The Volvo C30 is a premium compact car, youthful and fun to drive. It competes with the Audi A3 and Volkswagen GTI class of sporty hatchbacks. The C30 is a two-door hatchback that shares most of its mechanicals with Volvo's compact S40 sedan and V50 wagon. While similar to these cars in character, the C30 has less standard equipment, allowing Volvo to make it its lowest priced car.
The C30 is also Volvo's best handling car. It has good steering feel, stays flat in corners, and is nimble enough to slice through traffic. The 227-hp turbocharged five-cylinder engine provides plenty of punch to keep the fun coming. Ride quality is generally good, though it can become a little hard with the available 18-inch wheels.
Inside, the C30 offers a pleasant, fairly roomy cabin for four. The standard cloth upholstery is a unique fabric that resembles wetsuit material. Room up front is plentiful, and the controls are easy to spot and use. The two-door body style makes getting into the backseat a bit of a hassle, but the rear seat is comfortable for two passengers. Those rear seats fold down to create a large rear hatch area with lots of carrying capacity.
For 2010, Bluetooth hands-free phone interface, a trip computer and cruise control come standard, along with more leather and aluminum interior trim. HDD navigation is optional for the base model. The C30 was redesigned for the 2007 model year.
Overall, the Volvo C30 is good looking, fun to drive, and offers the easily accessible cargo utility of a hatchback. It's affordably priced and, with a few well-chosen options, is a fine choice among sporty compacts. It comes with Volvo's safety engineering and is loaded with safety features.
The Volvo C30 is based on the same platform as the S40 and V50, and all share the same 103.9-inch wheelbase. But the C30 is nearly 9 inches shorter than the S40, all sliced from behind the rear wheels. Up front, the C30 is similar to its siblings, with the characteristic Volvo upright grille and sharply V-shaped hood.
Volvo designed the C30 with two doors and the design is striking, particularly from the side. The roofline starts out high and slopes gradually down, pinching the rear windows. Those windows are drawn in, leaving room for another Volvo characteristic, pronounced shoulders. Sporty characteristics include short front and rear overhangs, an integrated body kit, and big wheels on wide tires. The ground-effects-type body kit outlines the bottom of the base T5 in black from front to rear and includes wheel flares at all four corners. On R-Design models the entire kit is body-color, for a more subtle look that we like much better.
The story isn't the C30's front or sides, though. It's at the rear. Volvo is putting more emphasis on the rear aspect of the C30, choosing to show that angle in promotional materials. The most prominent feature is the dark-tinted rear glass, an attractive frameless trapezoidal shape that recalls the rear of the 1971-73 Volvo 1800 ES wagon. The glass dips down low and is flanked by unique taillights that rise up to the roof and jut out at the bottom to match the shape of the car's shoulders. The Volvo name is spelled out across the bottom of the glass in bold, bright letters. The look is different from anything out there and is strong enough to give the car a distinct character.
All C30s have alloy wheels, with 17-inch wheels standard on T5 models and 18-inch wheels standard for the R-Design model. For 2010, T5 models come with a clean 14-spoke design Volvo calls Spartacus, while the T5 R-Design rolls on five-spoke Atreus rims with a head-turning combination of black and bright surfaces.
The Volvo C30 competes with the Audi A3, Mini Cooper S, and Volkswagen GTI. The C30 has a longer wheelbase than all three. The Mini is two feet shorter than all three of these cars. From the rear, the C30 has the most character of these cars. From the front, it would be easy to mistake the C30 for its S40 and V50 brothers.
Volvo aims at sportiness inside the C30, along with high-tech, Scandinavian style. Volvo's trademark floating center stack is the central design element. The brushed aluminum center stack's design is simple, with four round knobs for the main audio and climate controls. Along the center is another series of buttons for more audio and climate functions, including a telephone-like set of buttons for the audio presets. The R-Design model features additional aluminum trim, and handsome blue-faced gauges with white markings and red pointers.
The cloth upholstery that comes standard is called Kalix T-Tech. It has the look of wetsuit material. Kalix has a higher quality appearance than most cloth, fitting somewhere between regular cloth and leather. The R-Design upgrades to a striking combination of black Flextech fabric with creme leather seating surfaces. Full leather upholstery is available in both models. Leather is a better choice for fending off dog hair. We found the quality of the interior materials excellent. The dash panel is made of a quality soft-touch material, and all the panels fit together with close, uniform gaps.
