Arctic Adjacent with the Volvo EX30

by Andrew Maness

April 30, 2024

Why fly all the way to Sweden to drive Volvo’s brand-new electric compact crossover? Is it really necessary to experience a product in its place of origin, especially when said product has an intended use case that rarely lines up with where it comes from? When it comes to a well-defined brand such as Volvo, I’d say yes, absolutely necessary. Driving a Volvo in Sweden offers not only a better understanding but a deeper appreciation of their vehicles as well. If an automaker’s products are reflective of their country of origin(and I believe they are) then a Volvo should be welcoming, attractive, restrained, safe, and practical. I’m pleased to say that the EX30 is all of those things and in many ways is the most traditional “Volvo” product the Swedish automaker has delivered in recent memory. It contains many of the best bits of the more expensive vehicles in the lineup (excellent seats, high-quality audio system, thoughtful ergonomics) but offers a somewhat quirky take on the quiet luxury approach Volvo has employed since parting ways with Ford more than a decade ago. When I say “somewhat quirky” I’m talking about things like removing the speakers from the door panels to increase storage space and instead placing a soundbar on the dash. They’re not taking a page from the book of SATURN or Scion(thankfully), but there is an undeniably less serious feel to the EX30 which makes sense because it’s a youth-oriented product, or at least that’s how Volvo positions it.

In the real world, it's a great (and I do mean great) vehicle for anyone whose identity isn’t tied up in what they drive. If I was in the market for an EV daily driver I’d get one, but I also think it would be the perfect vehicle for my mom who lives in rural New England and has a vehicle use case pretty much the opposite of my own. This is where Volvo has really nailed it with the EX30, both the vehicle itself and the marketing have broad appeal. Yes, it’s a compact crossover, but it doesn’t look like the first rung on the brand ladder, nor does it feel like it inside. It’s an exercise in smart packaging and positioning, bringing a much-needed dose of substance to the entry-level EV segment. Neither the rear-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive model is blisteringly quick compared to Elon’s incel machines or a number of other competitors, but that widely misses the point of the EX30. Both the RWD and AWD models are plenty quick for real-world driving (I’m sorry, do you need more than a 3.4 0-60 time in your daily?) and more importantly the EX30 is quite comfortable. Volvo’s NVH mitigation is generally excellent and you’d expect it to be so in their premium offerings, but in an EV that starts at $35k, it’s a very welcome surprise. Driving from Lulea to Volvo’s arctic adjacent ice course on studded snow tires wasn’t the torturous affair that it would be in most compact vehicles, let alone an EV. My co-driver and I easily carried on conversations, and when we didn’t feel like chatting we didn’t have to crank up the music to drown out the road noise. This, probably more than anything else, moves the needle when it comes to liking an EV or not. If you’re sacrificing comfort for capability in this segment, you’ve lost the plot. Of near equal importance (comfort is king) would be efficiency, but not for the reason you might think. See, I don’t subscribe to the notion that EVs are automatically better for the environment than ICE vehicles, in fact, there’s a growing amount of evidence to the contrary. Does that mean we should just call the whole thing off? Certainly not, many of the best vehicles I’ve driven in the past 4 years have been pure electric and I maintain that the future of transportation, especially in the U.S.A. Will be a mix of gas, diesel, and electric, with some hydrogen holdouts on the fringe.

The reason efficiency is important when it comes to EVs isn’t so much about energy consumption while driving, but time consumption while charging. While the two are obviously related, it’s important to note that the most common use case for an EV is within a specific set of parameters that rarely change. For example “The junior marketing coordinator gets up, drives to get an overpriced coffee, drives to work, drives to a workout class, drives home”. If that’s the use case then what matters most is that the driver has a charger at home where they can plug in and charge up overnight. If there’s no charger at home then charging at the coffee shop, work, or fitness studio becomes of great importance. If there’s no charging at any of those locations then, and only then does efficiency while driving become more important than efficiency of charging. It’s worth noting that if you don’t have charging at home or at work I wouldn’t advise anyone getting an EV, not in this country and for the foreseeable future anyway. For those that do meet that criteria, Volvo claims that the EX30 RWD will use 26.5 kWh per 100 miles, equating to 3.77 miles per kWh. The best EVs on the market get over 4 miles per kWh and considering the EX30 has a 64 kWh (usable) battery, that would give a range of 241 miles for the RWD model. Not bad, but not great either. I wasn’t tracking our energy consumption during the 1 1/2 hour drive, but another driver saw a usage of about 17.7 kWh per 100 km which equates to 3.5 miles per kWh, which isn’t bad considering it was literally freezing cold and the cars were all on the aforementioned studded winter tires. I mention these specific figures not because I think it will be a make-or-break factor in someone’s buying decision, but rather that the potential benefits of EVs are still widely misunderstood. The return of HUMMER with electric models definitely helped create awareness that EVs can be energy hogs, but generally speaking, people automatically assume an EV is efficient, cleaner, and better than a comparable ICE vehicle. Fortunately for Volvo, in this segment, they’d be correct. For the majority of my professional career as an automotive photojournalist, I’ve been watching automakers suck the character out of all but their best offerings, especially when it comes to the engines. Would I be excited about the EX30 if it featured yet another low-displacement four-cylinder turbo under the hood? Definitely not. A 5cyl turbo with a rally car-inspired exhaust sure, but those days are behind us. Give me adequate performance, quiet luxury, and useful functionality under $45k and I’m happy. Give me those things and a 75-corner circuit on a frozen lake where I can spend the day enjoying them, I’m really happy. Thanks for having me Volvo and nice work with the EX30.