When the C30 made its debut back in 2006, it was essentially a stylish hatchback version of the S40 sedan and V50 wagon -- the three cars (and the C70 convertible) all shared the same platform, powertrains, front clip, and interior. In the past six years, Volvo has managed to keep the C30 reasonably fresh thanks to a face-lifted front end in 2010; however, there have been no age-reducing efforts on once-innovative interior.
For 2012, Volvo had added the option of a performance chip from Polestar that adds 23 hp and 37 lb-ft of torque to the C30 (which can also be retrofitted to older T5-powered models). While it may not add a huge amount of oomph to the three-door, as we found in our first drive, it turns the C30 into quite the hot hatch around town; peak torque comes at a low 1500 rpm and pulls all the way to 5000 rpm.
There was much guessing to how far into the $40,000-range our fully-loaded C30 R-Design Platinum with Polestar tester would cost. Much to the surprise (relief?) of my friends and I, our tester rang in at a very reasonable $35,720; all in, the C30 tops out at $38,920 with all the bells and whistles. To put that into perspective, a comparably equipped 200-hp 2012 Audi A3 2.0T Premium with a six-speed manual retails for $35,970, a 2012 Mini Cooper S (which is down 69 hp) runs $30,000, and the 200-hp 2012 Volkswagen GTI Autobahn rings in at $29,995. And therein lies the problem - buyers are paying for the "premium brand experience" with the C30, despite there being cheaper, better-driving, newer alternatives. If the C30 were fresher, I would say it's worth it, but the outdated technology and aged design stand in my way; hopefully Volvo will bring the all-new V40 to give buyers an ultra-stylish option in the premium hot-hatch segment.
Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor
Donny's right: if the C30's competitors can deliver a better driving experience, better features, and a lower pricetag, you should buy those. But the fact is that the C30's competitors don't have such a big price advantage. The C30 R-Design, with its Polestar-fettled 250-hp in-line five-cylinder engine and feature-stuffed interior, compares more closely to the Audi A3 Premium Plus ($37,420 and down 50 hp), the Mini John Cooper Works hardtop ($37,550 and down 42 hp), and the Volkswagen Golf R ($36,260, 5 more hp than the C30, standard all-wheel drive).
With the understanding that the C30 essentially costs the same as its competitors, it still doesn't quite measure up to cars like the Audi and Volkswagen due to its somewhat dated interior and the somewhat vague steering and transmission, especially compared to the awesome Golf R. But no turbo four can match the strange and wonderful noise that comes from the C30's engine bay when you stand on the loud pedal. It's simultaneously unsettling -- it sounds like almost nothing else with pistons -- and very satisfying. The C30 torque steers, yes, but that torque also makes the car feel muscular during highway driving and while exiting corners.
Like Donny, I like the V40 and want to see it come the United States, but mostly I just want to see Volvo update the C30. In an interesting segment, it's a standout on character alone.
Ben Timmins, Associate Web Editor
This is one of the cooler cars I've driven in recent memory. If I weren't a family man, I would lust after a Polestar-enhanced R-Design C30 because it's so distinctive, rare, fun to drive, quick, and great-looking, yet reasonably affordable to buy and fuel. I'm not saying this is a better car than a Volkswagen Golf R, but it looks great (even after several years on the market) and is certainly an individualistic choice.
I was very impressed at how this Volvo was so smooth to drive despite its aggressive turbo tuning. I was a bit disappointed, however, that the five-cylinder engine didn't have an even better soundtrack.
The biggest weakness of this C30 was the its poor navigation graphics and interface. If I were building a C30, I'd definitely order it without navigation; conveniently, the $2000 Premier Plus package is similar to the $4400 Platinum Package but deletes navigation (as well as a premium stereo).
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
Although the C30 R-Design Polestar falls short of the top hot hatches like the Volkswagen GTI and the Mini Cooper S in terms of overall performance, it's not without merits. Much like our Four Seasons Volvo S60, the C30's engine is its best feature and even the slightly amped-up version of the turbo I-5 (the Polestar treatment adds 25 horses) in this C30 R-Design is uncommonly smooth and quiet. Almost too quiet, in fact. I appreciate the engine's the lack of vibration and harshness, but I'd welcome a bit more noise especially at higher revs.
The turbo I-5 may not sound as good as some of its competitors but it moves the porky C30 -- it weighs a shocking 4236 pounds -- quickly and effortlessly. I'd like the turbo to be more progressive down low but it is exceptionally linear through the rest of its range. Like the engine noise, the steering and shifter are also a touch too refined for this vehicle; both could use more weight and the shifter would also benefit from a bit more personality.
In terms of interior style though, the C30 R-Design Polestar is spot on. The cabin retains Volvo's typical clean, simple design but with some added flair from the double stitched white leather accents. Using white leather in a vehicle can be terribly wrong, but it's used on the seats -- standard on the R-Design model -- in this C30 quite tastefully. And, not surprisingly, said seats are practically perfect in terms of comfort and support -- longstanding hallmarks of the Volvo brand.
It's also fairly roomy inside. The C30's stretched, "shooting brake" proportions make for a considerable amount of legroom even for rear seat passengers, as long as those in the front aren't greedy. When the rear seats are folded, the rear becomes a long, wide cargo area. It's ability to hold large objects is compromised by a canted roofline and forward-angled hatch but, on the positive side, the latter helps give the C30 its distinctive profile, its most attractive side, in my opinion.
Without question, there are newer, more sporting, and more competitively priced options, but the C30's restrained and unaggressive yet rewarding character makes it a unique offering in the sport compact segment.
Jennifer Misaros, Managing Editor, Digital Platforms