It isn't very often that we drive a new car that's already out of production, but that's exactly what has happened with this 2013 Volvo C30. After just five years on the North American market, the last C30 quietly rolled off the assembly line back in December. But before that happened, Volvo decided to send its compact hatchback out on a high note with a little added performance and exclusivity courtesy of this R-Design Polestar Limited Edition model.
The term "hot hatch" is admittedly tossed around a lot these days, but the combination of an R-Design styling package coupled with a good number of extra ponies under the hood should be more than enough to put the C30 in the mix with the likes of the Volkswagen GTI and its not-too-distant cousin, the Mazdaspeed3. The chief problem with the Polestar Limited Edition, though, is that it's priced against sportier all-wheel-drive compacts like the Golf R and Subaru WRX STI, so we decided to spend a week with the Polestar to see if its exclusivity and performance are enough to make up for its higher price tag.
Love it or hate it, the C30 definitely stands out from the crowd thanks in large part to that all-glass hatch inspired by the classic Volvo P1800, but the Polestar Limited Edition goes a step further by coloring the car in a Smurftastic shade dubbed Rebel Blue, while tossing on a gorgeous set of matte-black 17-inch wheels. The only other visual cue indicating that this is a limited edition model is a serialized plaque mounted in between the center vents (color matched to the exterior color) showing exactly which of the 250-unit production run your derrière is planted in. Our tester? No. 172. Everything else on the car is part of the $2,350 R-Design styling package, including its silver mirror caps, lower rear fascia with dual 3.5-inch pipes poking through, a liftgate spoiler and color-matched aero bits on the front fascia and rocker panels.
Love it or hate it, the C30 definitely stands out from the crowd.
Unlike most hot hatches that start life as budget-minded compacts, the C30 has an upscale interior even in base form. The R-Design package brings with it some much-needed performance-minded enhancement to the cabin, including a thick-rimmed steering wheel and leather-wrapped shift lever, both with aluminum inlays. Additional R-Design styling upgrades include the blue-accented instrument gauges, two-tone seats, sport pedals and metallic trim on the center stack and center console with a wave epicenter effect machined into the surface. Rather than sacrificing driving comfort with heavily bolstered sport buckets, Volvo has elected to stick with the stock seats, which is both good and bad depending on what you want out of this car.
Based on the now-defunct Volvo S40 sedan, the C30 has plenty of space for front passengers, and even the bucket-style seats in the back allow enough room for taller rear passengers. The benefit of only two back seats is that there's plenty of hip and elbow room. The raked rear end and throwback frameless glass hatch might look cool from the outside, but they create a smallish opening while limiting total cargo volume, a combination that pretty much negates the functional purpose of choosing a hatchback in the first place. With the rear seats up, the C30's shallow 12.9 cubic feet of room is almost half the rear cargo area of a Ford Focus ST, and even with the rear seats folded down, the 20.2 cubic feet is still less than the Ford with its rear seats in place.
The raked rear end and throwback frameless glass hatch negate the functional purpose of choosing a hatchback in the first place.
Those familiar with recent Volvo products will feel at home inside the C30. Volvo's signature waterfall center stack still has an unusual amount of buttons, and the optional navigation is an aging one that still uses a pop-up screen mounted atop the instrument panel. While aesthetically pleasing, our C30's center stack would prove to be its biggest flaw in terms of fit and finish – there was a gap measuring almost a half inch that, from the right angle, offered a great view of the shift lever's inner workings(!). As for the navigation system, it's controlled using either a wireless remote control or switchgear mounted to the back of the steering wheel consisting of a small toggle and two buttons. The blind operation of the wheel-mounted controls takes some time to get used to (mostly just figuring out the "Enter" and "Back" buttons), but it proved to be an easy system to figure out overall, and all navigation functions can be used at any point while driving.
