The Volvo C30 is a quirky car.
Quirky is a word often applied to Volvo’s, but this particular model seems even more unusual then the standard level of eccentricity that comes out of Sweden. First is the price: to drive this generously optioned C30 off the lot in 2008 you would have needed to shell out $34,095. That is too much for a car with 227hp, FWD, and a minimalist interior. However, my used C30 cost me a much more reasonable $11,500 with 68,000 miles already on the clock. At this price, the C30 becomes a used car that is recommendable with some reservations.
Design is an area the C30 shines. The car is instantly recognizable, even to people who don’t know what car it is. If that sounds a little odd, its odder still to have a man approach you at a gas station asking if the C30 was a Porsche. The shooting break roofline and massive glass hatch combine with flowing lines that make the C30 a car that looks fantastic from every angle. It really stands out from many of the bland hatchbacks that clutter the marketplace, and competes with cars with twice the price tag when it comes to aesthetic appeal.
In classic Volvo fashion, every surface that you touch is either leather or metal. The seats are deep buckets that are comfortable for hours on end, and are fitted with more levers and toggles then the rest of the car combined. The dashboard and doors are massive swaths of surprisingly solid matte black plastic with strips of equally black leather and silver aluminum highlights. Because the doors need to open wide enough to allow passengers to climb into the rear seats, the doors are massive. They are heavy enough to close on their on if you are parked on a slant, and long enough to make it impossible to open them fully if you are parked in a space with another car on either side. This particular example has wood trim, which looks and feels a little too tacky for the high sticker price. However, the wood trim seems to be a divisive look, so I'll shy away from ragging on it too much. The rear seats benefit hugely from the shooting brake roofline of the car, allowing a freakishly tall friend (6’5”) to sit comfortably in the back for a five hour road trip up the California coast. The roofline does a neat trick starting at the rear seats, as the roof gets narrower so that even as it slopes backward there is plenty of headroom. The steering wheel is wonderful, with tightly stitched leather and solid aluminum creating a wheel that is soft enough to be comfortable on a long haul, and solid enough to encourage irresponsible handling in the curves.
Speak of curves, the C30 has no problem taking a corner. Despite being FWD, the car can comfortably attack most roads, with Pirelli P Zero’s on 18” by 8.5” wheels providing ample grip. Body roll is minimal, but when under throttle in a turn the car has a tendency to pull outwards. In the wet the power is a little too much for FWD, and it is a good idea to ease up on the gas as you approach a turn.
At this point, you may well be thinking that this car is just a smaller version of its big brother, the S60. Nice to drive, nice to sit in, but a little too boring to be fun. Prior to writing this review I borrowed a friend’s 2011 S60 T5 and took it for a spin around Napa Valley, and I can assure you that the C30 is a different animal. The S60 hauls around another 600lbs in the base model, and at the top trim level can get up to 3,835lbs, which is about 900lbs more than then the most optioned out C30. The longer wheelbase and added weight is just too much for the T5 to handle. The S60 still doesn’t have any trouble passing on the highway, but it doesn’t feel any faster than a standard sedan. Losing the extra weight that the S60 carries around makes the C30 feel much quicker and helps massively in the corners, where the S60 has significant body role compared to the almost totally flat nature of the C30.
The C30 wants you to drive it fast. It even encourages you to, with the Geartronic 5 speed this example was equipped with downshifting every time you punch the throttle, and the turbo spooling up as you leave a stop sign. However despite the transmission's programming tell it to shift fast, it often lags behind the engine. The 5 speed just isn’t as fast as the rest of the car and it often strands the engine at the top of its rev range when your foot is to the floor, wasting precious time as it catches up. The transmission's shifts are also a little rough, and you can feel them through the seat as the car slams into a higher or lower gear. Another downside of this sporty programming is that there is no way to toggle it on or off. This means that despite weighing only 2900lbs, the C30 managed a only decent 24.5 mpg combined in our testing. The upside to that unimpressive mpg is that with 227hp and 236 ft-lbs of torque on tap, the C30 is a quick car, taking 6.6 seconds to reach 60. While 6.6 to 60 isn't a amazing time for its class, the C30's horsepower and torque remain usable at almost any speed, with the turbo kicking in quickly.
One major negative point is the suspension. This is the standard, run of the mill C30, not the sportier R-Design, or the hot rod Polestar variant. Yet the suspension is extremely stiff to the point of beating up the driver on a rough road, and the car itself has a scant 5.3 inches of ground clearance, making clearing a parking spot barrier a no-go.
On a smooth road the suspension and low clearance help make the C30 a pleasure to drive, but get the car on a rough back road and you'll be wishing that Volvo had included multiple suspension modes.
This clashes with the excellent sound proofing around the cabin. Cruising at 60 mph is a oddly quiet experience, with little to no engine or road noise. Even on a rough road, you won't hear the potholes or bumps, but the suspension will make sure that you feel them.
The C30 takes a lot of inspiration for its character from Volvo shooting brake of old, the P1800 ES Estate. Like the Estate, the C30 is a car built for the open road, with a generous amount of rear space and a large glass hatch that opens wide.
With the rear seats folded down, the C30 becomes a real shooting brake, a car with ample space cargo space for two. The seats fold almost flat, and transform the rear area into a space that can fit an impressive amount of cargo.
The real triumph of the C30 are not the specifications. In fact if you look at this car as a spec sheet, it doesn’t stand out from the pack of hot hatches. But the C30 is a rare car that is more than the sum of its parts, a car that nudges you towards the open road, and towards the edge of speed limits everywhere. With an ample amount of power for a 3000lb car with FWD, the C30 won’t stun in stoplight drag races, but get it in the turns and it will punch far above its weight class. The C30 is a great buy if you want something that looks great, hauls more then the any other two door coupe, and has the power and grip to thrill in everyday driving.