Sometimes the sum of a car’s qualities exceeds the reality of its particulars. Take our Volvo C30, which arrived at Automobile Magazine‘s New York bureau for its Four Seasons test in September 2007.
Quick (227 hp, 236 lb-ft of torque quick) but not superquick, serene yet subtly involving. A fine roadholder but not a dedicated corner-flogging machine. With the C30‘s compact dimensions and a single engine option – Volvo‘s slightly gruff 2.5-liter turbocharged five-cylinder – refinement didn’t figure to be the Volvo’s strong suit, but refined it was.
The C30 was reasonably economical, too, although at 25 mpg overall it wasn’t wildly so. The right size for the city, it was also right at home on the freeway. And while hardly large (the C30 is nine inches shorter than Volvo’s smallest sedan, the S40), this moderately hot hatch, new for 2008, turned out to be bigger on the inside than you’d think and surprisingly comfortable, except for a nonadjustable seatbelt that rubbed short drivers’ necks.
It was beautiful, too, in an oddball way, although few of us loved the color save contributor Ronald Ahrens, who thought our C30 could extinguish his lust for the funky coupe. Strangely cool is what our C30 was.
Our metallic blue example came with a Spartan gray cloth interior and checked in with 796 Volvo press-fleet miles on the clock. It spent the next seven months piling on more than 16,000 miles commuting in and out of New York City and up and around the eastern seaboard on various weekend jaunts and business road trips, venturing to Washington, D.C., and as far as Charlotte, North Carolina. Then, the C30 was off to spend the remainder of its year in Ann Arbor.
Although it is a brilliant work of design both inside and out and is well-executed, with better-than-average interior materials carefully assembled, our C30 in so-called Version 1.0 base-level trim was leaner than an anorexic’s tofu dinner – no cruise control or trip computer to distract the driver and not much to look at or play with that wasn’t gray.
At $25,170 – a total that includes an optional $1250 automatic transmission, which we’d surely skip in favor of Volvo’s sweet-shifting six-speed manual, and $475 for metallic paint, but no seat warmers (key for us Snow Belters) – the C30 at first seemed kind of austere for what it was: an expensive, economy-size hatchback. But there was so much more about it to grow on us, starting with its chassis.
Designed in Cologne, Germany, by a team of Ford, Mazda, and Volvo engineers, the C30‘s C1 global platform is shared with such fine cars as Mazda’s 3 and 5, the European (which we don’t get here), and Volvo’s own S40, V50, and C70.
Although it feels more overtly sporting in Mazda and Ford iterations, the C30 version of C1’s independent suspension is the best of Volvo’s bunch and a reminder of how vital Ford’s decision to take a pricey gamble on this platform was. The extra civility and sophistication was worth every penny.
Road test editor Marc Noordeloos complained of the car’s tendency to “buck and crash” over bumps, but overall the C30 was a far more cosseting machine than a Mini Cooper. On the highway, it is a markedly silent device, with astonishingly little wind, road, or engine noise, unless the wild Swedish ponies have really been unleashed, in which case the engine makes itself known. Injudicious use of the loud pedal may summon wheel spin at low speeds, too.
The C30’s character seems to suggest that it might do better with a lighter, smaller displacement engine running a high-pressure turbo. The C30 also seems like a logical place for a modern diesel, but Volvo hasn’t committed to selling enough C30s in the United States to make other engine options worth its while.
Still, the C30 conveys the impression most of the time that you are gliding down the highway on a firm foam cushion. It is the Tempur-Pedic of small cars.
Visibility is exceptional to the rear thanks to the panoramic liftgate window, which adds to one’s slightly euphoric feeling of floating down the road as light streams into the cabin, softening the potentially oppressive effect of gray plastic. On the downside, it’s permanent showtime for your luggage.
Up front, the seats are comfortable and the C30 shares its elders’ slender console, which condenses audio and climate controls into a freestanding panel with airspace behind it, leading to the perception of roominess in a cabin already notable for its width. To the rear, two passengers travel with accommodations decidedly better than steerage class, despite the C30’s sweeping roofline and aggressive rear haunches.
At 7592 miles, our Volvo went in for its first scheduled service, a gratis 7500-mile checkup at Kundert Volvo in Englewood, New Jersey. In November, we treated the C30 to a set of Vredestein Wintrac Xtreme winter tires, sized 205/50VR-17 and mounted on the standard seventeen-inch aluminum wheels. As we have previously observed, these Dutch snow boots ($171 apiece from Euro-Tire in Fairfield, New Jersey) perform admirably in small front-wheel-drive applications, and they helped us safely outpace cumbersome four-by-fours and blunderbuss SUVs, even on snow-covered lanes.
Inspired in part by its 1800ES shooting brake of the 1970s, Volvo made its new hatch undeniably stylish, and not just by Volvo standards. Far from the dreaded Q-word (quirky), it is the apotheosis of the handsome new design line laid down at Volvo during the successful tenure of stylist Peter Horbury. Opening with the crisp S80 of 1998, modern Volvos reached their ultimate expression with the C30, the best-looking Volvo since the P1800 of 1961. Although the unusual shape of the rear lift glass limits the size of items that can be passed into the rear cargo area (large taillamps intrude as well), available room is considerable when the individual rear seatbacks are folded down.
Senior editor Joe Lorio discovered the C30’s practicality when he was “heading out to pick up my new bike. My first thought was, `I’ll grab a minivan or an SUV.’ But then I thought: `Why not the C30?’ Why not, indeed. With the front wheel removed, the bike slipped neatly into the rear compartment (seats folded down, of course). If gas prices stay high,” Lorio went on, “a lot more people might start looking for the smallest car that can meet their needs, rather than just assuming they need something big and trucky. Compact hatchbacks could become the sporty new utility vehicles.”
