Only New in America
The Europeans like it, too. By the time this hatchback goes on sale in America in October, it’ll have been on sale in the old country for more than a year. And sales are good over there, even though the C30 competes with the Audi A3, Mini Cooper and Volkswagen GTI (the same cars it’ll be battling over here, actually). But Volvo understands America’s lukewarm enthusiasm for hatchbacks, so it’s projecting yearly sales of just 6,000-8,000 C30s, even while the company sells about 65,000 C30s worldwide each year.
In the States, two trim levels will be offered — Version 1.0 and Version 2.0. Both are powered by the same turbocharged inline-5 that powers the Volvo S40 and V50. This engine is rated at 227 horsepower at 5,000 rpm and 236 pound-feet of torque at 5,000 rpm, which makes it the powerhouse of its class. A five-speed automatic is optional, but our test car featured the standard six-speed manual gearbox. The shift linkage isn’t as precise as we would like, but its low-effort shift action matches the character of the car.
Despite its power advantage over its rivals (a Mini Cooper S packs only 172 hp), the C30 fails to leave them in the dust. In fact, should the Volvo line up next to a Mini Cooper S, it’s the C30 that gets left behind. With a 0-60-mph time of 6.6 seconds and a quarter-mile run of 15.1 seconds at 94.5 mph, the turbo C30 is slower than the last Cooper S we tested, although it’s a tick or two quicker than a Honda Civic Si or VW GTI. It’s also more than quick enough to keep you entertained.
Still, with the five-cylinder’s strong bottom-end torque and generous power rating, the C30 should be quicker than it is. What’s holding it back? Weight. At 167.4 inches long, the C30 is much larger than the Mini, so it weighs significantly more — a portly 3,198 pounds, in fact. (The GTI is actually heavier, if you can believe it.) But the trade-off is interior space. “We made sure the backseat fits two fully grown adults,” Andreas Friedric, the car’s interior designer, tells us just before he folds the C30’s two rear seats, tosses a surfboard into the cargo area and closes the glass rear hatch. Try that in a Mini.
Hot Child in the City
In addition to its drivetrain, the Volvo S40 sedan contributes its four-wheel independent suspension, four-wheel disc brakes and its entire interior to the new hatchback. Actually the C30 shares everything with the sedan, including the front end, the windshield glass and even its wheelbase dimension. Only the rear third of its bodywork is different, which looks as if it’s been snagged from the famous 1971 Volvo P1800 ES.
The combination works. This is an attractive car that grabs eyes and collects compliments. It also makes the C30 some 8.5 inches shorter and 330 pounds lighter than an S40. Tie it all to the road with a set of fat, low-profile 18-inch Pirelli P Zero Rosso tires (version 1.0 rides on 17-inch rubber), and you’re left with a car that likes to be tossed around and delivers some impressive handling numbers in the process. The C30’s skid pad performance of 0.85g, its slalom speed of 69.1 mph and its ability to come to a halt from 60 mph in 117 feet ranks it as good as the last Audi A3 we tested.
With all that weight up front, we weren’t surprised by the C30’s desire to understeer through the corners, but the Volvo takes a nice set in faster bends and the overall limits are high. In general, the C30’s steering and chassis respond in a rewarding way. Just don’t misunderstand, though. As fun as the C30 is to dance with, this is not a hot hatch for weekend track days. It’s a city dweller that likes to zip through traffic and dig into the occasional on-ramp.
On serious driver’s roads like Mulholland Drive or the Ortega Highway here in Southern California, the C30 feels large and soft. You notice that the driver seat that feels so great in the city isn’t capable of holding you in place anymore. Steering feel is well above average, but the C30’s torque steer out of corners isn’t exactly a treat and the soft brake pedal can give you a fright.
The seating position is excellent, the visibility over the nose of the car is expansive and the steering wheel is good to hold (if a bit oversized). We should also applaud the C30’s comfortable ride, which is quite an accomplishment considering its athleticism.
