• Mar 17th 2008 at 11:58AM
  • 61

2008 Volvo C30 – Click above for high-res image gallery

We've been told for so long that hatches don't sell here in the U.S., so it's surprising to see a new crop of two-box premium cars going on sale. MINI started it with its R53 Coopers; retro flash met modern dash and it sold successfully enough to warrant an upgrade to the R56. Volvo's got the same lust for entry-level customers to its premium wares, so on the scene rolls the C30. Based off the S40, the C30 reaches back over three generations of boxy-but-good styling to a time when Swedish cars wearing the alchemist's symbol for iron had curves and a shooting brake profile. Hatch/wagon/brake/estate - call it what you will, Volvo's hoping it can call the C30 a success.

All photos ©2008 Dan Roth / Weblogs, Inc.

Nomenclature aside, here's the modern equivalent of the 1800ES. Its forebear's rump set the tone with a postern rendered in glass, and the C30 follws suit. The visage is essentially what you'll find on the S40, though the airdam and headlamps are subtly different. The Version 2.0 model also gets sportier ground effects and a rear roof spoiler. The look is eye catching; people notice the C30. The C30 T5 - they're all T5s in the U.S. - in the Autoblog Garage looked super natty in Cosmic White with a root beer brown accent around the entire bottom of the car. Fenders are filled with 18-inch wheels wrapped in wide 215/45 tires that deliver sharp reflexes. Big tires with small, stiff sidewalls extract a penalty over every bump in exchange for their grip. Tramlining occurs more often than on less sporty Volvos, but the tires aren't so excessively wide that the steering tries to follow every rut. On the pothole-ridden byways of late-winter New England, the 18s aren't the smartest choice. Such rubber-bandy fitment induces cringes on pocked surfaces, and it's common for alloy rims to need a trueing as a maintenance item. Little responsiveness and handling acuity would be given up for a drop to 215/55/16s, and the ride would improve.

You will jiggle when the suspension deflects, but Volvo has learned a thing or two about chassis tuning since the jackhammer days of the first T5-trimmed 850. While stiffness in the suspension can border on harsh, you can never have too much chassis rigidity. The C30's structure is solid, which makes it feel tight and substantial. Quick handling is a by-product of the unshakeable foundation - the chassis doesn't wind up. Tidy dimensions and a fabulously chunky optional sport steering wheel work in concert with nice rack weighting to point the C30 where you'd like it to go. Stiff ride or no, taking a set and carving a line isn't a problem in this baby. Once you've emerged from the canyons, the C30 is also a docile, calm cruiser on the interstate. 28 mpg highway (if you keep your foot out of the turbocharged five cylinder) makes for legs that are moderately long.

227 horsepower channeled through the front wheels could be a recipe for ridiculous torque steer, and there is some "noise" in the steering from the FF layout, but we didn't find torque steer to be an issue. Slightly wonky electronic throttle response made it easy to call for too much torque, which would translate into wheelspin upon takeoff if there was so much as a pebble of sand. Once launched, the electronic throttle funkiness shows up in second gear, too, where you sometimes get a lot more go than you asked for.

The sport steering wheel was joined by a matching shift knob, both wearing aluminum accents. Dress it up however you like, the C30's shifter is as vague as a campaign promise. The metal insert is also chilly on a winter morn. Once acclimated to the long throws and balky gates - we got stuck on the 4-5 upshift a few times - smoothly coordinating throttle, clutch and gear selection becomes easy. Volvo clutches have always been forgiving and the C30 benefits from that history, making smooth driving easy.

Volvo's decades-long tradition of fine seats precedes the C30. For $28,000, however, we might have expected to find leather on the seats instead of the Kalix and T-Tec mix that swathed the chairs. Appropriately supportive in all the right places with a comprehensive range of manual adjustments, the black and light gray color combination looks good and keeps you in place when working the tires. The rest of the controls are laid out with clean Scandinavian design on the extra-thin center stack that Volvo's lately been making its trademark interior feature. There are few cars with such straightforward and self explanatory secondary controls as you'll find in a Volvo, and the LCD display acts as a guide to what the four knobs on the center stack do. Grab the tuning knob and the screen switches to an emulation of a tuning scale like radios used to carry. Proper knobs for volume, tuning, fan and temperature cover all the bases elegantly.

The rest of the interior wears Offblack; marketing speak for very gray. It's quiet inside, too, all the better to crank up the excellent stereo with 10 drivers by Dynaudio, maker of some very high-end gear found in recording studios. Surround-sound in a car is a dubious feature, so we ran it in two channel mode, and it did not disappoint when we sent Stanton Moore's III through the auxiliary jack.

