2011 Volvo C30 T5 R-Design Review


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2011 Volvo C30 R-Type

SEE ALSO: VOLVO BUYERS GUIDE

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

2011 Volvo C30 T5 R-Design

Sometimes, less is more. Less car equals more performance and better fuel economy, both being inversely proportional to weight. And if the design is done correctly, less car -- exterior size -- doesn't necessarily mean less interior space. Add bonus points for distinctive style.

I've just described the Volvo C30, the Swedish automaker's premium hatchback. While Volvo is best known in the US for wagons and crossovers, it has built sedans for far longer. The C30 is built on the same platform as the S40 sedan and V50 wagon, and shares their 103.9-inch wheelbase so interior space is comparable although it's eight or so inches shorter than the S40, and 160 pounds lighter than the S40's T5 variant.

But interior space and practicality are not likely to be the first reasons anyone would consider a Volvo C30. Looks are. Influenced by the 2002-vintage Volvo Safety Concept Car and echoing the P1800ES sports wagon of the early 1970s, the C30 is the best use of current Volvo design language so far. Introduced to the North American market in model year 2008, it gets its first update for 2011 with new front and rear styling and revisions to options and option packages.

Need another reason for interest in the C30? Turbo performance, with good fuel economy, especially in highway cruise mode. The S40 and V50 are offered with a choice of naturally-aspirated 2.4-liter, 168-horsepower or 227-hp 2.5-liter turbocharged (T5) inline five-cylinder engines. The C30 is T5 only, front-wheel drive, with a choice of six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmissions. Trim levels are regular T5 and R-Design, with a sport-tuned suspension and matching "aero kit" body modifications.

I've just spent a week with an R-Design C30, a lovely combination of goodness in chassis, engine, and distinctive style. Its sleek lines are about more than merely appearance, as its low-drag aerodynamics contribute to exemplary highway mileage, and stability at speed and in gusty winds. Inside, Volvo seats, ergonomics, and safety features are as good as found in any of the company's more expensive offerings. The R-Design's sport-tuned suspension strikes a good balance between everyday comfort and ultimate handling, and the engine is a fine example of everything that is good about turbocharging done right. I would have preferred the six-speed stick, but given the engine's torque characteristics (did someone say "plateau"?) moving the automatic's shift lever to manual mode and leaving it in third gear did just as well. The C30's niche -- upscale compact performance hatchback -- is not exactly American Mainstream, but that is part of its appeal. Exclusivity is not necessarily about absurdly high price -- sometimes it's about being different. The C30 is different, and embodies both rational luxury and emotional appeal.

APPEARANCE: With its prominent shoulder line, distinctive full-height taillights, and aerodynamically-tapered greenhouse, there is no doubt that the C30 is a contemporary Volvo. It has two too few doors and is too short to be a wagon, by modern definition anyway, but it takes little imagination to see the family resemblance to a V50 or V70. The 2011 front restyle makes previous C30s look almost as boxy as a 1970s Volvo. The nose is not any longer than before -- overall length has not changed -- but it's recontoured, with a reshaped grille and, for lack of a better term, prominent cheeks. The old rectangular-ish headlights have been replaced by ones that are more kidney-shaped. The R-Design version gets the "aero kit" treatment of added lower trim to the front and rear fascias and rocker panels. Except for the area around the hinges, and a small spoiler at the roof's trailing edge, the entire hatch is glass, all the better for rear visibility. The rear fascia area has been restyled, but not as much as the front.

COMFORT: Interior changes are minor, and no complaints there. Interior design, as in the V50 and V50, is a simplified interpretation of cues used in larger Volvos, with dark, soft-touch textured material on the top of the instrument panel eliminating glare in the windshield, and easily-visible backlit instruments shaded by a rounded hood. Besides showing elegant Scandinavian design, the floating center stack allows storage space behind to be used for storage. It has audio, phone, and iconic climate controls. Buttons on the steering wheel control cruise and audio functions, and a leather rim and tilt and telescope adjustability add to driver comfort and therefore safety. In the R-Design, seats are leather, with available power adjustment of both fronts. Seat comfort is equal to any other Volvo, which is to say among the best in the industry. Rear access is not as easy as in a sedan or wagon -- and the rear seats are less likely to get used as often in a two-door car than a four-door -- but long doors and power adjustment buttons on the seatbacks make it a reasonable proposition. Rear accommodation is for two, only, with no attempt at a center seat. Which results in very good comfort and space. Each rear seatback flips down for cargo duty, and loading or unloading through the large hatch is easy. Interior storage is good, highlighted by a large, locking, lit glovebox and rear cargo area that utilizes all possible nooks and crannies for useable space.

