Marc K. Stengel, Sat, 18 Aug 2007 08:00:00 PDT
There's a cartoon-like quality to the compact car scene lately. Minis aresaucy; Scions are quirky; Hondas are punky you get the idea. So imagine thisscene if you will: Into a crowd of Minis, Audi A3s, Volkswagen GTIs and soforth, a Volvo rolls up. What will the Toon-Car crowd say? That Volvosare...tweedy? Fusty? Yucky? You're probably not looking closely enough. Thisis the new Volvo C30, and it might as well be wearing an earring and alittle rosette tattoo "just above the coccyx," as it were. So what do youcall a car like that? "Sweet!" would seem to be the compliment du jour.
This unprecedented new C30 is the hatchback that has the potential todestroy every dull-spirited stereotype Volvo has had to endure for decades.It's a commonplace, isn't it, for every unenthusiastic commentary about anyVolvo model to end with the reprise: "But at least it's a really safe car."Well, here's a kicky, sporty, Volvo three-door coupe that may put an end tosuch grousing forever.
In its own weird, cartoony way, it looks like a crossbetween a cute little pug dog (from the side) and a surfboard (from above).Let Pixar figure out the computer rendering for all that. What matters isthat the C30 is Volvo's first real attempt to give the motoring public asmirky nod and a wink. And it's even "a really safe car."
In more ways than one, the 2008 Volvo C30 represents the wave of the future.Like the A3 and the Mini before it, the C30 is letting the world know that"small" is no longer a synonym, in automotive parlance at least, for"impoverished." Small can also be clever, witty and wise. Small isefficient. Small is "resource" friendly. Small is green. In other words,this car simply could not have appeared in North America at a moreauspicious time.
When Volvo debuted the C30 before the automotive media in San Diego in July,a couple of grizzled scribes could be heard prophesizing: "A three-door willnever make it in this country. Remember the Mercedes C230 hatchback? Itflopped. Remember the BMW ti? It flopped." Ah, but the convenient truth isthat times have changed. What might once have been considered penance is nowconsidered grace downsizing is on its way up.
But let's not get too carried away. True, the C30 is small. Easy-to-parksmall, in fact. And it only seats four; the two rear bucket seats mean thatthe only space left over is across rear passengers' laps. But this Volvo ishardly tiny, by any stretch of the imagination.
Its 104-inch wheelbase israther lanky, in fact to the great benefit of ride quality. Volvo designershave cleverly tucked the C30's wheels into the farthest extremes of thebodywork, giving the car an athletic, coiled-spring appearance in theprocess.
Inside, headroom is ample, and adult-length legs will extend comfortably upfront, and feel only slightly "squoze" at rear. Anyone who's experienced theVolvo S40 sedan or V50 wagon will recognize most of the instrumentation andcontrols; and Volvo's elegant "waterfall" center console remains home foraudio and climate electronics.
With all seats deployed, there are 13 cubicfeet for rear storage, and this grows to 20 cubic feet with the split rearseatbacks folded. Hardly a massive payload, indeed. But keep in mind there'sa naff Volvo-designed roof rack available that fits into camouflagedmounting ports and vests the C30 with even more street-punk attitude.
For North America, Volvo equips the C30 with a single engine choice, a2.5-liter, twin-cam inline-five boasting both turbocharging and variablevalve timing. At risk of opening Pandora's Box, it should be mentioned thatthis "T5" motor is but one of eight engines otherwise available worldwide inthe C30 three of which are diesels.
Sadly, we Yanks haven't shown ourselvesdiscerning or trustworthy enough to be trusted with such a luxuriant panoplyof fuel-efficient engine alternatives. So we have to settle for the"flagship" motor that makes 227 horsepower and 236 foot-pounds of torque.Moreover, one mark of the T5's sophisticated engineering is its broadthreshold for maximum torque: 1,500-5,000 rpm. This translates intoprogressive, smooth acceleration without the jerkiness that characterizesother, higher-stressed turbos.
A six-speed manual transmission is standard with the C30, and a five-speedauto, with Geartronic autoshifting, is optional. The car's a front-driver,of course; but it still gobbles up twisty mountain roads with enthusiasm.Suspension tuning is on the firm side, and road noise can be a bit loud. Buthandling is surprisingly neutral for a front-wheel-drive car, thanks to theelectronic vigilance of the C30's Dynamic Stability Traction Control (DTSC)system, which comes standard. Purists, of course, can sniff all they want atsuch electronic countermeasures; but the C30 is a commuter that feels racy,not a racer reduced to commuting.
For the U.S., there are basically two C30 models available: Version 1.0($23,445) and Version 2.0 ($26,445). The principal differences are the17-inch wheels and 160-watt audio system in v1.0; and the 18-inch wheels,adjustable Dynamic Chassis suspension system, sporty bodywork andSirius-compatible, 650-watt Dynaudio system for v2.0. But wait, there more:numerous stand-alone options like the automatic transmission, sunroof, DVDnavigation and leather seating are available.
Then, there are so-calledCustom Build options (like Xenon headlamps, fog lamps, parking assist and ablind-spot warning system) that trigger a $300 one-time surcharge to order.In other words, a Volvo C30 can inflate from quite affordable to omigodexpensive in the blink of a turn signal.
But the point is, it doesn't have to. Making the most of Volvo'ssurprisingly spunky C30 compact means getting in touch with your innerdownsizer. This is Volvo's new "statement" car; and the halo it's creatingfor itself is meant to be shared.