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2008 Volvo C30 Review

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SEE ALSO: Volvo Specs, Pictures and Prices - Volvo Buyers Guide


2008 Volvo C30

Think "Volvo" and what comes to mind? "Safety"? Check. "Swedish luxury"? Check. "Expensive"? Likely, at least if you consider around $30,000 for the entry-level models and more like high 30s and up for most models to be expensive. "High-performance, low-cost premium hatchback"? Um, Swedish humor, right?

Wrong. Meet the Volvo C30, the newest hot hatch and new worst headache for the established German and Japanese premium sport-compact makers. With a 236-horsepower turbo engine in a package smaller and lighter than the previous entry-level S40 sedan or V50 wagon - which continue - the C30 is plenty quick, and with a base price of $22,700 (plus a $695 destination charge), it's not all that expensive, and competitive in the premium sport compact class. The standard transmission is a six-speed manual, with a five-speed Geartronic manual-mode automatic available.

The C30 is based on the same platform as the S40 and V50, and it shares their 103.9-inch wheelbase for much more interior space than expected. Most apparently, it's a two-door hatchback with lines more than a little reminiscent of the Volvo Safety Concept Car of 2002 and a certain similarity to the now-collectible P1800ES sports wagon of the early 1970s. The C30 is 8.5 inches shorter than the S40, and 320 pounds lighter.

Two basic trim levels, called, in a high-tech fashion that says much about the intended target buyer, version 1.0 and version 2.0, are offered. v1.0 is by no means bare-bones, and a good value at that $22,700. v2.0 adds upgraded interior and exterior trim, a firmer sport suspension, and an upgraded audio system, and navigation system, among other things - easily worth more than the $3,000 price difference.

But the real concept in outfitting a C30 is personalization. There are only a few standard colors, standalone options, and option packages. A one-time $300 charge brings entrance into the "Custom Build Options" program. With 17 exterior and 12 interior colors, and 30 or so other custom options available, there are literally millions of possibilities. That should make people who worry about things like someone else showing up to the party in the same dress happy. Buy into the program, and the likelihood of finding another C30 identical to yours is vanishingly small. Helps in the parking lot, too.

In contradiction to the usual press fleet specification of all possible options, the C30 v1.0 that I just spent a week with was virtually box-stock, with only metallic paint (dark blue) on the option list. That suited my tastes just fine. Simple is good. The seats, although cloth and manual, are as good as any Volvo seats (which is to say very), the standard suspension tuning strikes a very good balance between sportiness and comfort, and there are no complaints about the drivetrain, with its smooth, effortless power and excellent shift linkage. It even held four people, myself and three six-foot passengers, in reasonable comfort, with as much or more space behind the rear seat as comparable cars.

APPEARANCE: There's no doubt that the C30 is a Volvo, as it has the broad-shouldered look of all contemporary Volvos. The front bodywork, ahead of the windshield, is nearly identical to that of the S40 sedan and V50 wagon, and features a small blackout eggcrate trapezoidal grille and v-shaped sculpted hood. In shape, the C30 is a two-box, two-door hatchback, shorter than a four-door wagon, but there is nothing boxy about it. As with the Volvo wagons, the C30's greenhouse tapers toward the rear, but much more so here. That adds a sporty touch reinforced by the rising fender line. At the rear are found the Volvo wagon trademark full-height taillights and a large, slightly hexagonal glass hatch - that continues the spirit of the P1800ES. The v1.0 has textured plastic trim around the lower part of the car, while that on the v2.0 is body-colored.

COMFORT: By dipping into the custom options, only the depth of your pockets determines the limit for interior appointment in the C30. Want leather seating, woodgrain trim, heated power front seats, auto-dimming mirrors, Keyless Drive, electronic climate control, a sunroof, an upgraded audio system, a navigation system, and/or other upscale options? Just order a v2.0 and/or check the appropriate box upon ordering and add to the bottom line. On the other hand, if you don't need any of that, the C30 is perfectly fine in v1.0 box-stock trim.

The interior design is, unsurprisingly, very similar to the S40 and V50 and other new Volvos. The seats uphold Volvo's reputation for support and comfort, and the "Kalix" synthetic upholstery grips well. Manual adjustment is not a difficulty, and yeah the windows are power-adjustable, and one-touch at that. Multiple textures keep the interior visually and tactilely interesting. Instruments are easily read, the tilt- and telescope-adjustable steering wheel, pedals, and shifter are placed for serious driving, and visibility from the driver's seat is very good. The floating center stack has the usual simple and self-explanatory Volvo iconic controls for the audio and climate systems.

The doors are long and rather heavy, but allow reasonably easy access to the two-place rear seat. My six-foot passengers fit okay, but getting in and out was a gymnastic experience. Small people should find it easier, and the rear seatbacks fold separately for cargo duty. Access through the large hatch is easy, and there is more than enough space for two people and lots of stuff.

SAFETY: It's a Volvo, so 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 C30's strong, rigid chassis also helps its ride and handling characteristics, and good handling is as important for safety as it is for fun. Interior noise levels are low for the class, reducing fatigue. The suspension is basically the same front MacPherson strut/rear multilink layout as in the S40 and V50, and in v1.0 trim is tuned moderately firmly. It strikes a fine balance between comfort and sporting ability, with enough of the former to make long days in the driver's seat enjoyable and enough of the latter to bring a smile to the driver's face.

PERFORMANCE: Volvo has had plenty of experience building turbocharged engines, and it shows. The C30's 2.5-liter, five-cylinder light-pressure unit shows all that's right about turbos and nothing bad. Boost is light - about half an atmosphere - and comes in early, and compression is high at 9:1, so there is no lag whatsoever. 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 are available between 1500 and 5000 rpm - basically whenever the engine is running. Power is smooth and linear, with no sudden surprises. There is no reason to run the engine to redline, and no reason not to. It's happiest and most responsive over 3000 rpm but pulls readily from 2000 in top gear. And that top gear is sixth, as the standard manual gearbox is a six-speed. Its smooth linkage will make you want to shift far more often than you will need to. Acceleration is competitively quick, with a 0-60 time of 6.2 seconds, and fuel economy is reasonable considering the performance, at around 20 mpg. Unlike most turbo engines, the C30's runs on regular, not premium, unleaded gasoline.

CONCLUSIONS: The Volvo C30 offers a fine combination of performance, style, and safety at a very reasonable price.

2008 Volvo C30

Base Price			$ 22,700
Price As Tested			$ 23,870
Engine Type			dual overhead cam turbocharged
				 inline 5-cylinder
Engine Size			2.5 liters / 154 cu. in.
Horsepower			227 @ 5000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			236 @ 1500-5000 rpm
Transmission			6-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length		103.9 in. / 167.4 in.
Curb Weight			3201 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		14.1
Fuel Capacity			15.9 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane regular unleaded gasoline
Tires				P205/50 VR17 Michelin xse
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc /solid disc, ABS standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				  independent multilink
Drivetrain			transverse front engine,
				 front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		19 / 28 / 20
0 to 60 mph				6.2  sec

Metallic Paint				$ 475
Destination charge			$ 695