2009 Volvo C30
$23,800 - $25,950

2009 Volvo C30 Expert Review:Autoblog

The following review is for a 2008 Model Year. There may be minor changes to current model you are looking at.

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.

click above image to view high-res gallery of the 2008 Volvo C30

Despite a number of great coupe offerings recently, two-door hatchbacks have sold rather badly in this country in the past few years. Volvo, however, thinks the best way it can compete in the coupe niche is by resurrecting the 1971 P1800ES. And if you ask us, they could be right.

The Volvo C30 is an odd car when seen among SUV-filled American traffic. Its relatively tall, stubby nose juts out from the headlight-capped fenders wrapped snugly around 18-inch alloys. The front fender line continues as the car's full length shoulder, and just beyond the doors, widens to become the rear fender and taillights. It's a dramatic look that lets the C30 trick those on the outside into seeing a much smaller vehicle than it actually is.

In back, you might first think the hatch opening would be huge, but only the rear glass opens, reminding us of another favorite two-door hatchback: the BMW Z Coupe. But unlike the Bimmer, the Volvo has some usable space back there, though it's not that easy to access through the small opening. There are also two more seats than in the Z, and more than adequate head and leg room for all passengers. We don't recommend the C30 for cross-country trips with all the kids, but singles, young couples and maybe a small, light-traveling family will find it big enough for daily use and possibly even weekend treks.

Continue reading about the C30 after the jump.

Live Photos Copyright ©2007 Chris Tutor / Weblogs, Inc.

Interior appointments are high quality, with a soft, almost rubbery dash cover, metallic accents on the console and interior door handles and a seemingly durable seat upholstery. The C30's entertainment and environmental controls are housed in an inch-thin plastic and metal ribbon that flows from the dash to the gear selector. The open space behind has a small cup for loose change or mobile phone and adds to the car's airy feeling inside. It's a direct port from the S40, but no complaints here.

Unfortunately we didn't get as much time with the C30 as we wanted, but the little bit of country-road driving we did was enjoyable. The suspension is tight enough to take curves well over suggested speed limits, but rough spots are dampened pretty well. The car's turbocharged 5-cylinder is sneaky. At low speeds and among stop and go traffic it does its job well without bringing attention to itself. Pressing the gas, however, wakes up all 227 horses and acceleration is granted post haste. Turbo lag is nowhere to be seen, and, in fact, we had forgotten it was even turbocharged until after the test drive.

The two negatives most apparent about the car are the multitude of tiny buttons for the radio and an annoying metal strip on the underside of the otherwise awesome steering wheel. Grabbing a piece of aluminum that's been sitting in the Georgia sun for a couple of hours isn't a pleasant thing. One of those cheap strap-on wheel covers would fix it, but would be an almost unforgivable offense in an interior as nice as this.

The Ice-White C30 Version 2.0 we drove didn't have a Monroney attached, so we can't say exactly what options it had or what it would cost as tested. But running through the build-your-own feature at Volvo's Web site, and guessing at options we think it might have had, our car probably would sticker at about $28,170. That's with the Version 2.0 package, an automatic transmission and satellite radio. Volvo brags that the C30 is so customizable that it will be hard to find two alike thanks to its Custom Build program. A $300 fee opens up a multitude of options to make it your very own C30.

We like this car, and with the Version 1.0's $22,700 base price think it will give the VW Rabbit a good race, and might even sway some sedan buyers.

Volvo provided the vehicle and SEAMO the location for testing. Autoblog does not accept travel or lodging from automakers when attending media events.

Live Photos Copyright ©2007 Chris Tutor / Weblogs, Inc.

Stylish and fun to drive.


The Volvo C30 is a two-door hatchback that shares most of its mechanicals with Volvo's compact S40 sedan and V50 wagon. While similar to these cars, the C30 has considerably less standard equipment, allowing Volvo to make it its lowest priced car. 

That value pricing doesn't make the C30 a typical economy car, though. Instead it's more similar to the Audi A3 and Volkswagen GTI class of sporty hatchbacks, a fun-to-drive car aimed at younger buyers. 

