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Volvo EX30 Is the Bargain EV Buyers Have DemandedVolvo EX30 Is the Bargain EV Buyers Have Demanded

Volvo’s engineers and designers cut costs at every opportunity to produce an appealing price. Is it too much?

Dan Carney

November 6, 2023

8 Slides

As the fervor for EV adoption cools in the face of continuing high prices, Volvo sees affordability as the key to spurring buyer interest. Affordability is the defining characteristic of Volvo’s new EV30 battery-electric compact crossover SUV, for better or worse.

“We know that price and cost of ownership is still one of the biggest challenges when people consider switching to an electric car,” said Volvo CEO Jim Rowan. “With the Volvo EX30, we aim to bring premium, fully electric mobility to a much broader audience, helping to advance and speed up the transition to full electrification that our industry and society needs.” The company says it wants its lineup to be 50 percent battery-electric by 2025 and 100 percent EV by 2030, and affordability is key to achieving those goals.

This means a vehicle with a base starting price of $36,245 (including destination) for the 268 horsepower single-motor, rear-wheel-drive version that has an estimated driving range of 275 miles and 0-60 mph acceleration of 5.1 seconds.

EX30s will be made at Volvo’s Chinese plant, but the company has announced plans for a second plant in Ghent, Belgium based on anticipated demand for the car. That factory will provide cars to Europe and the U.S. starting in 2025, so until then, Chinese-sourced cars are the only choice.

The raft of decisions made for the purpose of trimming costs may prove to be too much for some prospective customers. Such as: there’s no instrument panel with a speedometer and fuel gauge positioned directly ahead of the driver.

Instead, the EX30 puts that information on the center infotainment display. Along with everything else. The cabin has been scrubbed clean of buttons, with their functions handled on the center touch screen and the Google Assistant voice recognition system.

As you might expect, these solutions work better as the controls for some functions than for others, and the driver’s appetite for such things surely varies, based on individual preferences. Other manufacturers that have eliminated the physical volume knob have frequently returned it when they realized how unhappy customers are to lose it.

Too Much Touch Screen?

The Ford Mach-E team realized this during their development process and found a way to provide a solution using a rotary knob glued to the face of the infotainment touchscreen. It has been so successful for Ford that the company has used an over-the-air software update to let drivers also control climate control temperature using that same knob.

Physical controls are easier for drivers to locate and use while driving than virtual on-screen buttons, but Volvo insists that the on-the-road solution is voice control. Voice recognition continues to be a source of user dissatisfaction, but as people have become accustomed to the capabilities of such technology while using their digital home assistants like Amazon Alexa, perhaps this tide is turning.

Regardless, there are several examples of the use of multiple menu levels in the EX30’s controls where top-level controls would be better. The display continuously shows the climate control temperature and the seat heater buttons across its bottom edge.

Inexplicably, pressing these virtual buttons calls forth a pop-up menu window, rather than directly controlling the functions of those features. The seat heaters could simply turn on with a press of the button, with subsequent presses letting the user select different heating levels. Instead, the EX30 makes the driver look at the pop-up window and set the preferred level there.

The climate control temperature works similarly. Instead, the temperature number could be surrounded by a red up arrow and a blue down arrow, which, when pressed, directly raise or lower the temperature without opening a pop-up window.

Drivers like rotary knobs for functions like radio volume and tuning and for climate control temperature because they can find and adjust them without taking their eyes off the road. Also, physical knobs are steady, making them easy to adjust with an outstretched arm while driving over bumps that make it difficult to accurately use a touch screen. The absence of instruments, especially the speedometer, directly ahead of the driver, seems likely to engender similar dissatisfaction.

Real-World Range?

A trip of 48 miles used 23 percent of an estimated 275-mile driving range. That means that driving range during my trip through the mountains outside Barcelona was barely more than 200 miles on a day when the weather was mild and the sun was shining. That is perhaps more in line with expectations for a 69-kilowatt-hour NMC lithium-ion battery pack than the optimistic-sounding 275-mile estimate. Certainly, a calm trip through slow-moving urban traffic on flat highways would yield better results.

But the EX30 excels on twisty roads, with excellent ride and handling. The calibration of the accelerator and the regenerative braking blended with the foundation brakes is perfect, with none of the vague feeling from the pedal or the inconsistent deceleration some others have.

Shredding the mountain switchbacks underscored the team’s success dialing in the linear response of the steering and the balance of the brakes and the regenerative braking as the EX30 delivered a sports car-like driving experience.

The most surprising aspect is the grip level of the low-rolling-resistance tires, which are understandably hard, in pursuit of maximum driving range. This typically produces correspondingly reduced lateral grip, but the tires provided sufficient grip and did not squeal.

Regeneration does seem variable, slowing the EX30 fairly aggressively at low speeds but almost imperceptibly at highway speeds. Volvo engineers explained that they are considering a software update to let drivers select between two levels of regeneration.

Seat of the Pants

The wool-blend fabric of the base model’s upholstery is attractive and comfortable, good enough that I prefer it to the ‘synthetic leather’ used on the seating surfaces of the higher-level trims. My co-pilot helpfully pointed out that she favors synthetic leather over the grippy fabric because the wool causes skirts to bunch uncomfortably, which is a fair point if they are a part of your wardrobe.

The wool-blend fabric is 70 percent polyester that is made from recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) drink bottles. The EX30 also has hard trim surfaces inside that incorporate otherwise unusable short cotton fibers that are recovered from recycled denim or ground-up recycled residential vinyl window frames that provide a decorative pattern and texture on the trim panels.

The rear seat is spacious and comfortable, with easy ingress and egress through the door openings. Unfortunately, the cabin is totally devoid of grab handles in another bid to cut costs. I think is a step too far, as passengers, especially when driving in the mountains, want to be able to hold on for stability.

As mentioned above, the base single-motor EX30 is plenty quick and is capable of brisk pace through the mountains, but for drivers who want more power or require the security of all-wheel-drive, the dual-motor model delivers 422 hp and 3.4-second 0-60 mph acceleration. The penalty is a $10,000 higher price tag and a ten-mile reduction in estimated driving range, which is probably mostly the result of the increase in wheel size from 19 inches to 20 inches.

Spending more money on a vehicle whose raison d’etre was affordability seems contradictory to me, but surely there are drivers in northern markets who legitimately need all-wheel-drive. Still, the base single-motor, rear-drive EX30 is the obvious choice here. If Volvo is going to provide the opportunity to get an affordable EV, it seems wise to take it.

The question for buyers will be whether they’ll get accustomed to the control interface and the absence of features like grab handles, or whether these will be everyday annoyances that will make buyers regret their decision every day they own the car. Only experience will tell.

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