by Lem Bingley
The next generation of Volvo’s small car range – small being a relative term for the Swedish maker of capacious estates and SUVs – will come in both plug-in hybrid and battery electric formats when the current V40 hatchback is replaced at the end of next year.
At an event in Gothenburg today, Volvo unveiled prototype designs for two 40-series variants: a tall crossover called Concept 40.1, presumably previewing an upcoming XC40; and a lower, sleeker five-door called Concept 40.2, which could become a new V40. A replacement for the jacked up V40 Cross Country is also planned.
Both concept cars feature chiselled, angular designs that are quite a bold departure for the brand, while still echoing the widely praised XC90 SUV and upcoming V90 estate and S90 saloon.
Production of the new 40-series cars is expected to begin before the end of 2017, according to Volvo.
Plug-in versions of the new cars, badged T5 Twin Engine, will combine a three-cylinder petrol engine with an electric motor. The motor will be closely coupled to a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox, driving the front wheels independently or in tandem with the engine. This is a departure from Volvo’s existing plug-ins, the XC90 and V60 Twin Engine cars, which use a mechanically separate, electrically driven rear axle to provide part-time four-wheel drive.
As with the T8, the T5’s mains-chargeable lithium-ion battery will be housed neatly within the car’s central tunnel, avoiding the loss of boot space that hampered the older V60 plug-in hybrid.
The more space-efficient layout is possible because the new 40-series cars have been designed with electrification in mind from the ground up, as was the case with the current XC90 T8.
Volvo has designed two new platforms that will underpin all of its next-generation cars – Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) for its larger cars and Compact Modular Architecture (CMA) for the smaller ones.
Both platforms allow quite substantial variations in body style, wheelbase and track while still sharing many underlying component parts – essential for a relatively small maker like Volvo to produce a varied range of cars without running out of cash. It has taken a similar approach to standardisation in its engines and gearboxes, with older engines including 5- and 6-cylinder options retired in favour of new modular 3- and 4-cylinder petrol and diesel engines.
The new battery electric car, meanwhile, is likely to become Volvo’s second production BEV after an electric XC90 due in 2019. It will employ lessons learned from the experimental C30 electric car project that Volvo began as early as 2011. The 40-series EV will feature a large lithium-ion battery spreading under the cabin floor, beneath the rear seats and filling the central tunnel, with a front-drive motor mounted under the bonnet. Range between recharges is reported to be 350km (217 miles).
While the EV edition will no doubt remain two-wheel drive, it seems safe to assume that Volvo will produce a 4x4 version of its new small off-roader. An electric back axle in a T6 edition seems like a relatively safe bet.
Switched-on Swedes: new Volvo V40 to spawn EV and plug-in editions
18 May 2016
by Lem Bingley