The C30 is comfortable, though not as comfortable as the bigger, more expensive Volvos. The driver's seat has enough manual adjustments to tailor a comfortable driving position and enough side bolstering to keep backsides planted in corners. Head restraints are now adjustable as well. The front seats have plenty of head room and good leg room, though very tall drivers might wish for more seat travel. The tilt/telescoping steering wheel helps the driver adjust for a comfortable and proper driving position. The steering wheel seemed big to us, though.
Visibility is generally good, though Volvo's typically thick front pillars can restrict vision to the corners at intersections. Those same pillars add safety in a rollover accident.
The audio system is a capable 160-watt AM/FM/CD stereo with six speakers. The upgrade is a 650-watt unit with 10 Dynaudio speakers and Sirius satellite radio with a six-month subscription. A USB port for iPod or flash drive connectivity is available as an accessory. It allows customers to control their iPods through the radio. The high-end stereo can really crank, and we found the sound is clear even at high volume.
The HDD-based navigation system was upgraded for 2009 with an improved driver interface and scrolling feature, extended point-of-interest menu, and birdview map capability with detailed intersection and building footprints. Volvo also added Map Care, a feature that sends two map updates without extra charge to the customer. Real Time Traffic comes standard with no monthly charge.
Interior storage consists of two cupholders located ahead of a console bin that is just big enough to hold CD cases. Additional storage can be found behind the center stack in a rubberized tray. Unfortunately, it's hard to access. Map pockets are also located in the doors.
The rear seats are fairly easy to access and offer decent room. The front seats tilt and slide forward to provide an open path to the rear seat, though it still requires passengers to twist and duck. Once inside, they sit back and into the seats. Rear-seat leg room is good unless the front seats are far back and toe room under the front seats is plentiful. Head room is sufficient for six footers, but tall riders might need to slouch.
The hatchback body style gives the C30 a fair bit of utility. The rear seats fold to create a flat load floor with 20.2 cubic feet of easy-to-access cargo room. With the seats up, there is still 12.9 cubic feet, so you can pick up your groceries while driving with friends.
The C30 is the smallest Volvo and the most athletic. Volvo has succeeded in its mission to build a fun-to-drive, sporty car.
The turbocharged five-cylinder engine provides 227 horsepower, and 236 pound-feet of torque all the way from 1500 to 5000 rpm. That means the C30 has good power both off the line and in highway passing maneuvers. The engine is responsive, with a minimum of turbo lag. Torque steer, felt through the steering wheel as a slight pull to one side under hard acceleration, is well checked, which is impressive for a front-wheel drive car with this much power.
With the standard six-speed manual transmission, the C30 is capable of sprinting from 0-60 mph in just 6.2 seconds. That's quite quick. The shifter throws are long and rubbery, but it is easy to shift.
With the optional automatic transmission, 0-60 mph comes in 6.6 seconds, which is still quite quick. The automatic transmission kicks down quickly when extra power is needed. It has a manual shiftgate for more driver control, but the C30 lacks the steering wheel-mounted paddles found in some of its competitors.
The turbocharged five-cylinder engine offers a nice balance of power and fuel economy. It gets an EPA-estimated 21/29 mpg City/Highway with the manual transmission, and an even better 21/30 mpg with the automatic.
On the road, the C30 handles well, with flat cornering and fine balance in quick changes of direction. The T5, with its standard 17-inch tires, is a bit less sharp than the R-Design model with its 18s. Steering in both models is direct, but it could stand to be a little quicker for a car with C30's sporty aspirations. Slow steering and big steering wheels are just part of the Volvo driving experience. The R-Design model's sport suspension and larger wheels and tires provide a bit more road feel through the steering wheel.
Both models have a firm ride, but the base T5 is smoother. While neither model feels harsh, the R-Design is more prone to pounding over sharp bumps. The T5 is close to the surprisingly refined VW GTI for ride quality, but the R-Design has a rougher ride. The C30 looks better with the R-Design's body-color aero kit and 18-inch wheels, but you'll want to try it before you buy, especially if you live in an area with bad roads.
The brakes have good pedal feel and fine stopping power. Brake Assist and Electronic Brake-force Distribution assist the driver in emergency stopping situations. While the C30 is generally light on content, it's still a Volvo, which means it's safe. It has all the safety equipment, including front side and curtain side airbags, traction control, electronic stability control, and Volvo's WHIPS active head restraints that are designed to reduce the risk of whiplash.
Volvo set out to build a fun, sporty car aimed at active young buyers, and has accomplished its task. The engine is powerful, handling is responsive, and ride is reasonably comfortable. The hatchback body style offers useful cargo room, and inside there is plenty of room for four. If you're looking for a quality compact that makes a personal statement, the Volvo C30 is worth a look.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Kirk Bell filed this report after his test drive of the C30 near San Diego.