We've just driven Volvo's first electric car – the C30 BEV. It's a prototype for a battery C30, and shows what you can expect on sale by 2014.
Volvo calls it a rolling laboratory but for an early mule, it's impressively well finished. All four seats are present and you climb in to face a very normal looking C30. That means cramped but classy. Am I the only one who's a sucker for the largely useless but cool floating centre console?
The dials are replaced by a large speedo with a battery charge meter, while the tacho is ditched for a dial showing how much energy is coming in and out of the lithium ion battery. Volvo is working on a pair of batteries, where the fuel tank would sit and instead of a propshaft.
Our C30 BEV in fact has one up front in the engine bay, alongside the Brusa electric motor. But it feels wieldy and not too heavy, as I select Drive and pull away.
On the road in the Volvo C30 BEV
It's also bloody quiet: the C30 BEV is far more hushed than other electric cars I've driven. We immediately climb a hill and the electric Volvo accelerates easily, with the gusto of a 1.6 petrol. Our car is fully charged, however, and performance decreases as the battery depletes. Still, Volvo claims a real-world range of 70-100 miles - or 180 miles in fake Euro lab conditions.
Floor the throttle uphill (very ungreen) and there's some axle tramp from the front wheels. 'We're fixing that,' promises a Volvo EV engineer sitting alongside me.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the C30 BEV is the switchover from power to coasting. The regenerative braking is imperceptible, with little of the vicious braking some electric cars deliver. It makes for a smooth driving experience. And one that's naturally, eerily calm and quiet.
Volvo claims the C30 BEV weighs just 100kg more than a 1.6 diesel DRIVe, so it handles just as well as a regular hatch. And ours is nose heavier than the eventual production ones, with their batteries centrally contained in the wheelbase for near neutral 56:44 front-rear weight distribution.
What's the interior like? Plenty of Prius-esque confusion?
Volvo promises there will be far simplified dials, telling you how green your driving is. 'No Prius style confusing graphics to distract,' laughs an engineer.
When can you buy an electric Volvo? Bearing in mind the catastrophic £20,000 premium an EV would cost today, the Swedes are waiting for around 2014-2015 before launching. They say lithium battery prices have come down a third since last Christmas, so that staggering extra cost should tumble further.
But it makes you wonder quite how other manufacturers will viably sell electric cars at realistic prices.
Such high prices explain why Volvo is developing plug-in hybrids for its more immediate eco cars. Large Volvos will get diesel-electric powertrains in 2012. More news on this soon.