In 25,017 miles, the C30 never let us down. Check that: two times it locked us out automatically while its ignition key sat inside the car, necessitating calls to roadside service. The Volvo’s 15,000-mile checkup, performed by Palisades Volvo in West Nyack, New York, cost a bracing $394.32 but revealed no fault with the automatic locking mechanism. Never again would the key be left in the car.
The C30 put no foot wrong with us, but at 12,982 miles, the bigger foot of a did, putting a crease in the driver’s-side door and rear quarter panel as the Nissan‘s driver carelessly changed lanes to avoid crossing the George Washington Bridge into Manhattan. The Volvo’s insurer paid $1971 to fix it. Technical editor Don Sherman and others later complained of rattles once the formerly rock-solid car made it to Michigan, but that can’t definitively be blamed on aftereffects of the collision.
One other thing. When I removed the Vredesteins before the C30’s Michigan sojourn, I accidentally installed a set of wider 225/45VR-17 Pirelli tires from my wife’s , which got the Volvo’s taller Michelins. The next six months went off without a hitch. But the Volvo’s tires were now slightly wrong, which may help explain complaints about the rough ride. It also throws some of our performance figures into question.
Fortunately, we don’t need a stopwatch to know that few new cars have as much character as the C30. Along with the Mini Cooper, the BMW 1-series, the , and the , it makes the case for the upscale small car. This is the future, at least as far as some of us are concerned.
Taking its parts in sum, the C30 adds up to our favorite Volvo in decades, one of the holy grails implied by Automobile Magazine‘s founding maxim: “No boring cars.” This is an interesting car, and not even the notably underwhelming efforts of those charged with marketing this fine machine can take that away from it.
The Volvo C30 first appeared at the 2006 Detroit auto show. Although it rides on Ford‘s C1 platform and shares parts with the S40, its styling clearly owes to Volvo’s past. The shape is largely based on the 2001 Safety Concept Car, while the sawed-off rear end recalls the company’s classic 1970s hatchback, the 1800ES.
Production of the C30 started late in 2006 in Ghent, Belgium; the car was launched first in Europe and reached the United States by mid-2007. Owners can customize their C30 directly from the factory with a wide variety of options, including suspension upgrades and several special paint colors. European customers can also choose from a wide range of engines, including several diesels and a flex-fuel four-cylinder. Americans get only the turbo five-cylinder, paired with a six-speed manual or a five-speed automatic. The C30’s global sales were close to 50,000 in 2007, its first full year on the market. Eventually, Volvo hopes to sell 60,000 annually, with some 6000 going to the U.S.
Volvo has released a few limited-production models since the initial launch, including the C30 R-Design and, through its New England dealers, 107 Boston Red Sox Special Edition C30s (one for every win in the team’s 2007 championship season).
4-yr/unlimited-mile roadside assistance
7592 mi: $0
14,972 mi: $394.32
21,568 mi: $150.19
14,972 mi: Inspect automatic locking mechanismOut-of-pocket
5436 mi: Purchase, mount, and balance four Vredestein Wintrac Xtreme winter tires, $788.64
15,627 mi: Mount Pirelli P6 Four Seasons tires, $63.60
Cost per mile
(Fuel, service) $0.16
($0.52 including depreciation)
Prices & Equipment
Price as tested
ABS; traction and stability control; aluminum wheels; tire-pressure monitor; air-conditioning; keyless entry; power windows, mirrors, and door locks; tilting/telescoping steering column; front, side, and side curtain air bagsOur options
Automatic transmission, $1250; brilliant blue metallic paint, $475
*Estimate based on info from Manheim auctions and edmunds.com
RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars
- body style 2-door hatchback
- accommodation 4 passengers
- construction Steel unibody
- Engine 20-valve DOHC turbo I-5
- Displacement 2.5 liters (154 cu in)
- Horsepower 227 hp @ 5000 rpm
- Torque 236 lb-ft @ 1500 rpm
- Transmission type 5-speed automatic
- Drive Front-wheel
- Steering Power rack-and-pinion
- lock-to-lock 2.6 turns
- turning circle 38.1 ft
- Suspension, front Strut-type, coil springs
- Suspension, rear Multilink, coil springs
- Brakes f/r Vented discs/discs, ABS
- Tires Michelin HX MXM4
- Tire size 205/50VR-17
- headroom f/r 38.2/37.8 in
- legroom f/r 41.6/34.2 in
- shoulder room f/r 54.7/51.3 in
- hip room f/r 54.7/51.3 in
- L x W x H 167.4 x 70.2 x 57.0 in
- Wheelbase 103.9 in
- Track f/r 60.4/60.3 in
- Weight 3173 lb
- weight dist. f/r 62.5/37.5%
- cargo capacity 12.9/20.2 cu ft (rear seats up/down)
- fuel capacity 15.9 gal
- est. fuel range 390 miles
- fuel grade 87 octane
- Our Test Results
- 0-60 mph 7.1 sec
- 0-100 mph 17.7 sec
- 1/4-mile 15.5 sec @ 94 mph
- 30-70 mph passing 6.9 sec
- peak acceleration 0.48 g
- speed in gears 1) 42; 2) 66; 3) 102; 4) 135; 5) 135 mph
- cornering l/r 0.83/0.80 g
- 70-0 mph braking 176 ft
- peak braking 0.83/0.80 g