2008 Volvo C30

Brian Konoske

The C30 is the smallest Volvo ever sold in the United States, a land where upmarket-brand small cars are few. The Mini Cooper and the Volks-wagen GTI take the traditional hot-hatch approach, with sportiness their calling card, while the Audi A3 is purely a premium compact. The C30 is closer in spirit to the A3, but that car has four doors where the C30 has two, so Volvo sees the C30 as more of a sporty funster for the young and hip.

Playing to that crowd, Volvo is taking a page from Scion's book by offering a high degree of customization. But whereas Scion's happens at the dealer level, Volvo is offering custom factory orders, which engender a four- to six-week wait. We can see buyers waiting for a special paint color (there are at least seventeen choices) or interior trim, but Volvo also has made a lot of regular options part of the custom-order process. It's harder to imagine buyers happily sitting tight to get the Blind Spot Information System, laminated side glass, a rear-seat armrest, or an auto-dimming rearview mirror. (Some of those items, at least, can be in-stalled as dealer accessories.)

The failures of the Mercedes-Benz C230 coupe and the BMW 318ti hatchback must have weighed heavily on the minds of Vol-vo's product planners. But those cars looked like compact sedans that had their tails bobbed, while the C30 benefits from a design that has been skillfully massaged so that it doesn't come across as two-thirds of an S40 sedan.

Unlike the S40, the C30's front fenders swell slightly at the wheels, and the rear shoulder is deeper than on any other Volvo. The C30's taillights trace that shoulder shape, framing a very cool glass hatchback that dips down low for good visibility. The interior is essentially carried over from the S40/V50, but what's impressive is that the bucket-style back seats are actually roomy enough to comfortably seat a six-footer.

The C30 has the same stretch between the wheels as the sedan but has had 8.8 inches chopped off the back; it's also fractionally lower and wider. Mechanically, the cars are identical; the turbo five-cylinder (the only engine offered) makes the same 227 hp here as in the S40. This engine might not love to rev, but it has a vast torque plateau and pulls the C30 along energetically, reaching 60 mph in 6.2 seconds when paired with the manual transmission (6.6 seconds with the automatic) and hanging in there all the way to 149 mph. As in the S40, the six-speed stick has delightfully light and precise shift action, but the springy clutch has a fairly long travel. The five-speed automatic transmission offers manu- matic shifting with the gear lever, but there are no paddles.

The uplevel Version 2.0 car comes with Volvo's firmer and lower Dynamic suspension (which is an option on the base Version 1.0). On winding mountain roads in the east San Diego County desert, it did a great job keeping body lean in check through fast curves and tight corners. We were rolling on eighteen-inch wheels and Pirelli summer tires, which give the C30 plenty of grip. The steering is nicely weighted but not ultraprecise or superquick - Volvo engineers can't quite bring themselves to deliver that, lest a sneeze send a driver into the next lane.

Still, the C30 is fast and composed, and, at some 300 pounds lighter than its sedan sibling, it's notably sportier. It's a tasty new addition to America's slowly growing menu of bite-size cars.

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