Volvo’s electric EX30 is small. And perfectly formed?

Smallest Volvo is also the Swedish marque’s most affordable car in ages

Volvo EX30

When you first sit into the new Volvo EX30, I would be surprised if your instant reaction was not “There’s no way this is a €38,000 car.” Most electric cars that we’ve sampled in this price range have felt at times alarmingly cheap inside. But not this new Swede.

Well, Sino-Swede, for the EX30 is very much a product of Chinese company Geely’s stewardship of Volvo, which has seen sales expand to a point that Volvo could never quite manage as an independent company, nor even under Ford ownership.

The EX30 is Volvo’s new compact model, and it’s essentially an all-electric replacement for the old V40 hatchback, even though it proclaims membership of the crossover fraternity. As with many such compact models, it’s much more hatchback than SUV, though. It’s based on a new platform, the Sustainable Experience Architecture 2 (SEA2), which, thanks to Geely’s various industrial connections, will also underpin the likes of the Zeekr X, the Smart #1 and the rather more Volvo-adjacent Polestar 4.

It’s all electric, of course, and not only can you have an EX30 with a choice of battery sizes, you can also have a choice of battery chemistries. The most affordable model – and for a car with a Volvo badge and electric drive, €38,595 including grants and rebates is quite the eye-catching price tag – comes with a lithium iron phosphate battery, which is simpler and cheaper to make, but doesn’t quite hold as much energy. Thus, the base EX30, with its 49kWh (usable) battery and 272hp rear-drive electric motor, gets a nominal range of up to 344km. Enough for most, perhaps?

Volvo EX30

Perhaps, and those who buy at the bottom end of the EX30 range will not be disappointed. Although this car competes on price with the likes of the Renault Megane E-Tech and the Jeep Avenger, and undercuts VW’s ID.3, it has a cabin which feels much richer and of higher quality than any of those rivals.

Items such as the actually-metal door handles, and the sink-into-’em front seats lift the EX30′s cabin well above the levels of the competition and makes it feel genuinely premium within. There’s an intriguing use of recycled plastic window frames and roller shutters for the dashboard trim. It gives the surface a speckled effect, which could uncharitably be likened to the floor of a cash-and-carry, but which feels rather nice to the touch. There are other variations on the recycled theme, including one that uses woven flax from linseed plants and all of the recycling helps add up to what Volvo claims will be a class-leading full-life CO2 emissions figure for the EX30.

In terms of cabin tech, Volvo has gone ‘full Tesla’ and done away with a driver’s instrument screen, and is eschewing a projected heads-up display on the windscreen in favour of a single, 12.3-inch portrait-layout screen in the centre of the dash. Whatever you’re looking for, it’ll be on this screen, whether it’s your speed, your navigation map, your air-conditioning controls or your phone connectivity.

Volvo EX30

It’s a good screen – the underlying Google Android software means it’s slick and quick to use – but we have some doubts about it. Although Volvo’s Thomas Broberg, Volvo’s senior technical adviser for safety, told The Irish Times that much research has gone into drivers’ sightlines and interactions with the screen, to maximise safety, it still seems to us that there are too many functions which require too much eyes-on-screen time. Merely changing the angle of your door mirrors is an astonishing faff, for example, which proves once again that touchscreens often try to reinvent stuff that really ought to have been left alone. More worryingly, the mere fact that your only speed display is at the top of the screen means that, by our reckoning, you’re going to be more readily distracted by that screen when you flick your eyes over to check your speed.

Volvo also claims that there’s an environmental benefit in having fewer screens, and less wiring behind the dashboard. Hence also why the electric window switches (which use an annoying VW-style button to take control of the rear windows) and USB sockets are clustered in the centre of the cabin.

On the upside, there’s plenty of storage, with deep, lined door bins, a huge open area between the front seats and a slide-out tray for rear-seat passengers. Less good is the space in the back. Knee room is quite badly compromised if you’re trying to fit four adults in, and while headroom is good, the floor is relatively high so those in the back will find their knees up around their shoulders at times. Kids will fit fine, but teenagers will complain. Then again, don’t they always?

The boot is decent – 400 litres of load space up to the luggage cover – and there’s a small, but useful, ‘frunk’ storage space in the nose.

Volvo EX30

The most likely best-selling model is the one we’re driving here; the extended range version, which uses a more expensive lithium-ion battery and which squeezes a claimed – and broadly believable – 474km of range from a single charge. Like the more affordable base model, it’s rear-wheel drive with a single 272hp motor with 343Nm of torque. That would have been sufficient for a mid-level Porsche not so very long ago, but now here we are with a family-centric small crossover that can crack a 5.1sec 0-100km/h time. It’s almost absurdly quick when you press the small accelerator pedal to the stop, enough to have passengers reaching for the jaysus-handle that isn’t there (hopefully they don’t grab the door handle instead).

And that’s not all – there is the option of a two-motor, four-wheel-drive version with 428hp and 543Nm of torque which can hit 100km/h from rest in just 3.4 secs. Which, to be honest, is just silly. Who needs a family crossover that can do such things? Unless someone you love has ingested something nasty and you’re trying to induce vomiting...

Neither of these more expensive EX30s (the extended range version starts at €44,502 including grants, while the Performance version sets you back €48,883) is exactly what you’d call a driver’s car anyway, so having that kind of oomph is a bit pointless. The standard version is more than rapid enough, and it’s pleasant to drive. The steering is light – too light for enthusiasts, but it’s quick across its locks, and there’s enough grip to flick around most corners before the 1,700-1,800kg kerb weight catches up with you and starts to make the EX30 push wide and towards the white line. It’s good in town, where the decent visibility and inherent nippiness make it feel agile and responsive, and it’s very refined at a cruise on main roads.

At a time when Volvo is pulling the plug on sales of its beloved estate models (none is more bereft at this news than me) it’s easy to have mixed feelings about the EX30. It’s yet another crossover in a world that hardly needs such a thing, but it’s well executed, sharply priced and sweet to drive. If the basic version’s truncated range suits your needs, then it’s a lot of car – and a lot of badge – for the money.

Neil Briscoe

Neil Briscoe

Neil Briscoe, a contributor to The Irish Times, specialises in motoring