Volvo's core brief for its new EX30 crossover was, well, brief: Build a small, desirable premium electric vehicle with over 250 miles of usable range, and price it under $35,000 (before destination and not including government rebates). So far as we can tell, from a two-day immersion with the cute-ute at Volvo HQ in Sweden, it has achieved that goal. The EX30 is adorable and intriguing. It should also be a startling performer. The top-spec all-wheel-drive Twin Motor Performance model boasts 422 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque, sufficient, Volvo claims, to accelerate its smallest SUV (stated weight: 4140 pounds) from zero to 60 mph in 3.4 seconds. From the passenger seat, where we had our first experience with the EX30 on Volvo's test track, it felt solid and stolid.
"All of our cars must have a clear Volvo character," says Egbert Bakker, the brand's technical leader of vehicle dynamics, as he chauffeurs us through myriad gut-churning maneuvers that made us glad we'd skipped the breakfast herring. "And that means it must feel predictable, controllable, and comfortable." The remit for this entry-level EV, a fresh category for the brand and one meant to attract fresh customers, also included a couple of other descriptors: confidence and agility.
For a basic template, Volvo leaned on the parts bin—and deep-pocketed EV R&D—of its corporate overlord, the Chinese industrial conglomerate Geely, but then worked hard to Sweden the deal. "We received a system," Bakker says euphemistically of the car's underpinnings. "But we made it our own—our own dampers, tires, steering, anti-roll bars. These are all unique to Volvo."
Despite a shortish wheelbase, which can more readily transmit pitch and hop into the cabin, the EX30 feels nicely controlled, even over the broken pavement, choppy expansion joints, and undulating dips on the long stretches of Volvo's test track that simulate America’s tattered tarmac. Rebounds feel stable and devoid of bump-stop crashes, and isolation is admirable, even compared with the brand's lovely, larger XC40. All of this is achieved without computer-controlled air springs or adaptive dampers. "That's not really a category convention," Bakker explains, in the inimitable manner of a veteran engineer. A suite of advanced driver-assistance systems, including blind-spot assist and Volvo's Pilot Assist (lane-keeping aid, plus adaptive cruise control), is standard, as you would expect.
Handling is aided by the presence of the 64.0-kWh battery pack in the floor, lowering the center of gravity of the stubby EV (which is about the size of a VW Golf, albeit some three inches taller). Volvo's recent switch to a rear-wheel-drive default for its AWD EVs helps as well. The front axle only engages when slip is detected at the rear, the accelerator is pressed deeply, or Performance mode is engaged. (The 3858-pound Single Motor Extended Range starter model is rear-wheel drive only and pumps out 268 horsepower and 253 pound-feet of torque, providing a claimed zero-to-60 time of 5.1 seconds.)
The exterior styling is a somewhat more winsome and whimsical version of Volvo's contemporary design language, with a slightly softened, arched-eyebrow iteration of the marque's T-shaped Thor's Hammer headlamps flowing into a doughier, grille-less front end. The beltline swings up at the rear to meet the fat C-pillar. Tall taillamps course through intricate sectioned reflectors, running the height of the scrunchy rear hatch. The body stampings are simple but styled, reflecting and yet transcending the car's manufacturing budget.
The interior is where Volvo's efforts at cost savings emerge most pointedly. As in the Tesla Model 3, the dash is entirely blank save for a large central screen. There's no instrument cluster; the screen handles all driver functions from speedometer to navigation to climate control. (Budget upsides: less wiring and a cheaper transfer from RHD to LHD configurations.) The simple HVAC vents are molded structurally into the dash panel to save on stampings and materials. A sound bar at the base of the windshield takes the place of individual speakers. And the interior is nearly absent of traditional luxury signifiers like leather, wood, and metal. These have been replaced by, depending on what decorative scheme you select, molded substances made from recycled or upcycled plastic bottles, fishing nets, window frames, flax, wool, or denim cuttings.
These humble-sounding sources—once woven, compressed, faceted, polished, perforated, and otherwise transformed—create intriguing surfaces that demand fondling and inspire delight, while calling subtle attention to their signaled virtue. The experience is at once minimal and decidedly tactile, enhanced by the brand's decision to use a wealth of color. Misty sky blues, ocean-dark indigoes, pine greens, and cloudy silvers take the place of the insipid blacks and beiges that dominate the industry. USB-C ports abound, as do especially clever storage elements: a central glovebox, stacked tiers of slide-out bins, giant door pockets, floor-mounted cabinets, a tiny frunk, and an adjustable rear cargo floor.
A spear of satin-finished steel capped by a large retro-appearing metal door pull, like something from a Scandinavian Modern under-counter fridge, is the only interior jewelry. The effect is initially jarring but ultimately soothing. We deserve a new, more intriguing interior material language to reflect our shifting definition of what a car can be, one that moves beyond Tesla's decontented, big screen/gaming chair Hacker House Bedroom aesthetic. If it is in the service of leading us further toward sustainability, we're down with that as well.
Of course, in order to achieve this price point, Volvo will not be building the EX30 in labor-union-strong Sweden, but in low-wage China. How that affects quality and durability is for now an open question. So, too, is the question of how the EX30 drives. The latter, at least, we should be able to answer soon. The EX30 arrives in U.S. showrooms in the first half of 2024.
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