I spent two hours driving Volvo’s first electric SUV around San Francisco last week. The thing I loved most about it: Google Maps.
The XC40 Recharge hits the U.S. market in January for just under $55,000. Volvo doesn’t try to push its own software. Instead, it’s one of the first cars with an infotainment system entirely run on native Google software. (We’re not talking about Android Auto, which requires an Android phone that is compatible with vehicles from multiple automakers.)
The XC40 Recharge has a range of 208 miles and features a panoramic sunroof, spacious seating, 2,000-pound towing capacity, and plenty of trunk and front trunk, or “frunk,” space. If it looks a lot like the “regular” gas-powered XC40 SUV, it’s because it’s the same design, just electrified.
“This is the future of Volvo in a familiar shell,” company reps said at a December press event. Hence the name “Recharge.”
The best part of being in a Google-powered electric car was the navigation system. Google Maps was the de facto, and only, option, which was fine by me. When using Apple CarPlay in other vehicles, I usually switch from the default Apple Maps to Google Maps anyway.
There are several ways to interact with the infotainment system. You can touch the center touchscreen. You can push a button on the steering wheel and say “Hey Google,” just like with other Google Assistant devices.
There is also a second, smaller 12.2-inch screen behind the steering wheel, which helpfully showed the driving directions, so I could look forward instead of over to the right.
It showed how many chargers were available, the charging network, and the type of charge — either the more expensive, faster kind that takes 40 minutes to get to 80 percent, or the cheaper, slower type. When I tapped an option, Google Maps gave me directions.
Apple Music wasn’t available yet. I needed a YouTube Music account to listen to the pre-loaded music app (Google-owned), which I don’t have. I did add Libby, my audiobook app, so I could finish the last chapter of Michelle Obama’s Becoming a memoir.
For heavy users of Google services, the XC40 Recharge‘s infotainment service is extremely convenient.
Less so for Apple users, who don’t have direct access to their iOS messages, music, and podcasts like they would in a vehicle with CarPlay. For them, the lengthy wait for an Apple electric car might feel even longer. By the time Apple potentially offers its first vehicle in 2025 or later, Volvo plans to have at least 50 percent of its car models run only on electricity. The other half will be hybrids. By 2040, the company says it’ll be carbon neutral.