It’s crazy to think that, even just a decade ago, plug-in hybrids were largely non-existent on the new UK car market.
Fast forward to 2021 and these models are really growing in popularity, with 68,107 being sold in Britain so for this year, up until the end of July – more than double the market share of the year before.
It certainly bodes well for Volvo, which was the first firm to offer every car it sells as a PHEV. But the trouble is, the Scandinavian brand no longer has the market to itself, and is being prodded from all angles by rival manufacturers from across the spectrum.
One such example is Ford, which now sells its latest Kuga as a plug-in hybrid, and while having it on test recently, I thought it was an ideal opportunity to put it head-to-head with ‘my’ XC40 T5 PHEV.
First things first, there is a noticeable price difference between the two cars – nearly £5,000 in fact, with the Kuga Plug-in hybrid available from £36,905 and the XC40 from £41,390. Volvo does offer a less powerful hybrid version of this XC40 in all fairness, which brings it within just a few hundred pounds of the Ford.
But, pushing price aside for a moment, these are quite similar models offering roughly the same proposition – a well-sized SUV with the option of low running costs the more you plug your car in.
And for sure, the more you plug in the Ford the more you’ll be rewarded. Its 30-mile plus electric range eclipses that of the Volvo’s, which consistently struggles to muster up more than 20 miles – something I’ve continued to be disappointed with during my time with it.
It’s down to the fact the Ford has a bigger battery, but given these cars are roughly the same size, there’s nothing stopping Volvo fitting a bigger unit to the XC40. Certainly on a day-to-day basis you’d notice the Ford will be the one that saves you the most money.
There’s also noticeably more oomph with the Kuga when running purely on electricity than there is with the Volvo, though admittedly the tables turn when the engines kick into life. However, for a manufacturer so well-versed in electrification as Volvo, it isn’t great that Ford, which has been really slow to embrace electrification, has already caught up and arguably overtaken.
Things do improve quite significantly for the Volvo when you jump inside. Admittedly our test car is the plushest version with just about every option box ticked, but even so, its interior quality eclipses that of the Ford. If you’re wondering where your extra dollar is spent with the Volvo, it’s here. Appealing natural wooden trim is far more upmarket than the somewhat cheap-looking carbon-effect detailing you get in the Kuga, while smooth leather and more solid-feeling switchgear gives you a far more premium cabin overall. A big tick for the Volvo.
They are quite evenly matched on the technology front though, with both getting a large touchscreen and digital dials, and the latter in the Ford actually offering more in the way of customisation than the Volvo.
On SUVs like this practicality is also an important consideration, and it’s safe to say neither will leave you disappointed. Though the Kuga’s boot is quite a lot larger on paper (581 litres compared to 460 in the Volvo), they actually seem quite similar in real-world use, with both also offering plenty of rear space for adults or taller teens. Each also offers room beneath the boot floor for storing the charging cables, which isn’t something you should take as a given.
So it’s safe to say these two cars are quite a lot closer than you might expect – much to my surprise as well. While I’d happily still take the keys to the Volvo first for its more upmarket experience and more attractive styling, Ford does have the edge on the actual hybrid powertrain itself. If only there could be a way of blending the two for the ultimate all-round family SUV package?
Model: Volvo XC40
Base price: £25,855
Model as tested: Volvo XC40 Recharge Plug-in hybrid T5 FWD Inscription Pro
Engine: 1.5-litre petrol-electric hybrid
Max speed: 112 mph
0-60mph: 7.0 seconds
Emissions: 47-57g/km CO2