What is it like to drive?
The P8 asks you to make a few mental readjustments. This might be the smallest Volvo but it weighs 2,220kg (100kg more than the Polestar 2, fully half a tonne more than the equivalent ICE XC40). This is one of the paradoxes you simply have to live with if you want zero emissions electric propulsion: batteries are damned heavy. Beyond that, however, what we have here is nothing less than the most dynamically capable Volvo ever. Seriously.
Sure, 487 torques fired to the road via all four wheels is guaranteed to raise a smile, but even increased familiarity with the wicked side of electrification doesn’t diminish the wow factor. (For the record, I remember the Nineties 850 T5, which begat the funniest touring car of all time. The road car was too busy incinerating its front tyres to actually move forward.) So yes, the XC40 P8 is deliciously rapid. But again, as with its Polestar cousin it’s also well-mannered with it, sling-shotting you out of corners or exiting roundabouts in a way that really is as amusing as it is addictive.
Better than that, though, is the control it displays, both in terms of managing its considerable weight but also in terms of traction. Only on the greasiest of second gear corners (in old money, this thing doesn’t have conventional gears) does it come unstuck. The rest of the time it just flings itself up the road with abandon. Or doesn’t, if you prefer to drive in a more sensible and stereotypically Swedish manner.
At which point you’ll notice how beautifully damped it is, how well-resolved its ride quality overall is, and the entirely grown-up manner in which it erases the shoddy surfaces that can trip up cars from some of the industry’s biggest and most luxurious guns. The front suspension is by McPherson strut with coil springs, and there’s a multi-link set-up at the rear. Volvo has never pretended to be the last word in driving dynamics or suspension kinematics, but the P8 is a deft thing, indeed.
It’s also wonderfully simple to use. Given the complexities of the EV world – and the fear of where and how to charge still bothers a lot of folk – Volvo is smart to keep things straightforward. There’s keyless entry and no start button; a sensor in the driver’s seat primes the car. Just slide the little drive controller into D and off you glide. There are no powertrain modes to twiddle with, either. You can firm up the steering if you want (it’s better than the floatier calibration), and set the braking to maximum regen for one-pedal operation and improved efficiency. That can take a little getting used to, but quickly becomes second nature.
Naturally, the powertrain is largely silent, but there’s discernible character here, too. Maybe electrification suits Volvo’s generally more sustainable, human-oriented philosophy. Whatever it is, this is a fantastic car to drive, particularly for a crossover/SUV with an unpromising centre of gravity.
Safety? It remains a core part of the company’s philosophy. New innovations include a rear auto brake that can sense if the car is about to be rear-ended and applies the brakes automatically to stop it slamming into the car ahead. There’s also an enhanced Pilot Assist, which draws on Google Maps for speed limits and bends in the road. Volvo is probably further along the road to autonomous driving than most, but the P8 doesn’t remonstrate with you by way of warning chimes should you stray across a white line.