Some of my first memories of Volvo include the commercial where a sedan is pushed off a building, slamming face first into the ground. The Volvo was trashed but the point was that the occupants would have been just fine, because Volvo was synonymous with safety. The link worked and to this day when someone asks me what the safest line of cars is, I point out Volvo as a good choice, but because they actually are- not that I bought the marketing hype. A main concern of a typical new American family, but often held to a lesser regard to people of my generation. It’s not that we don’t care about how safe a car is, but if it won’t get our hearts pumping at the same time- there’s just no point. Volvo, being obsessed with the safety image has recently made strides in the design and quality of their vehicles but until the C30, lacked a sporty disposition in any shape or form.
So, now in 2008, Volvo has really gotten their act together. The C30 represents an entry level car that the Volvo brand has needed for years. Starting at $22k it’s affordable for the segment the company is aiming for. It’s right in line with the GTI- a car that has done a great job positioning itself as not only cool, but extremely sporty for an obtainable price. And although the C30 and GTI start in the same spot the idea is to funnel future buyers in completely different places. Volkswagen is a family marquee- Volvo is a luxury brand. Both V-dub and the Swedes hope their respective models entice younger buyers to end up staying in the brand once they need to move up in size.
In person, a look at the C30 and you can’t help but stare- even if for a second. Unmistakably a Volvo from front to back but very unlike any Volvo you’ve seen on the road before. It certainly sticks out. A fastback shape, signature Volvo tail lamps, and a slightly more sporty front fascia adaptation from the S40. A large glass hatch dips down to the beltline presenting what some would call an odd appearance in the rump. Not odd in a bad way, more “hmm.. that’s interesting.” Where the C30 is unmistakably svelte is in its profile. Standing only 4.5-feet tall, the rear sloping back at such an angle, the wheels pushed far to each corner, you just get the feeling this is an automobile for someone who dreams of carving up a desolate mountain road. Don’t let the Volvo badge fool you- those instincts are right. The “T5” badge on the back is abstract, but if you didn’t know already stands for Turbocharged 5 cylinder. 18-inch low profiles on a compact? Hmmm… indeed.
A quick jump into the driver’s seat sets an interesting tone. Shapes you’ve never seen outside another Volvo flow from the outside in. The interior’s main focal point is the waterfall dash. Normally, being able to slide your hand behind the radio and heating controls means you’re a few pieces of plastic short of an interior, but in this Volvo it’s a fully intentional work of art. The slim controls gracefully flow from dash to center console in a smooth aluminum finish leaving room for a cell phone or other small item behind. Four symmetrical dials control audio and temperature. The dash pad is tastefully textured and soft to the touch. The seats are quite possibly the only disappointment we found in our non-leather C30 Version 2.0. Volvo’s T-Tec synthetic covering is meant to be a comfortable and wear/stain resistant leather substitute. Despite being comfortable and wear/stain resistant, it still feels like vinyl. A small grievance that is made up for in the rest of the interior. Sliding the front seats forward gives you access to the rear. The system is clumsy, as the folding lever pulls in an unnatural direction and resets the seat distance. The good news is that all seats feature decent bolstering, gripping you tightly around the corners. Staying firmly in place while driving a small hatch is a nice touch we appreciate.
So we’ve determined, stylistically at least, the C30 is extremely well executed. All for naught however if you can’t flip it around a corner like a starving fruit fly. As mentioned, The T5 badge is the only hint on the whole car that you’re not just paying for a pretty face. Even upon firing the inline five there is no rush of noise or exhaust burble. At full throttle there’s not even a hint of the turbo. Perhaps Volvo should have added, or at least offered, a more vocal option- but that’s just being picky. Line up for a corner and we could care less about the exhaust- the C30 is nimble. It’s obvious that the idea was to incorporate Volvo comfort with a connected and tossable feel. We were skeptical, but after a week of tearing up New Hampshire back-roads we came away feeling as if they did a half decent job going far enough to satisfy the enthusiasts without becoming disconnected from the rest of the Volvo lineup. The one downfall is that to get that touch of complacency the rebound of the suspension is noticeable on frost-bubbled and bumpy routes. It’s loose enough that you feel like the car never quite settles down. Not bad, but not as perfect as the GTI or MazdaSpeed 3.
Touching into the throttle and a slow turbo-driven surge brings things up to speed quite nicely. The 6-speed manual is a great choice for this type of car but doesn’t have quite the finesse and accuracy we would prefer. We do thank Volvo for at least offering a manual because a sport compact without one is most certainly missing something. Even with the performance you still get decent mileage. We averaged just shy of 20mpg with plenty of full throttle “testing.”
A much needed injection of youth into the Volvo brand that may come up short for hardcore sport-compact enthusiasts but will excite the economical/safe crowd.
– Low cut side profile that screams sport
– 227 horsepower turbo 5-cylinder with an impressive 90.8 hp per liter
– Stylish waterfall radio/HVAC surround
– Every safety feature you expect from a Volvo
Could be better:
– A suspension that sacrifices sport for comfort and in return feels unsettled
– Shifter linkage feels sloppy and numb
– Volvo calls the seat covering “T-Tec”- we call it “plastic”
– Sliding the front seats forward to access the rear means readjusting the driver’s seat. Not fun when you’re just getting out your backpack.