First Drive: Volvo C30 Polestar

volvo-c30-polestar

We've always liked the Volvo C30, and, in fact, it made our All-Stars list in 2008. However, we probably sabotaged its chances to ever be cool when we called the little hatchback "cute" in that same issue. Twice.

Since then, only 12,500 buyers have purchased this cute Volvo. Low sales numbers have a way of killing interest in additional model variants, and so a hotter C30 just hasn't been worth the risk to Volvo. But the company's largely unknown racing and tuning partner has stepped up -- and the C30 Polestar Performance Concept Prototype is the impressive result.

The name Polestar might sound like a complimentary term for a skilled exotic dancer, but in reality, it's a small Swedish company that has been Volvo's official racing partner since its founding in 1996, running in the Swedish Touring Car Championship (STCC) series and, starting this year, the World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) as well. More recently, Polestar became an aftermarket tuner, and Volvo owners will soon have the option of buying Polestar products from their local dealer.

The C30 Polestar starts with big power -- 405 horses from a turbocharged 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine -- and adds Haldex all-wheel drive, big Brembo brakes, and Öhlins dampers and springs. It's a classic formula, topped off by a six-speed manual transmission. The exterior uses wind-tunnel-proven aerodynamic elements from the firm's STCC race cars, and the interior is draped in organic Tärnsjö leather.

One-offs like this often sound promising on paper yet disappoint when actually driven, but the C30 Polestar doesn't follow that trend. A quicker ratio transforms the C30's steering from ho-hum to stellar, and the chassis remains astoundingly flat in corners. The firm suspension and nineteen-inch wheels aren't painful on beat-up highways, but the exhaust is boomy at any speed.

Other rough edges include a clutch that's far too heavy and a turbo that's somewhat laggy by modern standards. The brakes are fantastic, but with fifteen-inch rotors and six-piston calipers up front, they border on overkill and also are prone to squealing.

None of that matters, though. The car's chassis and drivetrain combination is extraordinary, putting this C30 on par with another five-cylinder, all-wheel-drive performance coupe: the Audi TT RS. As a bonus, the C30 Polestar feels more alive than the robotic Audi. And if Polestar can find a way to convince Volvo to build this car, it would surely cost far less than the $60,000 that Audi is likely to ask for the TT RS when it arrives in the States later this year.

That brings us to the most interesting aspect of the C30 Polestar. Aside from the aerodynamic elements and a bunch of bolt-ons, every component on the C30 Polestar comes from the Volvo parts bin. It has the V50's all-wheel-drive system, and the engine's stronger internals and bigger turbo, as well as the steering gear, come from other Volvo models. The brakes and exhaust could be toned down in the name of cost containment, but the Öhlins suspension needs to stay. Thus equipped, we don't see any reason that Volvo couldn't offer this potent C30 for about $40,000. A gutsy executive just needs to take a risk.

Volvo? Isn't it Chinese now?
Chinese automaker Geely has owned Volvo for a full year now, but on the surface, little has changed. Behind the scenes, however, there's infighting at the top. CEO Stefan Jacoby, formerly of Volkswagen, would like to go small and understated. Geely chairman Li Shufu, meanwhile, thinks his home market would respond to larger, more upscale models, commonly referencing a range-topping "S100" model inspired by the Universe concept shown at the Shanghai auto show last April. Meanwhile, Volvo Cars of North America is trying to streamline by focusing on what works and killing what doesn't. Following the V70's departure last year, the S40 and the V50 will be dropped for 2012. The brand once known for its sensible station wagons offers none today, depending on how you categorize the jacked-up XC70.

The Specs //
On Sale:

Maybe someday
Price: Who knows?
Engine: 2.5L turbocharged I-5, 405 hp, 376 lb-ft
Drive: 4-wheel

MikeWD
I want one, I want one,I want one!!! Problem is, only about 10 other people in the US appreciate a good hot hatch....bummer.
alerno
CAN ANYONE THINK OF A BETTER HATCH... in history?Think it over, what is out there in the (EU, ehem) market: - BMW 130i Hatch: great but heavily understeering and expensive.- Subaru Impreza WRX STi: great but latest gen understeers too. Debatable design (no, ugly, really)- Mitsubishi Evo X: neutral, brilliant but, well, they never built the hatch.- VW Golf R, Audi RS3: fast but they handle like the true FWDs they are.- MINI Cooper, Alfa Romeo Giulietta, Citroen DS3, SEAT Ibiza, FIAT Punto, Renault Clio, Honda Civic: sadly, they are still front-wheel drivers.This C30 PCP is probably not only the most track-capable hatch to date (it was tuned for touring car competitions, with great success, revising the suspension layout, with an AWD system with active differentials) and as we read here it apparently handles brilliantly. The base C30 is probably the most sublime sublime hatch design too: Can you think of another one? (FYI: The Alfa 147 is no longer produced...)

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