The C30 2.0D disappoints, but 1.6D is very competitive. Nice, but flawed

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The Volvo C30 is like no other current Volvo. It’s a premium three-door hatch that avoids traditional Volvo virtues such as space and practicality, replacing them with the more subjective draws of style and quality feel.

This is Volvo’s first three-door hatchback since the 480 of 1986 and, as far as Volvo’s concerned, it’s a sports coupé – but it’s not really. An Audi TT or Nissan 370Z is a sports coupé; the C30 is a trendy, fashionable premium hatch – think BMW 1 Series, Audi A3 or Mini.

The C30 oozes concept car cool

The C30 was first shown as a concept at the Detroit motor show in 2005, that project in turn derived from Volvo’s 2001 SCC (Safety Concept Car). Visually, it has made it through to production wonderfully and unusually intact.

The concept’s four individual seats, small glass tailgate and gently tapering top half, with broad lower shoulders have all been retained on the production car. Volvo’s designers drew heavily on the 1800ES shooting brake from 1971, but despite echoing its heritage, the C30 is not a retro car in any sense of the word.

None of these features helps practicality, usually a key attribute for a C-segment hatch, but Volvo is aiming the C30 squarely at singles or couples without kids and with little need for the additional flexibility of a boot and five seats.

That’s not a traditional market for Volvo, but extending the appeal of its models – and therefore its customer base – is key for the marque’s expansion.

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Volvo C30 front wing

The Volvo C30 had been previewed in concept car form five years before the production model launched. The SCC concept was a statement of intent that Volvo was trying to widen its appeal, and if anything the production version was even more radical – while the SCC made concessions to practicality with a pair of rear doors, the production C30 is offered as a three-door only.

The one-piece glass tailgate appeared as though it was lifted straight from the design plans from the 1971 1800ES shooting brake, and the huge teardrop-shaped rear lights remain some of the boldest fitted to any car. Volvo’s claim that the C30 is a coupé has the most validity when the car is viewed in profile, where a pronounced shoulder line gives it a sleek, squat appearance.

The C30 was inspired by the 1800ES. Volvo says that model is an icon

R-Design models carry bespoke bumpers, side skirts, wheelarch mouldings and tailpipes, and look great, but even without this sporty addenda, the C30’s looks put it in a different league from the likes of the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf. Only the Vauxhall Astra GTC and Renault Mégane Coupé come close.

If the C30’s exterior design is the stuff of concepts, its mechanicals are more mundane. Under the skin, the C30 is effectively a reclothed S40 saloon with 22cm removed from its length.

Despite looking vaguely similar to the S40 at the front, all of the C30’s metalwork is unique. It has the same 2640mm wheelbase as the S40 – the two cars plus the V50 estate roll from a production line in Ghent and share their platform with the Mk2 Ford Focus.


Volvo C30 dashboard

The cabin of the Volvo C30 has been designed in a way that puts front-seat occupants far higher up the food chain than those in the back. Being a rear passenger is a fairly thankless task. It isn’t that the rear cabin is small – headroom is tight for the tall, but because there are only two seats, shoulder room is generous, and adults will find enough legroom. Getting in and out is awkward, however.

The front seats tip and slide, but are hard to return to their original position, while the front-seatbelts slide on runners across the door opening, making a trip hazard.

The radical styling has compromised practicality

The boot is poorly sized. The sill is high, the floor shallow and the opening small. Volvo claims boot space is 364 litres with the rear seats up, and that hollows at the sides make it wide enough to swallow a set of golf clubs.

That’s true, but you can’t get a set into the boot in the first place without dropping one of the rear seats. An average pushchair is a squeeze.

Most frustrating is the loadbay cover, which needs to be opened once the tailgate is lifted – it’s a two-part manoeuvre that is frustratingly tricky when weighed down by shopping bags.

Still, it’s better than early models, which had a flexible vinyl cover secured by two sprung bars, a loose flap and some elastic loops.

Cabin storage elsewhere is inadequate, too. The door pockets are measly, the glovebox is big enough solely for the handbook, and there are just a couple of cubbies in the centre console.

Still, fit and finish are excellent. There are soft-feel finishes to most surfaces and the switchgear feels of genuinely good quality.


Volvo C30 front quarter

The C30’s powertrain line-up includes a pair of petrol engines and four diesel variants. The range kicks off with the 1.6-litre DRIVe eco-diesel. It shares the same four-pot diesel with the D2, the next model in the range, but thanks to a slough of fuel-saving equipment, including start-stop, CO2 emissions are down to 99g/km and Volvo claims 74.3mpg on the combined cycle.

