
Those who like particularly spatial sound can also blow-up their stereo files (smartphone can be conveniently connected via Bluetooth and charged wirelessly) thanks to Quantum Logic Surround (QLS) 7.1 channels circuitry. Whether the optional QLS is a real plus compared to pure stereo depends on the respective recordings. We enjoyed it the most when listening to live concert recordings. Presets allow passengers or driver to adjust the sound distribution of the car hi-fi system to the driver’s seat, the rear seat or all seats. The midrange speakers, being positioned comparably high, play a significant contribution to the impressive sound staging. They are located at the very top and as much in front as possible in the doors – just the same position we experienced the tweeters of Bowers & Wilkins system of the BMW iX, for example.
In the more luxurious models, Volvo takes advantage of the extra space and positions tweeters and midrange drivers exactly next to each other. In the C40, the 0.75″ soft dome tweeters are located a little further forward in the lower area of the A-pillar. But knowing about the tug-of-war between interior designers and acoustics experts behind the scenes at the automakers, it underlines the importance of sound quality to the Swedes.
A word about ecological aspects
Speaking of interior design: To my personal taste, those responsible for the design demonstrate a good flair for creating an appealing ambience with numerous recycled materials thus facing a typically limited budget for a compact SUV. Volvo even uses leftovers of fishing nets from the bottom of the oceans, where – as a Greenpeace friend once described to me in drastic terms – they otherwise would mean a serious threat to underwater vegetation. With the electric drive in mind, this makes the Volvo C40 Recharge an SUV that you would feel no shame to park in front of an organic scene´s café with a clear conscience.
But let’s be honest: Who wants to turn off this overtaking-a-Maserati-machina in its eco-costume? Driving the four-wheel-drive twin-engine version with just over 400 hp, accompanied by a sound quality that most people would never achieve in their living room, is a real pleasure. And in real life, as long as you don’t let yourself be tempted too often by racy Italian sports cars to give electricity, for around 400 kilometers.
Also very dynamic in terms of sound
Sound staging from live recordings like “Wish You Were Here” (David Gilmour, Live At Pompeii) seems to be extraordinarily stable spanning across the entire dashboard and you can really dive deep into all the sonic details. The voice reproduction of Pink Floyd´s guitarist seems natural and well-balanced. The snapping of the guitar strings produced some remarkably transient impulses given the price range of the system. Precision that is otherwise unheard of from this class of vehicle is also offered by the dry-to-the-bones, deep bass reproduction in particular. And as said, you can move the subwoofer control a bit to the right from 12-o-clock position and add a dB or two without feeling exaggerated or boomy bass.
Then pop music gains quite some punch allowing even more fun to let the C40 off the leash, obeying the ´throttle´ without a second thought. In Belgium, however, this is only possible occasionally on the acceleration lane of freeways. At the end of the village, however, you can only indulge in pleasure to a limited extent. This cosy but small country allows – sometimes I stared in disbelief at the supposedly defective speed display of the fully digital cockpit – sometimes 60 or 70 km/h in the closed city. This does not leave much room for significant acceleration. As a driver being used to Stuttgart, where even on two-lane arterial roads have a strict 40 km/h limit, this left me speechless. Let’s hear some people complain about the horsepower-crazy Germans with their occasional unlimited stretches of autobahn and praise countries like Belgium for their 120 km/h limit.
Conclusion on the Volvo C40 Recharge
The Harman Kardon Premium Sound system shows its strengths without being interfered by the noise of an internal combustion engine in the all-electric Volvo C40 Recharge, which is only available with one or two engines. If you don’t need the larger storage space of its sister model, the XC40, and you’re into sleek style, the SUV coupe is an exceptionally successful all-rounder. It is easily maneuverable and, despite a basically tight chassis setup, also quite comfortable in the city and, with quite some range, is also well suited for occasional trips. The sound system is part of the scope of the Ultimate equipment variant of the Volvo C40 and is therefore also attractively priced.
- Price Volvo C40 Recharge: from 48,850 euros (single engine)
- Price Harman/Kardon Premium Sound System: Included in the surcharge for Ultimate equipment (8,550 euros, Single Engine / 15,050 euros, Twin Engine)
- More info: volvocars.com
STEREO GUIDE Verdict
+ very dry, differentiated bass reproduction
+ natural tonal balance
+ sound system included in "Ultimate" equipment package
+ Very good driving performance, practical range
+ Car subscription possible
- Subwoofer level in neutral position set a bit low
Price/Performance sound system9.9