There’s a lot I don’t know about media relations from a manufacturer’s perspective. But it’s always struck me as a little discordant and strange when a carmaker launches a new electric vehicle – a thing that’s supposed to help the world reduce carbon emissions – and instead of bringing the car to journalists somewhere vaguely proximate to where they live and plug in, it decides to fly hundreds of them by wide-bodied airliner from each of the far corners of the globe at enormous expense to experience their new machine in a locale hugely distant from everyone’s home, needlessly burning millions of passenger miles’ worth of jet fuel in the process while adding an attendant carbon-footprint the size of Rhode Island to the world’s list of CO2 worries.
That said, like good manners, moral flexibility can be a critical tool where both one’s livelihood and personal enjoyment are involved. And the visual and gustatory appeal of three days in glamorous Barcelona, Spain, and its surrounding environs cannot be denied. So, when Volvo invited The Autopian (and approximately 370 other journalists, in waves) as its guests to the world launch event here for its new EX30–an all-electric baby SUV with an astonishingly (by today’s electric car standards) low price–there was nothing to be done but pack a bag.
We like Volvos, as a rule, and how bad could this cheapster (starting at $34,950, less applicable state tax credits, plus federal ones for leased vehicles) be? Yet the better question was, it transpired, how good could it be? Well, spoiler alert, because the short answer is very, very… good. So good, in fact, if you’re considering buying one, go right now and get that deposit down before you even finish reading this review, lest you get left behind.
“An espresso shot of Volvo. Small, intense, essential,” reads the EX30 press material. Which, if somewhat abstruse, is not inapt, assuming the espresso in question is of the creamy smooth variety, with no harsh aftertaste. It looks like a 21st-century Volvo, handsome and chic, distinctively Swedish in affect with a minimalist interior in the modern idiom.
Yet this new entry-level model is also very much a product, too, of Volvo’s association with its Chinese owners, Geely. Miraculously seeming to combine the best of both worlds, it appears and feels essentially, Volvonically Swedish, but sports the price tag and EV smarts of something made in China, where it’s built – though unexpectedly strong demand led Volvo to announce recently that it would also begin building the new model at its plant in Ghent, Belgium. Short for parking ease (less than 14’ long with a wheelbase of 104.1 inches) but with five seats and unexpectedly decent comfort, the EX30 scans as cute yet sophisticated, bang up to minute yet soothingly familiar, and, above all, supremely smooth and pleasant to drive. Indeed, factoring in the value equation, it might well stand now as our favorite electric car, ever.
Certainly, a good part of its driving appeal owes to its comparatively light weight. At 3,858 lbs for the single motor, rear-wheel-drive version (4,150 lbs for the dual motor, all-wheel-drive EX30 Twin Motor Performance with standard four-wheel drive, priced from $47,900) the entry-level model weighs nearly 800 lbs. less than Volvo’s larger (but still small) SUV, the XC40 with single motor, a fine-driving machine in its own right. But you can feel every lost pound in added ride comfort and nimble response. Electrically assisted power steering is alert and satisfying, livelier and more invigorating, in fact, than that of any of its larger relations.
As a driving experience, there is little penalty versus the larger XC40, excepting perhaps slightly more wind and road noise, the XC40’s interior materials imparting a slightly more upscale feel as well as additional quietude. But with ever more carmakers accepting appallingly harsh ride properties as the cost of giving consumers and designers the ever-bigger wheels they crave, the EX30 stands head and shoulders above the pack. Somehow, its 19” (and optional 20”) alloy wheels are somehow made to participate – along with the compact SUV’s front MacPherson strut and rear multi-link suspensions – in a display of composed ride comfort so good it recalls the soothing properties of the great magic carpet ride exemplars of yore, from before the days of dubs for everyone.
Volvo engineers attribute the EX30’s substantial and most beneficial weight saving to its smaller size versus its larger brethren, its electric-motor-only architecture (the XC40 can be had with a gasoline or electric motor) and a smaller battery, just one of the advantages of a lighter car being that it expends less electricity on the march, its smaller, lighter power repository enabling up to 275 miles of range, not far off the XC40 Recharge single motor’s potential 293-mile range, all at a price $15,000 less injurious to the wallet.
Less than a foot shorter, the EX30’s load space of 14.1 cubic feet with the rear seat up doesn’t compare badly with the XC40’s seats-up 16 cubic feet. But with the rear seats down the XC30’s 31.9 cubic feet is decisively outclassed by the taller (65” versus 61.2”) XC40’s whopping 57.5 cubic feet of luggage space. The XC40 offers more ground clearance, too – 8.3” versus 7.0” for the EX30 and it will tow 3,500 lbs., where 2000 lbs. is the claim made for the smaller machine. But the value is heavy.
There is, for instance, no disappointment in learning that the EX30 single motor’s standard 200kW/268 horsepower and 253 lb/ft of torque takes but 5.1 seconds to haul it to sixty, which is fast enough for us. The doppio-motored AWD Performance models assembles 315kW/ 422 horsepower and 400 lb/ft of torque and passes 60 mph in a supercar-fast 3.4 seconds. Both cars are speed delimited to a top speed of 112 mph. Frankly, unless our home was in the snow belt or our goal was nauseating friends and family at will, the smaller, cheaper, slower single motor rear-wheel drive model would suit us just fine.
Rambling around the mountain roads outside Barcelona, the EX30 charmed with its clean and airy interior, accentuated by a fixed glass sunroof, which is standard equipment in the Plus and Ultra trim packages, but not available in the base Core spec. Though there are few traces of metal inside the cabin when it does appear–the door pulls, for instance–it feels substantial and elegant, delivering maximum class in a minimal way.
It doesn’t reek of cheap plastic inside, even if 1/6th of all the plastic in the car is made from the cheapest plastic of all – the recycled stuff. You can read about the EX30’s many other green credentials, in manufacture and its eventual disposal elsewhere, but from an environmental perspective, suffice it to say it’s easily one of the most carefully thought-out cars on the market today.
Criticisms? We have a few, largely revolving around its utterly huge and somewhat impenetrable, center-mounted interactive screen. With hardly any buttons to operate controls, screen-living will likely prove a needless distraction, at least until drivers grow accustomed to it. We understand that it was the subject of much debate internally, so maybe Volvo will think better of it at the EX30’s first refresh, although one suspects that the cost-savings associated with ditching rafts of switches and manual controls may have dictated the big screen; Volvo proudly boasts that EX30 was an exercise in how to make a quality car more cheaply.
Among its few traditional controls, the directional signals on the steering column did not self-cancel easily, though the wipers worked as intended. We also wished we could have turned up the regenerative oomph of the one-pedal braking though, in fairness, maybe we might have if we’d ever gotten to the bottom of that control panel’s many screens and menus. Wind noise from the exterior door mirrors seemed excessive to my co-driver, though it could just have been the fact that we were in pre-production models or that everything else about this car was so quiet, with only the sound of astonished words of praise left to fill the cabin.
The EX30 is a winner. But it did leave us wishing that Volvo soon chooses to make a plain old car on this platform. If they did, we’d fly to the far corners of the earth to try it and we promise we wouldn’t even mention the environmental impact.