At a total MSRP of $27,700, our test car undercuts an Audi A3 by quite a bit, but costs a bit more than a similarly equipped Mini Cooper S or Volkswagen GTI. Base price for the Version 2.0 is $26,445, some $3,671 more than a Version 1.0. Basically you’re paying for stiffer suspension tuning, a sporty body kit, a stereo upgrade, sport exhaust tips and 18-inch wheels and tires. Our test car also wore optional foglights, cruise control and the C30’s signature Cosmic White over Java Pearl paint that’ll cost you an extra $475.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are actually 5,000,000 build combinations and enough options to crank a C30 up past $40,000. Things like a power sunroof, a navigation system, Volvo’s Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) and heated seats are all on the car’s mile-long options list.
You can even opt for Mini Cooper-style graphics including an American or Swedish flag on the roof and doors (although we wish you wouldn’t).
Bring in the Kids
Silly graphics aside, Volvo has created a car that’s as fun from the curb as it is from the driver seat. Now it just needs younger folks to care. “We want to bring a new, younger, very active customer in the Volvo family,” Kent Johansson, Volvo’s car-line manager for the C30, tells us. “City people interested in design.”
By “younger,” Johansson doesn’t mean the C30 is for kids in high school. “Younger” for Volvo means 28- to 38-year-olds, some 65 percent of whom will be conquest buyers and more than 50 percent of whom will be male. “The C30 will also help change the perception of the Volvo brand for a broader group of customers,” claims Johansson. Right now, the brand’s clientele is essentially comprised of middle-age suburban moms.
So there’s a lot riding on the C30’s broad shoulders, despite its small sales volume. Volvo is convinced the C30 is cool enough to pull it off, and a week behind the wheel of this 2008 Volvo C30 Version 2.0 has made us believers.
A cool Volvo?
Designed under the direction of Peter Horbury, the C30 was the last car he did before leaving Volvo to lead Ford’s design team in North America. It was Horbury who revolutionized Volvo’s styling in the ’90s, replacing the angular monotony of the old models with a new curvaceous, distinctive design language. The C30 is the ultimate expression of this vision.
The shape was previewed in the Safety Concept Car (SCC), which was shown at the Detroit auto show in 2001. The positive public reaction gave the management the confidence to put it into production. While the front end is instantly recognizable as a member of the contemporary Volvo family, the unusual hatchback rear draws inspiration from the classic 1800ES of the 1970s.
Static pictures tend to flatten the C30’s curves, particularly the manner in which the windows taper to the rear. In the metal this is a modern, distinctive and undeniably handsome car. This may well be the first Volvo that can justifiably be described as “cool.”
With its two individual rear chairs pushed toward the center of the car, the C30 is strictly a four-seater. While it’s positively commodious compared to an Audi TT, this is not a family car. Adults will find the rear accommodation adequate for short journeys, though two 6-footers will struggle to sit in tandem. The trunk capacity is also modest — golfers will have trouble accommodating their beloved clubs — although it can be extended by folding down the rear seats.
The dashboard will be familiar to drivers of other Volvos, including the C70, S40 and V50. The distinctive “floating” console is present and correct, although it can now be specified with an aluminum surf pattern or even with a glossy white finish, inspired by an iPod. Our test car boasted a more conservative aluminum. The quality is good, but it’s a shame that such a youth-oriented car doesn’t feel a little more sporting. We’d like to see supplementary dials, such as a turbo and oil temperature gauge and more side bolstering for the otherwise comfortable seats.
As you’d expect from Volvo, there’s a plethora of safety features including front, side and curtain airbags. Stability control will be standard across the range, as will Volvo’s IDIS (Intelligent Driver Information System), which delays certain functions, such as a phone call, if the driver is engaged in a more complicated maneuver (heavy braking, turning etc.). Customers can also expect a generous luxury specification with several “premium” options, including high-grade audio.