There's a cartoon-like quality to the compact car scene lately. Minis are
saucy; Scions are quirky; Hondas are punky you get the idea. So imagine this
scene if you will: Into a crowd of Minis, Audi A3s, Volkswagen GTIs and so
forth, a Volvo rolls up. What will the Toon-Car crowd say? That Volvos
are...tweedy? Fusty? Yucky? You're probably not looking closely enough. This
is the new Volvo C30, and it might as well be wearing an earring and a
little rosette tattoo "just above the coccyx," as it were. So what do you
call a car like that? "Sweet!" would seem to be the compliment du jour.
This unprecedented new C30 is the hatchback that has the potential to
destroy every dull-spirited stereotype Volvo has had to endure for decades.
It's a commonplace, isn't it, for every unenthusiastic commentary about any
Volvo 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 to
such grousing forever.
In its own weird, cartoony way, it looks like a cross
between 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 is
that the C30 is Volvo's first real attempt to give the motoring public a
smirky 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 is
efficient. Small is "resource" friendly. Small is green. In other words,
this car simply could not have appeared in North America at a more
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 will
never make it in this country. Remember the Mercedes C230 hatchback? It
flopped. Remember the BMW ti? It flopped." Ah, but the convenient truth is
that times have changed. What might once have been considered penance is now
considered grace downsizing is on its way up.
But let's not get too carried away. True, the C30 is small. Easy-to-park
small, in fact. And it only seats four; the two rear bucket seats mean that
the only space left over is across rear passengers' laps. But this Volvo is
hardly tiny, by any stretch of the imagination.
Its 104-inch wheelbase is
rather lanky, in fact to the great benefit of ride quality. Volvo designers
have cleverly tucked the C30's wheels into the farthest extremes of the
bodywork, giving the car an athletic, coiled-spring appearance in the
Inside, headroom is ample, and adult-length legs will extend comfortably up
front, and feel only slightly "squoze" at rear. Anyone who's experienced the
Volvo S40 sedan or V50 wagon will recognize most of the instrumentation and
controls; and Volvo's elegant "waterfall" center console remains home for
audio and climate electronics.
With all seats deployed, there are 13 cubic
feet for rear storage, and this grows to 20 cubic feet with the split rear
seatbacks folded. Hardly a massive payload, indeed. But keep in mind there's
a naff Volvo-designed roof rack available that fits into camouflaged
mounting ports and vests the C30 with even more street-punk attitude.
For North America, Volvo equips the C30 with a single engine choice, a
2.5-liter, twin-cam inline-five boasting both turbocharging and variable
valve timing. At risk of opening Pandora's Box, it should be mentioned that
this "T5" motor is but one of eight engines otherwise available worldwide in
the C30 three of which are diesels.
Sadly, we Yanks haven't shown ourselves
discerning or trustworthy enough to be trusted with such a luxuriant panoply
of 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 broad
threshold for maximum torque: 1,500-5,000 rpm. This translates into
progressive, smooth acceleration without the jerkiness that characterizes
other, higher-stressed turbos.
A six-speed manual transmission is standard with the C30, and a five-speed
auto, 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. But
handling is surprisingly neutral for a front-wheel-drive car, thanks to the
electronic vigilance of the C30's Dynamic Stability Traction Control (DTSC)
system, which comes standard. Purists, of course, can sniff all they want at
such 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 the
17-inch wheels and 160-watt audio system in v1.0; and the 18-inch wheels,
adjustable Dynamic Chassis suspension system, sporty bodywork and
Sirius-compatible, 650-watt Dynaudio system for v2.0. But wait, there more:
numerous stand-alone options like the automatic transmission, sunroof, DVD
navigation and leather seating are available.
Then, there are so-called
Custom Build options (like Xenon headlamps, fog lamps, parking assist and a
blind-spot warning system) that trigger a $300 one-time surcharge to order.
In other words, a Volvo C30 can inflate from quite affordable to omigod
expensive in the blink of a turn signal.
But the point is, it doesn't have to. Making the most of Volvo's
surprisingly spunky C30 compact means getting in touch with your inner
downsizer. This is Volvo's new "statement" car; and the halo it's creating
for itself is meant to be shared.