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2012 Volvo C30 Expert Reviews

Expert Reviews

2012 Volvo C30

New Car Test Drive
© 2012

The Volvo C30 is an attractive premium compact that's practical and fun to drive. The C30 comes with Volvo's safety engineering and is loaded with safety features. The Volvo C30 competes with the Audi A3 and Volkswagen GTI, sporty premium compact cars.

For 2012, there are mostly only package changes, with the standard Bluetooth now adding audio streaming. The current-generation C30 was launched as a 2007 model. Styling was revised for 2011.

The biggest news for 2012 is that Volvo's performance group, Polestar Motorsport, now offers an upgrade for the C30. For $1295, your Volvo dealer will download software into the car's ECU (electronic control unit), that increases the horsepower from 227 to 250, and the torque from 236 pound-feet to 273, with no decrease in fuel mileage. We tested a Polestar C30 R-Design, and the increase in acceleration is significant at the seat of your pants.

The 2012 Volvo C30 is offered in two models, the C30 T5 and the more upscale C30 T5 R-Design, which comes with leather upholstery. The Volvo C30 T5 R-Design is designed for sharper handling response, with stiffer springs, special shocks, stiffer bushings and a quicker steering ratio.

All C30 models come with a 2.5-liter turbocharged five-cylinder engine rated at 227 horsepower and a choice of 6-speed manual or 5-speed automatic Geartronic with Auto-stick. The C30 is front-wheel drive.

Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 21/30 mpg City/Highway with the automatic, 21/29 mpg with the manual gearbox.

We found the C30 fun to drive, with good steering feel. It stays flat while cornering and is nimble enough to slice through traffic. The 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.

A two-door hatchback, the C30 shares most of its mechanicals with the Volvo S40 compact sedan. While similar in character, the C30 has less standard equipment, allowing Volvo to make the C30 its lowest-priced car.

Model Lineup

Volvo C30 T5 ($24,950); T5 R-Design ($27,450)

Walk Around

The Volvo C30 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.

The C30 is a two-door hatchback, also called a three-door. Sporty design cues 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 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.

T5 R-Design models come with 18-inch wheels, while C30s come with 17-inch alloy wheels.

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.

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 a Volvo S40 or V50.


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 comes with Real Time Traffic 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, but it's hard to access. Map pockets are 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.

Driving Impressions

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 6-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. Steering in both models is direct, but it could stand to be a little quicker in the C30. Slow steering and big steering wheels are traditionally part of the Volvo driving experience.

The Sport Chassis in the C30 T5 R-Design provides enhanced chassis dynamics and steering reflexes. Spring stiffness is increased by 30 percent while the dampers feature a new mono-tube design that build-up pressure quicker for 20 percent increased low-speed damping. Steering is more precise with stiffer bushings and a 10 percent quicker steering ratio. The R-Design model allows more road feel through the steering wheel and its responses are sharper. However, when we got the R-Design on the track on a day we also tested many other high-performance cars, its on-track handling was only mid-pack. Not so with the Volvo S60 R-Design, so it's just a C30 thing, not a Volvo thing.

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 light on luxury content, it's heavy on safety content and engineering.

But we'll save the best for last, and that's the Polestar upgrade. Like downloading faster software into your computer, you can take your C30 to your dealer, and in a few minutes he'll pump it up from 227 to 250 horsepower, and 236 pound-feet of torque to 273. The software upgrade to your ECU (or ECM, for engine control module) increases turbo boost; changes spark timing, fuel mixture, and several other parameters; and quickens throttle response.

The result is a decrease in 0-60 time from 6.2 seconds to 5.9 seconds, with the 6-speed manual gearbox (the automatic is slower, at 6.6 seconds). Three-tenths of a second doesn't sound like much, but we really felt it, testing both versions back to back. Also, the horsepower climbs for another 500 rpm, from 5000 to 5500. Even more than that, you can feel the torque just keep climbing; in the stock T5, it peaks quickly at 1500 rpm and stays there to 5000 rpm; but in the Polestar version, it leaps another 10 percent to 1600 rpm and climbs to its peak at 3000 rpm, and that's what gives you the rush. So if the only thing holding you back on the C30 is a need for kickass acceleration, no worries no more.

The Volvo C30 is practical, easy to maneuver, fun to drive and is loaded with safety engineering. 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. If you want more power, the Polestar option provides it. correspondent Kirk Bell filed this report after his test drive of the C30 near San Diego; with Mitch McCullough reporting from Redondo Beach, California; and Sam Moses testing the Polestar C30 R-Design in Arizona.

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