SAFETY: No surprise, the C30 has all of the safety design and equipment expected in a Volvo. The Volvo Intelligent Vehicle Architecture (VIVA) construction integrates the chassis structure with all safety systems. Passengers are protected by a central safety cage, front and rear crumple zones, and side impact protection from both front seat-mounted and full-length curtain airbags and the door and unibody structure. That structure uses different grades of steel depending on expected static and collision loads. Four-wheel antilock disc brakes,with brake force distribution and brake assist and Dynamic Stability and Traction Control (DSTC) are among the standard safety features; the BLIS blind-spot information system is available.

RIDE AND HANDLING: The same strength and rigidity that help passive safety also help the C30's ride and handling characteristics, and so its active safety. In the R-Design, the MacPherson front, multilink rear suspension gets 30 percent stiffer springs and monotube shocks with a 20 percent increase in low-speed damping. Stiffer bushings and a ten percent quicker steering ratio improve steering response. Yes, it's firm, but not uncomfortably so and it's perfect for the C30 R-Design's mission in life. With low interior noise levels and lovely Volvo seats, distance, on any road, will be a pleasure.

PERFORMANCE: Volvo knows turbos, having built turbocharged engines for close to 30 years. The C30's 2.5-liter, five-cylinder light-pressure boosted engine shows all that's right about turbos and nothing bad. Boost is light - about half an atmosphere - and comes in early; compression is high at 9:1, so there is no lag. Horsepower is admirable, 227 at 5000 rpm, but the torque spec tells all you need to know about the engine's - and the car's - personality: 236 lb-ft available between 1500 and 5000 rpm - basically whenever the engine is running. Power is smooth and linear, with no sudden surprises, so it works well with the optional five-speed automatic. For everyday use, "D" is fine. The transmission is, like most automatics, programmed to maximize fuel economy by shifting early -- but with the torque characteristics, no problem. More spirited driving is simple - just shift over to the manual gate, pick a gear, and leave it there. Acceleration is good, with a 6.6 0-60 time (vs. 6.2 for the stick). EPA fuel economy ratings are 21mpg city, 30 highway. My experience confirms that, and in 70 mph light-throttle highway driving I often saw more than 30 mpg. Unlike most turbo engines, the C30's runs on regular, not premium, unleaded gasoline.

CONCLUSIONS: Performance, efficiency, style, and safety are combined in the Volvo C30.

SPECIFICATIONS
2011 Volvo C30 T5 R-Design

Base Price			$ 26,950
Price As Tested			$ 33,500
Engine Type			dohc turbocharged inline 5-cylinder
Engine Size			2.5 liters / 154 cu. in.
Horsepower			227 @ 5000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			236 @ 1500-5000 rpm
Transmission			5-speed automatic with manual-shift mode
				 (opt)
Wheelbase / Length		103.9 in. / 167.4 in.
Curb Weight			3200 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		14.1
Fuel Capacity			15.9 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane regular unleaded gasoline
Tires				P215/45 R18 93 W Pirelli P Zero Nero
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc,
				 ABS, EBD, EBA, DSTC standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				  independent multilink
Drivetrain			transverse front engine,
				 front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		21 / 30 / 23
0 to 60 mph				6.6  sec
Towing capacity				2,000 lbs

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Preferred Package - includes:
  power glass moonroof, keyless drive, power
  front seats							$ 1,800
SIRIUS satellite radio with 6-month complimentary
  service							$   400
Climate Package and Dual Xenon headligts - includes:
  Xenon headlights with Active Bending Lights (ABD),
  heated front seats, headlamp washers, rain sensor,
  electronic climate control, interior air quality system	$ 1,700
Metallic paint							$   550
Destination charge						$   850

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