And fun to drive it is: The C30 is Volvo's best handling car. It has good steering feel, stays flat in corners, and is nimble enough to slice through traffic. The 227-hp turbocharged five-cylinder engine provides plenty of punch to keep the fun coming. Ride quality is generally good, though it can become a little hard with the available 18-inch wheels. 

Inside, the C30 offers a pleasant, fairly roomy cabin for four. The standard cloth upholstery is a unique fabric that resembles wetsuit material. Room up front is plentiful, and the controls are easy to spot and use. The two-door body style makes getting into the backseat a bit of a hassle, but the rear seat is comfortable for two passengers, provided they're not NBA players. Those rear seats fold down to create a large rear hatch area with lots of carrying capacity. 

As Volvo's lowest priced car, the C30 is a bit raw. The five-cylinder engine is powerful, but makes coarse sounds. The cabin isn't as well insulated from exterior sounds as in other Volvos. Road noise is especially noticeable on rough pavement, a problem exacerbated by the open hatchback body style. 

Changes for 2009 are mostly aesthetic. The uniquely trimmed R-Design model replaces Version 2.0. New options include an improved and more comprehensive navigation system. 

Overall, the Volvo C30 is good looking, fun to drive, and offers the easily accessible cargo utility of a hatchback. Volvo's value pricing makes it affordable, but it also means that the standard equipment list is light (cruise control isn't standard). Volvo offers numerous Custom Build Options, so buyers can personalize their C30s, much like the Mini Cooper. With a few well-chosen options, the C30 can be a fine choice. 


The 2009 Volvo C30 is offered in two trim levels, designated T5 and T5 R-Design. Both have front-wheel drive and a 227-hp turbocharged five-cylinder engine. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, and a five-speed automatic is an option ($1,250). 

The C30 T5 ($23,800) comes standard with cloth upholstery; air conditioning; keyless entry; leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob; tilt/telescoping steering wheel with audio controls; height-adjustable manual driver's seat; outside temperature display; power windows, locks and mirrors; 50/50 split-folding rear seat; 160-watt AM/FM/CD stereo with six speakers; and 205/50R17 all-season tires on alloy wheels. The new Preferred Package ($1,595) adds premium Dynaudio stereo with Dolby Pro Logic II surround sound, a power-adjustable driver's seat, Keyless Drive, a trip computer, and fog lights. The Climate Package ($675) comprises heated front seats, headlight washers and rain-sensing wipers. Other options include a sunroof ($1,200), leather seating surfaces ($1,200), Sirius satellite radio ($395), and a Bluetooth interface ($295). 

The C30 T5 R-Design ($25,950) adds cruise control, two-tone Leather/Flextech upholstery, aluminum interior trim, and blue-faced instruments. Outside, R-Design is distinguished by additional bright trim and body-color (rather than black) wheel flares and sill extensions. A sport suspension is complemented by 215/45R18 tires, although buyers can order the base model's smoother-riding 17-inch wheels and tires if that's what they prefer. Full leather is available ($200), and options expand to include HDD navigation ($2,205). 

More options are available for both models, but to order most items we haven't already listed the customer has to pay a one-time Custom Build Charge ($300), plus the cost of the options, of course. But that one $300 payment opens the door to more than 30 additional items, and that's not counting more than a dozen custom wheel choices and an equal number of special colors. Some highlights: HDD navigation ($2,205), sport suspension ($275), cruise control ($185), and fog lights ($295) for the base T5; trip computer ($100); bi-xenon headlights ($700); heated front seats ($450); power-retractable side mirrors with puddle lamps ($250); alarm ($200); automatic climate control ($250); Keyless Drive ($450); power driver's seat ($450); power driver and passenger seat ($900); the Dynaudio stereo ($800); interior air filter ($200); Homelink universal garage door opener ($225); and auto-dimming rear-view mirror ($150). 

Safety features include the mandated dual front airbags plus side-curtain airbags for head protection, and side-impact airbags for torso protection. Active safety features consist of anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control (ESC), Electronic Brake-Force Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist. Rear obstacle detection ($400) and Volvo's Blind Spot Information System (BLIS, $695) are both Custom-Build options. 


The Volvo C30 is based on the same platform as the S40 and V50. All share the same 103.9-inch wheelbase, but the C30 is 8.8 inches shorter than the S40 (and 10.6 inches shorter than the V50), all behind the rear wheels. Up front, the C30 is similar to its siblings, with the characteristic Volvo upright grille and sharply v-shaped hood. 