The business end of the Polestar Limited Edition is the same 2.5-liter turbocharged inline five-cylinder engine used in the standard C30, but Polestar tuning has increased output to 250 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. To conjure up the extra 23 hp and 37 lb-ft, the turbo's boost pressure has been upped and the engine controller re-mapped for optimal ignition and fuel timing, as well as throttle response. The good news is that this added performance can be effected on whatever C30s are still on dealer lots for the reasonable premium of $1,295. Surprisingly, the added power does not come at the expense of fuel economy, with the base C30's EPA ratings of 21 miles per gallon in the city and 29 mpg on the highway carrying over to this sportier version. The best thing about this car is that when driven in a normal fashion at least some of the time, it can easily hit its fuel economy numbers. We averaged just over 24 mpg during a week mixed with ideal highway and city drives, as well as a few wide-open-throttle test runs.
This added performance can be effected on whatever C30s are still on dealer lots for $1,295.
Like a true old school hot hatch, the Polestar Limited Edition only comes with a manual gearbox, and while the six-speed transmission's gearing is perfect for spirited driving, a shorter throw would make for a big improvement in our enjoyment. Still, there is little to complain about when getting on the throttle. Power comes in early for quick take-offs with minimal torque steer, and there is still plenty of power in reserve for passing at higher speeds. Volvo doesn't list performance specs for the Polestar-tuned C30, but it definitely feels faster than a stock C30, which is listed with a 0-60 time of 6.2 seconds when equipped with the manual transmission. Acceleration is definitely the C30's performance highlight, but this Volvo suffers, to some degree, when it comes to just about everything else you typically expect from a sport compact. The brakes are probably the biggest disappointment; Volvo has stuck with the standard C30's stock brakes. Even the handling doesn't seem up to snuff as the package never quite feels planted or confident enough in tight cornering maneuvers.
Sure, the R-Design cars get a Sport Chassis that delivers stiffer springs and dampers as well as a quicker steering ratio, but this Polestar just doesn't feel as agile as it looks or needs to be. It's hard to say exactly what changes could be made to improve this, but opening the hood reveals one potential trouble spot: the auto industry's sorriest excuse for a strut tower brace. Yes, that thin piece of metal spanning the strut towers, which looks more like a hood prop rod pulled from an old 240, is Volvo's attempt at tightening up the chassis, but considering its flimsiness and narrow gauge, we're guessing it provides exactly zero torsional stiffness.
Opening the hood reveals one trouble spot: the auto industry's sorriest excuse for a strut tower brace.
Even in spite of its questionable handling abilities, the most substantial downside of the Polestar Limited Edition is its price. In base form, this limited-production piece starts at $32,445, but tack on the Platinum Package that brings with it premium sound, and you're staring at our $35,545 as-tested price. Some of that price is certainly due to the car's 250-unit exclusivity, but for comparison's sake, that's almost $6,000 more than a fully loaded Focus ST, almost identical to what you'll pay for a base WRX STI and just under the starting price of track-ready Mini Cooper John Cooper Works GP. The C30's overly ambitious pricing has always been one of the culprits blamed for its slow sales, and the Polestar treatment only exacerbates the issue.
Before the Polestar Limited Edition came along, the Volvo C30's claim to fame may have been its starring role in a certain teeny bopper vampire movie, but this new model finally gives it some decent performance momentum just in time for it to reach the end of its production. Judging by what we experienced with this model and other newer Polestar-fettled models still in production, we're definitely looking forward to what the company's new performance arm can bring to future models when they get in earlier on the development process. And for the moment, while there's more time needed before Polestar matures to the level of, say, Mercedes-Benz AMG, BMW M or Cadillac V, it already offers more excitement for far less money than we've seen from the Infiniti IPL series.
With the hot hatch segment seemingly growing anew, it could be argued that the C30 R-Design is coming and going too early, a sales situation exacerbated by the fact that few buyers think of Volvo when they think of hatchbacks (let alone high-performance ones). From its unique styling to its mouthful of a name, the C30 R-Design Polestar Limited Edition has the kind of eccentric attitude that Volvo fans will love and others might fail to understand. And that's before they look at its price.
But even so, there's just something about about this Polestar that catches you off-guard, in a good way. That's the way its unique character helps leave a smile on your face after every drive. Even with all of its faults, Volvo has definitely saved the best C30 for last.