2008 Volvo C30
Smallest Volvo model heads for U.S. this fall, packing turbo power and surprisingly sporty personality
Because Volvos have long been known for safety and common-sense virtues, it's easy to forget the Swedish company's early history with more entertaining machines. Early in the Sixties, Volvo launched a P1800 series of two-passenger sports cars to complement its practical PV544 and 122S sedans. In 1971, the two-seater evolved into the P1800ES, a squareback coupe with long quarter windows and a frameless glass hatch. Just over 8,000 were built, and no more than 1,800 ever reached the U.S. With its new front-wheel-drive compact C30, Volvo is clearly looking back to that P1800ES; but also forward, entering an unfamiliar market niche.
"It's a car that really pushes the boundaries," said product communications manager James Hope. Car line manager Kent Johansson dubs it "the car with the biggest personality."
Designers of the fashionable C30 have "thrown the map away," declared "forward-thinker" Michael McMillan, author of Paper Airplane: a lesson for flying outside the box. Designers Simon Lamarre and Andreas Friedrich sought inspiration at the Milan Furniture Fair and Paris Fashion Fair. They even studied shoes; but "most of all, we looked at the people we had in mind...to find a new way of expressing sportiness in cars."
First seen as a concept at Detroit's North American International Auto Show in 2006, the C30 boasts high-mounted headlamps that Lamarre says, "give this angular, angry look." Flaunting the "biggest shoulder" of any Volvo, the hatchback comes in a selection of "funky colors." Volvo is pushing personalization, too, making loads of accessories available to the youthful buyers who comprise most of the target audience.
Based on Volvo's S40 sport sedan, it has the same long wheelbase but is 8.5 inches shorter overall—and 330 pounds lighter. Set up to carry four adults, the C30 has easy-folding rear seats and a shapely, frameless glass hatch.
In Europe, the C30 is marketed with a bewildering selection of engines, both gas and diesel. For U.S. buyers, only the top-of-the-range version is offered: the T5, holding a turbocharged five-cylinder engine that generates 227 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard; five-speed automatic with manual-shift provision optional.
Version 1.0 models ride on 17-inch tires. Version 2.0 adds 18-inch alloy wheels, a "dynamic" chassis, 650-watt stereo, and Body Kit (including side skirts and wing spoiler). The EPA estimates fuel economy at 18-mpg city and 27-mpg highway with automatic, 18/28 with manual shift.
Confident control is the C30's Number One talent, overshadowing an occasionally lumpy ride on certain surfaces if equipped with a sport suspension and bigger tires. Version 2.0 hits some pavement separators rather hard. Suspension tautness is evident much of the time, and tire noise develops on some pavements. Comfort-minded shoppers should test-drive both suspensions.
Ride imperfections aside, the C30 goes exactly where pointed, making it fun to head earnestly into a tight curve or corner. Steering takes a bit of effort, enhancing the sporting character. Body roll is adeptly subdued, but an odd sideway-moving momentary sensation occurs in certain curves, which is a bit disconcerting.
The C30 T5 is a strong but not overpowering performer, helped by a prompt-responding automatic transmission. Evidence of turbocharger action is scant. There's no turbo lag, but little noticeable kick-in either. Little sound emerges, except for a touch of road noise and subtle engine whir when accelerating.
Manual shift takes greater advantage of engine power, provided you're in the best gear. Volvo's claim of 0-60 mph acceleration in 6.2 seconds seems credible. Although the manual gearbox shifts with exceptional ease, it can make an annoying clacking sound when moved into upper gears unless manipulated with care. The clutch engages smoothly with light pedal feel; but when pushed hard, engine rpm stays high as you let up on the gas to shift.
Front occupants enjoy seriously sporty back/thigh support, in a comfortable manner. Though snug, space is adequate for four adults-provided that the backseat riders are limber. Access to the backseat isn't so difficult, using the slide-forward front passenger seat. Over-the-shoulder visibility is helped by the long rear quarter glass, especially on the passenger side, but headrests partially impede rearward views. Storage space beneath the hatchback is shallow and somewhat constricted, making it necessary to pack judiciously. Despite its roadgoing merits, this is not the easiest car to judge when parking. Sculpted bodyside bulges make it hard to tell where the wheels are positioned.
Sales will not officially begin until October 1, but dealers should begin to take demonstrator cars in mid-August. In Version 1.0 form, the C30 stickers for $23,445 (including destination charge). Version 2.0 goes for $26,445. Options include the automatic transmission, sunroof, leather, power driver's seat, navigation system, and Blind Spot Information System. Five basic colors will be offered, but 17 hues and a host of accessories can be obtained through Volvo's Custom Build program.
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