The Volvo C30 arrived in the US as a 2008 model (2007 in Canada), and has just received its first refresh. The most striking view of the C30 has always been from the rear, where the Volvo P1800ES was clearly the design inspiration. Up front, the design was basically a Volvo S40 (the car on which the C30 is based), which certainly wasn’t a bad thing; it just couldn’t compete with the rest of the car. All that changes with the 2011 model. Style-wise, the C30 is now a complete package, with a new front end Volvo fans have been waiting for.
While Canadian buyers have a choice of normally aspirated and turbocharged five cylinder engines, the sole powerplant for the American market is a 2.5L turbocharged inline five, rated at 227hp. A six-speed manual is standard, while a five-speed automatic is optional. The C30 is available in base T5, or sporty top-spec R-Design. While the drivetrain is carryover from last year’s car, Volvo engineers tweaked the R-Design with stiffer springs and quicker steering for a sportier ride.
The C30 occupies a small market niche known as the “small premium car”, shared with the VW GTI and Mini Cooper S, but the C30 stands out in this class. While the GTI and Cooper S start out as sub-$20,000 cars as the Golf and base Cooper, the C30 starts around $25,000. One look at the C30, and it is evident that unlike the competition, this car was conceived as a premium sport coupe first, not basic transportation with added flair. While style is subjective, I will argue that of the three cars, the C30 is best dressed for the role it was designed for. The full body kit, fat exhaust tips and 18″ alloys that come standard on the R-Design is icing on the cake.
Inside, anyone familiar with the C30/S40 will find themselves in familiar territory-in other words, clean design, quality materials, and of course, the trademark waterfall center stack. The blue-faced gauges were an interesting touch, as were the white stitching on the leather/Flextech seats. While the seats were comfortable and offered a wide range of adjustments, I was expecting more substantial bolsters to back up what the exterior was advertising. The meaty steering wheel was a joy to grip. While the C30 interior is easy to understand and well laid out, it is a bit on the austere side. The passenger faces acres of black dashboard, with nothing to break it up-please Volvo, just a simple piece of trim to break up the monotony?
Volvo prides itself on being passenger friendly, and the C30 does not disappoint. Rear seat access is impressive. Pull a lever and flip the seat forward, then press a button to slide the seat forward. Getting in back is a breeze. Even better, the driver can accomplish this and remain seated. Once settled in the back, there is decent leg room and great visibility. Headroom was just OK with my 6′ 1″ frame and our power sunroof-equipped C30.
On the road, the C30 acquitted itself more as a GT than a hot hatch. The C30 is quick off the line, and builds speed with little drama. Volvo claims a 0-60mph time of 6.6 seconds with the automatic transmission (6.2 with a manual), and an electronically limited top speed of 149mph, numbers that are competitive with the GTI and Mini Cooper S. Passing power is good, and there was never any turbo lag. While the C30 is as fast as the competition, drivers may find the driving experience more on the mellow end of the spectrum. I suspect our test car’s automatic transmission played a large role in setting the overall mood. While smooth and slick in operation, our car’s five-speed auto kept the revs low. While there is a “manual” option to up/downshift, there are no shift paddles. This is in stark contrast to the twin-clutch DSG GTI we reviewed, and this old automatic is keeping the fun at bay. I’m sure if equipped with the standard six-speed manual it would be a different story, as shown by The Garage’s review of the non-turbo C30i.
The C30 chassis is very well sorted. Handling is excellent, and the little Volvo remains planted at all times. Cornering is flat, and tight radius turns and elevation changes never upset the car. The steering is quick and well weighted, and I can’t say enough good things about the steering wheel in this car-it is just right. While the C30 can mix it up on your favorite back roads, it also exhibits luxury-GT quiet at speed on the highway.
A glance at our C30’s window sticker reminds you that this is indeed a “premium” small car. The R-Design model starts at just under $27,000, but add on the Preferred Package (moonroof, power seats), Sirius Satellite radio, auto tranny, Climate Package (heated seats, climate control) and xenon headlights and you are soon knocking on $33,000 (including destination charge), as our test car came, which puts you into BMW 1-series territory.
To listen to Volvo, the C30 is a success. The average buyer of an R-Design C30 is under 35 years old, and is new to Ã‚Â Volvo. The C30 is the mature member of the GTI/Mini trio, and here the car excels. If the GTI is just a little too edgy, and the Mini’s ergonomics give you a headache, the C30 is your ride. Remember-this is a Volvo. No fads, and no novelties that will soon become tiresome. Like all Volvos, the C30 is meant for the long haul, and in considering the C30, great looks, competent handling and no-nonsense speed never go out of style.