While the C30 is short in length to the point of being stubby, it's still larger than its main bogey, the MINI. It also pays homage to the past without being overwrought and too-kyoote. There's room for a deluxe child seat in the back seat, a pretty tough test when the vehicle size gets down in this range. Pull a lever on the front seats and they slide easily out of the way. It's no Maybach 62, but there is useable rear seat and cargo area room. It'd still be best to think of the rear seats as occasional use only. The glass hatch looks great and makes loading easy, just watch your pants on the bumper. With the rear seats in use, it may be tight to get a couple sets of golf clubs or a stroller in there, but we didn't have any problem with capacity once we put the split-folding backseat to use. Outward visibility is good, especially through the glassy tail.

We applaud Volvo for having the confidence to release a hatchback, and the C30 is unique in many good ways. Smart styling and a chassis that doesn't yelp in fear when asked to perform ups the appeal to the hip young people who this car is trying to snag. Older folks and Volvisti appreciate the styling homages to classical Volvos with the strong shoulders and specifically the nod to the 1800ES in the roofline. The overall feeling is modernity, versus the kitschy neo-retro in the MINI, and the C30 offers buyers another option, albeit for a dearer base price. Similarly equipped competitors aren't tremendously cheaper. A Cooper offering this level of performance is carrying the S badge and mid-20's pricing. Here's hoping that Volvo disproves the notion about Americans preferring sedans. The C30 is fun, fleet and functional.

Many thanks to Josh and Jetson the ES!
All photos ©2008 Dan Roth / Weblogs, Inc.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 7 Years Ago
      *long rant on how it's overpriced deleted*

      I just checked Volvo's website, and you can get a C30 1.0 for under 23k, and a 2.0 for 25.7k. Comparing base model to your local GTI, Mazdaspeed3, Mini, WRX, it doesn't seem that outrageously overpriced. It gives up some features to the GTI, but has a more powerful engine. It looks like the 2.0 adds a better stereo, body modifications, "chrome 3 1/2" exhaust tip" (ooooooh), and a nicer interior.

      I'd still probably get one of the competitors listed above (although I don't need a new car till sometime next year), which is sad since I am the target consumer for this car, but it's not *that* bad.

      To Autoblog - if you're going to be reviewing a car that's $5g over the price of the base vehicle, you might want to put something in like "well, while $28k might seem a lot for a 3200lb hatchback, it's available in base form that still includes the T5 engine for only $22,900" or something like that. Yes, manufacturers (for some unknown reason) send out fully optioned cars in the hopes that you'll rave about some add-on that will make the dealer loads of money, but lets at least compare apples to apples here...
        • 7 Years Ago
        The car they tested has cloth (stupid t-tec) seat. Manual seats. Manual air conditioning. Manual transmission. Halogen headlamps. No moon-roof. We should be on our knee's thanking Volvo that they put a steering wheel in the thing, because that's sure as hell about all it has. If the C30 is that under-equipped compared to it's competitors at $28,000 I'd hate to see it at $23,000. Do they give you wheels?

        The T5 engine doesn't mean anything. The GTI can keep up with it, and the WRX or MS3 would murder it. And when comparing the base C30 to the GTI, MS3, and WRX it does seem ridiculously overpriced. Considering for $24,000 or so you can get a MS3 with over 250hp, partial leather sport seats, Bose stereo, moon-roof, LSD, LED taillights, HID's, auto climate control, etc., it looks worse and worse for the C30.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Other then the looks there's nothing really good about this car. Don't get me wrong it's still a good car, just not compared to the competition as everyone else has stated. I mean a mazdaspeed3 is on par with the price of this thing, and who would pick this over the ms3?
      • 7 Years Ago
      Wow, that rear is HIDEOUS!! I don't understand why people like volvos so much. They have no driving fun, are expensive, 99% ugly looking. They are a swedish version of a camry. I guess the "european snob" appeal is keeping them alive...And I'm a European, too.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I just decided on the C30 over the R32 and the Mazda. I bought a completely loaded C30 (auto, leather, sunroof, Nav, BLIS, park assist...) with a number of accessories and still was under the R32 MSRP start price. That was creative negotiation and luck but the rub comes with the Mazdaspeed. I was impressed with the engine but everything else seemed to lack the polish I would expect for a nearly 30K car. The fitment was off, the plastics far cheaper than both the C30 and R32, and the noise in the cabin could not be overcame by the lackluster Bose sound system. I also really don't want 4 doors until I must have them. The options/accessories for the Volvo allowed me to make this car mine and not another red/blue/black Mazdaspeed3 with black interior. I was willing to pay extra for that.
      • 7 Years Ago
      With all the arguments re. how the C30 is overpriced (which it is), I guess I shouldn't start rooting for my Audi A3 :). Volvo dealers are having a hard time selling C30s as it is -- not just because of the pricing but because there are no factory packages with the most common/popular options buyers are looking for. Practically every last option on this car is individually priced. The article should have mentioned how difficult it is to find a C30 to your liking at any dealership (here in SoCal). My brother was in the market for a C30 for 2 whole months, trying to find the right car. Finally got so fed up he passed on it entirely.
        • 7 Years Ago
        "The article should have mentioned how difficult it is to find a C30 to your liking at any dealership (here in SoCal). My brother was in the market for a C30 for 2 whole months, trying to find the right car. Finally got so fed up he passed on it entirely."