Volvo designed the C30 with two doors and the design is striking, particularly from the side. The roofline starts out high and slopes gradually down, pinching the rear windows. Those windows are drawn in, leaving room for another Volvo characteristic, pronounced shoulders. Sporty characteristics include short front and rear overhangs, an integrated body kit, and big wheels on wide tires. The ground-effects-type body kit outlines the bottom of the base T5 in black from front to rear and includes wheel flares at all four corners. On R-Design models the entire kit is body-color, for a more subtle look that we like much better. 

The story isn't the C30's front or sides, though. It's at the rear. Volvo is putting more emphasis on the rear aspect of the C30, choosing to show that angle in promotional materials. The most prominent feature is the dark-tinted rear glass, an attractive frameless trapezoidal shape that recalls the rear of the 1971-73 Volvo P1800 ES wagon. The glass dips down low and is flanked by unique taillights that rise up to the roof and jut out at the bottom to match the shape of the car's shoulders. For 2009, the Volvo name is now spelled out across the bottom of the glass in bold, bright letters. The look is different from anything out there and is strong enough to give the car a distinct character. 

All C30s have alloy wheels, with 17-inch wheels standard on T5 models and 18-inch wheels standard for the R-Design model. Sixteen-inch wheels and tires are available as well, for drivers who value ride quality. The look is more attractive and more menacing with the 18s. Only three exterior colors are offered as standard choices, but 13 more are available for additional cost. 

Volvo views its main competitors as the Audi A3, Mini Cooper S, and Volkswagen GTI. The C30 has a longer wheelbase than all three. Like the A3 and GTI, it's almost two feet longer than the Mini. From the rear, it has more character than any of those competitors, including the Mini. From the front, it would be easy to mistake the C30 for its S40 and V50 brothers. 


Volvo aims at sportiness inside the C30, along with high-tech, Scandinavian style. Volvo's trademark floating center stack is the central design element. The brushed aluminum center stack's design is simple, with four round knobs for the main audio and climate controls. Along the center is another series of buttons for more audio and climate functions, including a telephone-like set of buttons for the audio presets. The R-Design model features additional aluminum trim, and handsome blue-faced gauges with white markings and red pointers. 

The standard cloth upholstery is also unique. Volvo calls it Kalix T-Tech. It has the look of wetsuit material. Kalix has a higher quality appearance than most cloth, fitting somewhere between regular cloth and leather. The R-Design upgrades to a striking combination of black Flextech fabric with crème leather seating surfaces. (Full leather upholstery is available in both models.) Overall materials quality is typical Volvo, meaning excellent. The dash panel is made of a quality soft-touch material, and all the panels fit together with close, uniform gaps. 

The C30 is comfortable, but not as comfortable as other Volvos, which are among the most cosseting cars available. The driver's seat has enough manual adjustments to tailor a comfortable driving position and enough side bolstering to keep backsides planted in corners. The front seats have plenty of head room and good leg room, though very tall drivers might wish for more seat travel. The tilt/telescoping steering wheel helps the driver adjust for a comfortable and proper driving position. The steering wheel seemed too big to us, though. Many manufacturers opt to go with a smaller diameter steering wheel for sporty cars, and the C30 would benefit from one, too. 

Visibility is generally good, though Volvo's typically thick front pillars can restrict vision to the corners at intersections. 

The audio system was given special attention as Volvo designed the C30 for young, active city dwellers. The standard radio is a capable 160-watt AM/FM/CD stereo with six speakers. The upgrade is a 650-watt unit with 10 Dynaudio speakers and Sirius satellite radio with a six-month subscription. A USB port for iPod or flash drive connectivity is available as an accessory. It allows customers to control their iPods through the radio. The high-end stereo can really crank, and the sound is clear even at high volume. 

The optional HDD-based navigation system has been upgraded for 2009 with an improved driver interface and scrolling feature, extended point-of-interest menu, and birdview map capability with detailed intersection and building footprints. Volvo has also added Map Care, a feature that sends two map updates without extra charge to the customer. Real Time Traffic (with no monthly charge) was added during the 2008 model year. 

