From the October 2007 issue of Car and Driver.
If a new model looks like fun—and this sparky little Volvo bobtail surely does—then its maker is figured to be shining up to the Hip, Hop, ‘n’ Kickin’ generation, those active lifestylers still 20 years short of their first wrinkle. And as it happens, Volvo admits to wistful longings for the 28-to-38 crowd— “They don’t call, they never drop by!”
But take it from us, there’s nothing about this perky C30 that’ll turn off the Modern Maturity set, starting with the base price of $23,445. A Volvo in sportswear is still a Volvo.
And this one is definitely a Volvo, an S40 sedan made over with a butt tuck (goodbye to about 200 pounds and 8.5 inches behind the rear wheels) and all-new clothes. Well, new except for the hood and windshield. Chopping off the tail has the visual effect of exaggerating the front overhang, amplifying the wedge shape created by the beltline rising as it sweeps toward the tail. Under the skin, the hearty T5 turbo 2.5-liter five-cylinder powering the front wheels is the only engine, backed by a six-speed manual or, for $1250, a five-speed automatic.
About that sportswear comment: When you sign up for a sexy looker like this C30, you don’t want to see two or three just like yours clustered about the neighborhood Starbucks. And you won’t—Volvo sells one car here for every three out BMW’s door. This coupe is planned for 8000 annual U.S. sales, about one of every 10 Volvos sold. Of a total U.S. car market of 17 million, we’d say that makes the C30 exclusive, although not rare.
More on the sportswear theme—the C30 is sporty in the manner of sweats from Calvin Klein, not like a Speedo. Stick with the base car—called Version 1.0 on the menu—which comes with 205/50R-17 all-weather Michelins and a suspension calibration that’s softer than Volvo offers on the C30 anywhere else in the world, and you’ll get sure-footed reflexes paired with no-complaints ride smoothness, at least on the acne-free blacktops of the Sunbelt, where we did this test. Tire roar on textured roads was modest but not negligible.
Opt for Version 2.0 if you need more ruckus from the road. It has higher-rate springs, shocks, and stabilizer bars and appropriately recalibrated bushings, plus stiffer 215/45 summer tires on 8.0-by-18-inch alloys. On our Sunbelt test drive, we didn’t find the 2.0 setup to be punishing, but Michigan motoring has made us generally wary of sporting Volvos.
The Version 1.0 for this test had just one option, Brilliant Blue Metallic paint at $475, for an as-tested total of $23,920. Volvo offers a long list of ways to make your C30 more expensive, including a custom-build program in which you ante $300 for a special menu that allows you to pay still more for à la carte items that include 17 exterior and 12 interior color combinations, bixenon headlights, keyless starting, parking assist, navigation, and some things that shouldn’t be so rarefied, such as a six-CD changer, heated seats, and cruise control. Think of this special menu as the fast track to a C30 north of 30 large.
But hang on to your checkbook. We were charmed by the test car, in no small part for its affordability. This is an easy-wearing runabout for two, with good space in back for two more passengers if their inseam doesn’t stretch more than 30 inches. The cloth-and-mystery-material front buckets are bolstered firmly enough to prompt complaints from the broad beamers among us. The frameless glass hatch is pure styling genius, all the better for its echo of Volvo’s P1800 ES of 1971-73. Best of all, it opens and closes two-finger easily—the payoff of low mass—so you don’t hesitate to pop it up on your way to the driver’s chair when you have a briefcase or shopping bag in hand.
Coupes, of course, have long doors—especially long and heavy on the C30, a price for style you’ll be aware of paying each and every time you swing them. When seated, you have a long reach back over your shoulder for the belt, too, very long if you’re a short person with the seat adjusted forward. Apart from that, this is a handy little mobile unit, about two inches longer than a VW Rabbit, so it’s easy to park. The six-speed shifts with a short, smooth stroke, and clutch engagement is perfect—if you think you can’t drive a stick, you’ll find you can in this Volvo.
While we’re tossing bouquets, much of the C30’s joy comes from its coordinated responses. This is a car that knows how to act. The brakes are wonderfully linear in their response, the steering zeros in on “straight down the road” when you cruise, and the throttle is free of the jumpy-jerky hyperactivity that is so tiresome in the pretend-to-be-fast crowd.
The 227-hp T5 is a light-pressure turbo setup, just 0.53 atmosphere at full boost. It doesn’t come on with a lunge; indeed, there seems to be nobody home when you toe into it in fifth or sixth gear at polite speeds. But in the lower gears, the torque ramps up promptly to fold your ears back, romping to 60 in 6.7 seconds, exactly a half-second behind the Mini Cooper S and VW GTI, two obvious competitors. Quarter-mile numbers of 15.3 seconds at 95 mph earn the C30 a spot in our class of spirited performers, but not the fast class.
Out in the twisties, the C30 has a trusty feel, reliable in its responses, predictable, in that sense rather like the GTI, and altogether more relaxed, and relaxing, than the twitchy Cooper S. Grip measures 0.80 g. Expect understeer at the limit. Braking from 70 mph uses up 187 feet.
Version 1.0 cars come with a black low-sheen-plastic flare all around the bottom of the body and wheel openings. On our dark-blue test car, this trim detail is hardly the first thing you’d notice, but on a white car, it would make a major statement. Opting for the custom build opens the choice of painted trim in contrasting colors, a very smart touch on the samples we’ve seen.
All versions come with leather “touch points”—the wheel, the shift knob, and the hand brake. But that wasn’t enough in our Version 1.0 to counteract the frugal look of an advertised special: “Only $23,920 while they last!” The putty-brown dash top doesn’t quite match the putty-gray window sills—the surface textures don’t match, either—and neither is quite happy with the pearl gray plastic of the center stack, cluster housing, cup-holder surround, and door pulls.
Kent Johansson, the C30’s product manager, referred back to the bentwood designs of Scandinavian furniture to explain the heritage of the center-stack design, a wide gray ribbon that drapes down from the middle of the dash through midair to finish up floating horizontally over the tunnel. On its face, carefully separated, are the four essential knobs—volume, tuning, fan speed, and temperature—with a grid of small buttons occupying the space between. It’s just brilliant for ergonomics, and a great piece of contemporary sculpture, too. But the advertised-special gray plastic kills the joy of it, your invitation to opt up to “aluminum,” maybe with a stenciled motif, or actual oak in the Scandinavian tradition.
The ribbon’s backlit display was perfectly legible with sunglasses, a rarity, and interesting analog indicators pop up when the knobs are adjusted. For AM and FM, it shows a pointer moving horizontally over a frequency scale, prompting a sweet rush of nostalgia for the veteran testers among us.
Version 2.0 comes standard with many spiffy visuals inside and out, including a spoiler atop the liftgate, 3.5-inch tailpipes (up from two and three-quarters), and a 10-speaker, 650-watt stereo (up from 6 and 160, respectively), Dolby ProLogic II, and Sirius satellite radio. AM reception was weak and noisy in the test car. Both versions get skid control and curtain airbags as standard equipment and—something unprecedented for Volvos—second looks.
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