2007 Volvo C30

The C30 is powered by a turbocharged, 218-hp five-cylinder and will be available with either a six-speed manual or a five-speed manu-matic. It will come in two trim levels, with the uplevel model featuring a body kit, eighteen-inch wheels, and an MP3 jack. Two suspension settings are available: comfort and dynamic. (The European version also will have a sport setting.) The car we drove, a Euro-spec model, was fitted with the stiffest setup. The sport setting is fine for mirror-smooth pavement and well-kept racetracks, but on frost-eaten blacktop you would want more compliance, a better low-speed ride, and less brittle responses over transverse irritations such as highway expansion joints. We would also prefer more steering feedback than what's provided by the electrohydraulic setup, which feels artificial and not quite quick enough. Volvo officials emphatically defend this calibration, pointing out that it was selected to address the different requirements of the thumbwheel generation.

We aren't totally convinced by the five-cylinder engine. The numbers are solid (0 to 60 mph in 6.6 seconds and a top speed of 146 mph), but although the torque delivery plateaus from 1500 to 4800 rpm (where 236 lb-ft is on tap), throttle response can be hesitant, and there is a prevailing feeling that you're in the wrong gear. Since a pushy driving style induces torque steer even before a corner comes into sight, it's best to leave the shifter in D, avoid the final 2000 rpm, and relish the considerable pulling power. In line with the overall dynamic mediocrity are the strong but uncommunicative brakes, the much too casual body control, and the predictably passive handling, which lacks the depth of modularity we are familiar with in the Volkswagen GTI.

You don't have to have a soft spot for fairy tales to appreciate the Volvo C30, but it helps. After all, this car has chosen the emotional route to your heart, and it begs to be measured by more subjective criteria than its run-of-the-mill rivals. In terms of sheer driving pleasure, the new Volvo meets only our most basic expectations. But as far as performance and street credibility are concerned, it combines the charm of an icon with the A-to-B competence of a modern hatchback. While the C30 is clearly the wrong choice for the evil mother-in-law, Snow White and her Prince Charming are going to love it.

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