Interior storage consists two cupholders located ahead of a console bin that is just big enough to hold CD cases. Additional storage can be found behind the center stack in a rubberized tray. Unfortunately, it's hard to access. Map pockets are also located in the doors. 

Though the C30's two-door body style doesn't encourage family use, the rear is fairly easy to access and offers decent room. The front seats tilt and slide forward to provide an open path to the rear seat, though it still requires passengers to twist and duck. Once inside, they sit back and into the seats. Leg room is good unless the front seats are far back and toe room under the front seats is plentiful. Head room is sufficient for six footers, but tall riders might need to slouch. 

The C30's hatchback body style gives it a fair bit of utility. The rear seats fold to create a flat load floor with 20.2 cubic feet of easy-to-access cargo room. With the seats up, there is still 12.9 cubic feet, so you can pick up your groceries while driving with friends. 

Driving Impression

The C30 isn't your typical Volvo. It's the smallest Volvo and the most athletic. Volvo has succeeded in its mission to build a fun-to-drive, sporty car. 

The turbocharged five-cylinder engine provides 227 horsepower, and 236 pound-feet of torque all the way from 1500 to 5000 rpm. That means the C30 has good power both off the line and in highway passing maneuvers. The engine is responsive, with a minimum of turbo lag. Torque steer, felt through the steering wheel as a slight pull to one side under hard acceleration, is well checked, which is impressive for a front-wheel drive car with this much power. 

With the standard six-speed manual transmission, the C30 is capable of sprinting from 0-60 mph in just 6.2 seconds. That's quite quick: a full second quicker, in fact, than the 2009 Volkswagen GTI. The manual shifter's throws are a little long and rubbery. It doesn't feel as sporty as some customers might like, but it is easy to shift. 

With the optional automatic transmission, 0-60 mph comes in 6.6 seconds, which is still quite quick. The automatic transmission kicks down quickly when extra power is needed. It has a manual shiftgate for more driver control, but the C30 lacks the steering wheel-mounted paddles found in some of its competitors. 

The turbocharged five-cylinder engine offers a nice balance of power and fuel economy. Under the latest (and tougher) EPA guidelines, the engine is rated 19 mpg City and 28 Highway with either the manual or automatic transmission. We expect most drivers will average 22 to 24 mpg depending on driving style. 

On the road the C30 handles well, with flat cornering and fine balance in quick changes of direction. The T5, with its standard 17-inch tires, is a bit less sharp than the R-Design model with its 18s. Steering in both models is direct, but it could stand to be a little quicker for a car with C30's sporty aspirations. Slow steering and big steering wheels are just part of the Volvo driving experience. The R-Design model's sport suspension and larger wheels and tires provide a bit more road feel through the steering wheel. 

Both models have a firm ride, but the base T5 is smoother. While neither model feels harsh, the R-Design is more prone to pounding over sharp bumps. The T5 is close to the surprisingly refined VW GTI for ride quality, but the R-Design has a rougher ride. The C30 looks better with the R-Design's body-color aero kit and 18-inch wheels, but you'll want to try it before you buy, especially if you live in an area with bad roads. 

The brakes have good pedal feel and fine stopping power. Brake Assist and Electronic Brake-force Distribution assist the driver in emergency stopping situations. While the C30 is generally light on content, it's still a Volvo, which means it's safe. It has all the safety equipment, including front side and curtain side airbags, traction control, electronic stability control, and Volvo's WHIPS active head restraints that are designed to reduce the risk of whiplash. 


Volvo set out to build a fun, sporty car aimed at active young buyers, and has accomplished its task. The engine is powerful, handling is responsive, and ride is reasonably comfortable. The hatchback body style offers useful cargo room, and inside there is plenty of room for four. If you're looking for a quality compact that makes a personal statement, the Volvo C30 is worth a look. 

NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Kirk Bell filed this report after test driving the C30 around San Diego. 

Model Lineup

Volvo C30 T5 ($23,800); T-5 R-Design ($25,950). 

Assembled In

Ghent, Belgium. 

Options As Tested

Brilliant Blue metallic paint ($525). 

Model Tested

Volvo C30 T5 ($23,800). 

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