        You're supposed to order the car from the dealer in the exact configuration you want rather than buy something pre-configured off the lot. It works for Mini...

        ...if your Bro had simply placed an order, he'd have had his C30 within those two months instead of wasting time shopping.
        • 7 Years Ago
        ordered cars didn't have the dealer discounts available that helped make the pricing more attractive and competitive. Goes back to the whole overpriced argument.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Volvo cars are very overpriced. My girlfriend wanted to get an S40 so we went to check it out. For 30k you get an engine and 4 wheels. The car is extremely spartan. While I was there I checked out the hatchback - same story. When I asked the dealer why the cars are so expensive he said that they invest a lot of money in engineering a safer vechicle. While volvo is a safe vehicle there are a lot more cars that have same safety ratings that go for less money. As another person who commented here volvo is definetly a car that is living on its european heritage hype here in the US. Definetly a bad price/what you get balance.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Many cars have the same safety ratings as Volvos because we are using an outdated rating system. Most cars get 5-star ratings now, and if they don't they are considered trash. Volvos and Saabs are some of the safest vehicles out there.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Not to mention 0% fun to drive and 99% ugly to look at.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Awesome car, exactly what the market needs right now.
      In the sense that it's upscale, sporty, modern, good on gas, practical, and attractive.
      Plus there have been rumors about a five door C30 replacing the S40/V40 which is slated to be cut.
      I'll take mine in black with a sunroof please.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I got a black C30 last month for 22K. I think that was an awesome price for the car you get. Of course you can reach over 30K with all the little options, but in the end what I want is a fun car to drive and that's what I got w/o too many frills.
      • 7 Years Ago
      The C30 is just way too expensive. Offering a version of it with the 2.4L from the S40 would be a start to get the cost down. The a la carte thing is absolutely ridiculous. Save money by making five configurations, and choose from one of those. As it stands now, the S40 / C30 is not 7K better than a Mazda3 Grand Touring.

      Finally, Volvo (and Mazda) need to get better mileage out of the C-1 / C-2 platforms. Smaller displacement turbos (1.8L / 170hp should be fine).
      • 7 Years Ago
      Gahhhd thats kyooote
      • 7 Years Ago
      It may not be the best 20K+ hatchback out there, but its a very good effort on Volvo's part and deserves to be successful for them. Its certainly much more appealing than the $40K+ low-mpg AWD Volvo wagon that Autoblog tested last week.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I already have a wonderful "roomy enough for my tall frame and a few friends, but compact enough for the parking spaces" almost completely overpowered hatchback... and it's called a mazda3 5-door.

      the C30 strikes me the same as the S40 and the V50: The Volvo version of the whole Euro-Focus/Mazda3 platform that just doesn't give me enough for the premium they're asking. And it's really sad because I would love to get an entry level nifty little Volvo... but I don't want to spend THAT much extra and at least $5000 of the price seems to be this ridiculous "we are volvo and therefore we are a european luxury mark" tax.

      Yes, the Volvo versions of this platform are nifty in that they are safe and don't compromise too much fuel economy for the added weight of safeness. But they are still a bit cramped in the back, and don't have anything that really makes them that much better than their cousins: The mazdaspeed3 and focus RS blast the C30 out of the performance water and the mazdaspeed3 does it for cheaper and with nicer material on the seats. The waterfall console just doesn't make up for the price difference.

      The volvo C30 (and the S40 and V50 while we're at it) is in that uncomfy "passat" spot where it is marketed on the sheer amount of eagle-beak but doesn't really deliver anything special. If they aren't going to do something cool like tweaking the turbo 5 to get 250HP and adding AWD... or putting some sort of spunky little turbo diesel into it... Ii would be justified in costing 28K USD... but right now it doesn't so I don't consider getting it.
        • 7 Years Ago
        when it comes down to it, a Volvo's a Volvo and a Mazda's a Mazda. sure the C30, S40 and V50 are entry level, but I really couldn't imagine a Volvo being around the $20k mark. That's like saying because a Lexus ES and a Toyota Camry share a platform, a Lexus should be $25k. Ridiculous. I have an S40 and one of my close friends has a mazda3, and except for the way they drive, everything else is miles apart. I would never confuse a 3 for a c30 or s40.