That’s not at the expense of performance, with the DRIVe model recording an 11.3sec 0-62mph time and a 121mph top speed. Those performance figures are identical to the non-DRIVe-equipped version of the same engine, but emissions of 114g/km and an official figure of 65.7mpg on the combined cycle make it slightly costlier to run – although, predictably, slightly cheaper to buy.

DRIVe models are fractionally cheaper to run than non-eco equivalents, but are more expensive to buy

The D3 model is powered by a 2.0-litre, five-cylinder unit that develops 148bhp and 258lb ft of torque, available between 1500 and 2750rpm. That makes a better performer, with a 9.4sec 0-62mph time and a 130mph maximum, but there is a fuel and CO2 penalty to pay – a official combined figure of 55.4mpg and emissions of 134g/km will be too much of a price for many.

Petrol choices are limited to a 145bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, which matches the D3’s performance and a 230bhp 2.5-litre five-pot shared with the Mk2 Focus ST.

While the latter’s performance doesn’t match that of the hard-charging Ford, it offers a relaxed and refined drive with a turn of speed. Volvo quotes a 6.7sec 0-62mph time and a 149mph top speed.


Volvo C30 rear quarter

Less impressive is the chassis. It might be Ford Focus-based, but the C30 feels considerably less agile. The steering is far less responsive than a Focus’s, particularly just off straight-ahead, so although it is a stable motorway cruiser, the Volvo feels less keen to turn in than most of its rivals.

Still, it’s linear and accurate once you’ve applied some lock, and the weighting is hard to criticise.

Given the C30 shares a platform with the old Focus, it is a surprisingly dull steer

On a demanding road with changing cambers and bumps, the body is kicked around and it takes a while to settle. Even on smooth roads the C30 is a curiously unengaging drive. But it does grip reasonably and if you ignore all the signals and take it by the scruff of the neck, it resists understeer convincingly and displays a level of agility you wouldn’t credit it with.

It can be punted down the road at a decent pace; it’s just a shame that doing so is not more enjoyable.

A sports chassis is optionally available, and standard on R-Design models, which incorporates a revised steering ratio for responses 10 percent quicker than standard, 30 percent stiffer springs and firmer dampers.

The result isn’t obvious unless compared side by side against a standard car, but most will tick the R-Design box for the sporty appearance.

The C30 is at its best at a cruise. Around town, the ride is relatively supple, but with an underlying solidity. It’s the same on the motorway, where wind noise is limited and the tremendously leggy gearing in the diesels means engine noise is virtually inaudible.


Volvo C30 2007-2012

The Volvo C30 range substantially undercuts its nearest rivals, the Vauxhall Astra GTC and Renault Mégane Coupé, with a range starting at around £15,000.

For that you’ll get a fairly pedestrian 2.0-litre petrol engine, so you’ll need to up the budget by another £3000 to unlock the most impressive performer in the range – the 1.6-litre diesel.

The C30 is well equipped

In it’s DRIVe guise, it emits 99g/km, making it road tax free, but even in the slightly cheaper D2 model, emissions are only 114g/km. For those who drive in London, it’s worth spending a little extra for the DRIVe model – it’ll pay for itself in C-Charge savings in a few months.

All of the diesel engines can return more than 55mpg, Volvo claims, with the DRIVe’s start-stop system helping to reduce the official figure to 74.3mpg, although without it, consumption is still 65.7mpg.

All C30s come with alloy wheels, powered door mirrors, climate control with pollen filter and an auxiliary input for an MP3 player. Most models receive cruise control and steering wheel-mounted audio controls.

Fortunately, Volvo doesn’t discriminate on safety equipment – the C30 scored a five-star rating in Euro NCAP crash tests – a full array of airbags, a whiplash prevention system and a passenger airbag deactivation switch are all standard across the range.


3.5 star Volvo C30

The Volvo C30 is a quirky alternative in the C-segment. The 1.6-litre diesels are frugal and refined, but the car lacks the dynamic fizz so common in this class.

The C30 is an easy car to like. It has made the jump from concept to production remarkably intact and, for the most part, feels the niche premium product it’s supposed to be. It’s an enjoyable car to be seen in; a good car to cruise in.

The C30 has done much to raise the profile of Volvo

Volvo has got so much right that it’s all the more of a pity that it isn’t a touch more practical and user-friendly, but that would remove part of the car’s appeal.

Its diesel engines – particularly the 1.6-litres – are very good, and offer impressively low running costs. Compared to the coupé-like Astra GTC and Mégane Coupé, the C30 is an affordable way into a stylish C-segment hatchback, but against cars such as the Ford Focus it can appear pricey.

It’s reasonably well priced, very handsome, safe, comfortable and economical, so it’s a real shame the C30 isn’t more fun to drive.

Volvo C30 2007-2012 First drives