Phoenix, AZ - When I drove the first Volvo C30 in 2008, I liked the car so much that my husband and I decided to buy one. My husband, who is the primary driver, has used the C30 to commute across paved and dirt roads on the Gila River Indian reservation, through Phoenix summer monsoons, extreme heat and crazy dust storms.
The turbocharged five-cylinder engine is as fuel efficient as it is powerful, with excellent performance at altitude. The six-speed manual gearbox shifts crisply, with a light clutch pedal which is easy to engage in stop-and-go traffic.
Although the C30 is too small to hold a bicycle, the hatchback can easily accommodate some moderate-sized camping gear, luggage, skis and snowboards. I sat in the second row seats for short trips around town and found them quite comfortable. Access and egress is surprisingly good for a three-door car. After four years, we have yet to have any mechanical or electrical problems, and a modest amount of routine maintenance.
This year, Volvo sweetens the C30 with two offerings: an R-Design package and Polestar performance tuning. The R-Design option dresses the exterior up with special alloy wheels, a unique grille, 3-1/2 inch dual exhaust tips, and a rear spoiler.
Inside R-Design cars get special blue-faced gauges, two-tone leather upholstery, and a leather and aluminum steering wheel. The package also includes some chassis tuning, stiffening up the suspension and modifying steering response for aggressive driving.
Volvo’s racing partner, Polestar, offers a re-flash for the onboard computer which adds 23 horsepower and 37 foot-pounds of torque to the five-cylinder engine. The tuning enhancement increases turbo boost and modifies the throttle map beginning at 3000 rpm. It also affects wide-open throttle, taking .3 seconds off the car’s zero-to-sixty time. The re-flash doesn’t affect emissions, nor does it decrease the C30’s 24 mile-per-gallon fuel economy.
Base price for the 2012 test car with R-Design is $27,450, excluding the $875 delivery charge. A platinum package adds active bi-xenon headlamps, heated front seats, rain-sensing wipers and headlamps washers, electronic climate control, power moonroof, daytime running lamps, an audio upgrade with Sirius satellite radio and a cargo cover ($4400). An interior air quality monitoring system costs $1700, which the Polestar performance enhancement adds $1295, bringing the price as tested to $35,720.
Test drive in Phoenix
This week, I drove the 2012 C30 around the Phoenix metropolitan area including some rush-hour traffic, and took the car on a road trip between Phoenix and Tucson, 150 miles to the south. Since I was already familiar with the car, my focus was on determining whether the R-Design and Polestar features significantly enhanced the car’s appearance and performance.
One of the things I like about the C30 is that the base model is reasonably priced at $24,950. R-Design and Polestar increase the sticker by $10,000, moving the C30 from the middle of our best value segment into the entry luxury category.
Unless the owner plans to spend time at the track, I can’t see a lot of cost benefit in the Polestar re-flash. Out of the box, the C30 accelerates from zero-to-sixty miles-per-hour in 6.2 seconds with the manual gearbox. That’s plenty of low-end power for anybody who isn’t planning to race the car.
The R-Design package is a different story. Not only does it enhance the car’s appearance, it also adds some performance features which owners can enjoy on public roads. The C30’s compact chassis and turbocharged engine are ideal for winding mountain thoroughfares. R-Design brings this to the next level, with large wheels for a fatter footprint, better steering response and enhanced aerodynamics.
The body in white looks sensational, which is a rare feat in the world of car design. While the stock C30 is no wallflower, the R-Design version really stands out in a crowd.
The platinum package adds some important safety features. Daytime running lamps make the car easier for other drivers to see in low light and on canyon roads, where sight-lines are limited.
Bi-xenon headlamps provide a longer beam than halogen for improved nighttime visibility. The headlamps swivel according to steering inputs to light dark corners in the road. Headlamps washers keep the lenses free of dirt, which can be a problem in the desert. Rain-sensing wipers save the driver from turning the wipers on and off in intermittent rain.
The moonroof brings additional ambient light into the car’s interior, enhancing the feeling of spaciousness.
Compact chassis is ideal for urban commuters
Wheelbase for the C30 is about 104 inches, giving the car excellent maneuverability on narrow urban streets. Fitting into on-street parking slots is a non-issue. The 38.1-foot turning circle makes it possible to perform U-turns on some wider suburban roads.
Because peak torque is available at very low engine speeds, the driver can easily out-accelerate most other cars, which comes in handy merging into traffic out of toll booths and on two-lane entrance ramps. On center response is excellent, for performing quick lane changes or the occasional emergency evasive maneuver. Four-wheel disc brakes stop the car on a dime.
Visibility to the front and sides of the car is quite good. I had no problems monitoring traffic in adjacent lanes on the highway. Thick rear pillars create some rather large blind spots in the back, which are most obvious when driving in reverse. This, combined with the car’s low ride height can make it difficult to back out of vertical parking slots. Unfortunately, Volvo doesn’t offer a rearview camera for the model.
The C30 has one of the best car interiors this writer has ever seen. Features such as a floating center stack with storage space behind it, attractive, supportive seats and a beautifully designed steering wheel elevate the C30 above competitive models.
Designers added a rear armrest for second-row passengers in the 2012 model. I enjoyed the dual-zone automatic climate controls on the road trip, enabling my husband and me to stay comfortable in some unseasonably hot weather.
Both the gauge cluster and center stack displays are easy to read in bright sunlight.
A large locking glovebox provides secure storage for the drive and front passenger. The doors have small map pockets. Cupholders in the center console are large enough to stash 20-ounce water bottles.
The cargo cover conceals items stored in the rear hatch. However, it also limits the amount of luggage which can fit, so I removed it for most of the test drive.
The Volvo C30 comes with front, side and side curtain airbags, active front head restraints, tire pressure monitoring and daytime running lamps. An information display in the gauge cluster warns the driver about mechanical problems.
Volvo builds the C30 at its assembly plant in Ghent, Belgium.
Likes: A versatile compact hatchback which meets the needs of some buyers with active lifestyles. R-Design makes the C30 exterior a true head-turner. Inline five-cylinder turbo offers outstanding performance and fuel economy.
Model: C30 R-Design
Base price: $27,450
As tested: $35,720
Horsepower: 250 Hp @ 5000 rpm
Torque: 273 lbs.-ft. @ 1500 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: Standard
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 21/29 mpg city/highway