        I think the c30 is more people who are a.) already Volvo buyers, but younger or b.)people who are looking for a PREMIUM hatchback. Either way, paying 23-30k shouldn't be that big of a deal for those demographics

        • 7 Years Ago
        i think you're missing the point. Volvo drivers dont buy Volvos to brag about driving a Volvo. Who brags about a Volvo? What I'm saying is that Volvo drivers are people who WANT a VOLVO. That's why Volvo and Saab drivers are so different.. it might be hard for you to understand...Volvo is not a brand meant just to compete with other luxury brands. People who buy Volvos are people who want the qualities of Volvo.. which is primarily safety, luxury, and practicality. Unfortunately, unless you're getting an "R" version, performance isn't exactly the main emphasis. I agree with the fact that it wouldn't hurt to emphasize more on performance, but honestly, if you're looking for a high-performance car around $20k, Volvo isn't, and shouldn't be, at the top of your list.
        • 7 Years Ago
        safety- as long as it's getting good crash safety ( i beleive its lowest rating was 4 stars for the side impacts, which is actually pretty good fro a small car. why make something extravagant when they can have the same results with less work? also it comes with BLIS,WHIPS etc etc.

        Practicality- It's a small car for urban youth (aka yuppies) being introduced to the Volvo brand. it doesn't need all the space in the world.. especially if it's only competition is supposed to be Mini.

        Luxury- the cloth seats are actually T-Tech seats... developed by NASA and blah, blah blah... the point is it's actually pretty nice. i got the leather seats but when the dealer was showing me the cloth one it actually was better than i thought it would be. and about the no cruise control, that's for the base model. base models aren't even offered at high volumes (at least in my area it'd be hard to find one) as my s40 certainly does have cruise control, and it's not even the top of the line t5.

        Im not trying to sit here and debunk everything you're saying, but i think people should know more about something before they draw conclusions. The C1 platform was actually designed my Ford, Mazda and Volvo so it's not like Volvo just got the left-overs and called it a day. in my opinion the entry level Volvos are great, but yes, it could have some more power and better options. So, by contrast to what you said, Volvo should make entry level cars with higher quality, not lower prices.
        • 7 Years Ago
        you make some good points, but you need to remember that the point of Volvo is not to be a premium version of mazda. None of Ford's PAG brands were meant to be premium versions of Ford products; which is why Lincoln is not part of PAG. They're just premium vehicles who happen to be owned by Ford, and share each other's components. Volvos are for people interested in Volvo and other premium imports, just like Land Rovers were for people interested in Land Rovers or other premium SUVs, Jaguars were for people who liked premium imports, and so on and so forth. I've never heard anyone say " I would've bought a Range Rover, But the 4wd Mercury Mountaineer with Navigation and leather seats was much more bang for the buck."
        Sure they may be the same size, maybe the same platform, or even the same feel, but in terms of target shoppers, you're comparing apples and oranges. You pay a premium price for a premium vehicle. That's that. If you want to say the Volvo is not as good as a Mini or the MB or BMW hatchbacks, that's one thing, but you really can't cross shop just because 2 things share a platform
        • 7 Years Ago
        And you are missing my original point:

        For a car that is supposed to be this premier luxury marque... it sure seems like it is merely an overpriced version of the Mazda3. The C1 volvo's are pretty much the Caddilac Cimmaron's of the new millennium.

        You have just made a heavy case that the main reason to get a C30/S40/V50 over the Mazda is because it has a little symbol that says "volvo" on the front... but you have failed to point out why that is any reason to buy a car. Sure the trim is nicer, and there is a "Volvo" stamped on the trunklid... but that's not worth the extra $5000 in my eyes.
        • 7 Years Ago
        "sure the C30, S40 and V50 are entry level, but I really couldn't imagine a Volvo being around the $20k mark."

        I can when it doesn't come with stuff like Cruise control or leather seats standard.

        "That's like saying because a Lexus ES and a Toyota Camry share a platform, a Lexus should be $25k."

        The while the gap between a lexus ES350 and a Camry V6 LE isn't that large... there is definitely some stuff you can't get in the camry. The mazdaspeed3, on the other hand, has more power, nicer seats, all the standard options, and still costs less. Why on earth are you going out of your way to justify what is essentially a complete branding tax!?

        "I have an S40 and one of my close friends has a mazda3"

        Never mind, I know exactly why you would go out of your way to justify a complete branding tax...

        "and except for the way they drive"

        ... which is important to just about everybody and the FIRST thing Volvo should have done to distance itself ...

        "everything else is miles apart. I would never confuse a 3 for a c30 or s40."

        You're right... the mazda comes with more stuff and is much, much, much more cost effective.

        "I think the c30 is more people who are a.) already Volvo buyers, but younger or b.)people who are looking for a PREMIUM hatchback. Either way, paying 23-30k shouldn't be that big of a deal for those demographics"

        That's the problem... Volvo used to make at least reasonable cars... now anyone looking will just take the 3 because A) It handles the same, if not better in the case of the speed3 and you B) get more for what you pay for.
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