Volvo C30 – small but very satisfying

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

We love small, practical cars that in addition to their practicality offer some measure of driving excitement including a healthy dose of horsepower and torque with smile-inducing handling traits and a modicum of desirable amenities create the perfect car for 
us.A newcomer that fits neatly into our driving lifestyle equation is the 2008 Volvo

C30, a cutoff hatchback version of the slightly bigger compact-sized four-door S40. While the S40 is a fine car on the fringe of entry-level luxury, the three-door hatchback C30 
is just quirky enough to make “our must have if we needed a car” list.

In addition to its rather unique design, the standout feature of the little Volvo is its turbocharged 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine that makes a rousing 227 horsepower and an even more impressive 236 pound-feet of torque.

Mated to either a standard-equipment six-speed manual or an optional five-speed automatic transmission, the engine pulls the 3,100-pound hatchback in superb fashion, measured from 0 to 60 with either transmission in the mid 6-second range.

It also stops fast, pulling down from 60 miles per hour in an accident-avoiding 117 feet.

Yes, we love small cars, and this small car can do so much including reach highway speeds very quickly, stop even more quickly, handle back road twists and turns at twice the speed limit, achieve sensible gas mileage and carry 20 cubic feet of cargo with the back seats folded.

For people who love to scoot, what more can you ask?

There are downsides, however. One of them became obvious to us early in our seven-day driving experience when we found ourselves staring straight into the tailpipes of a large sport utility vehicle while stopped for a red light. You definitely have to get used to flying under the radar. Also, the C30 does exhibit some torque steer under hard throttle as might be expected from a small front-driver with substantial torque available simply by slamming the accelerator. During most driving situations, however, torque steer is not a problem, invisible for the most part.

And watch your neighbor’s car in the parking lot. The C30’s doors are 
big and swing out wide. Be mindful.

This is the first two-door hatchback sold by Volvo in North America in more than 30 years, so it’s a bit of a novelty. But if you have been considering other so-called premium hatch coupes such as the Audi A3, the Volkswagen GTI or the Mini Cooper, put the Volvo on your shopping list not just for the aforementioned performance and handling 
attributes, but also for Volvo’s solid reputation for safety.

Standard equipment includes antilock brakes, stability control, traction control, front-seat side airbags, full-length side-curtain airbags, and whiplash protection. Volvo’s new Blind Spot Information System is available as a $695 option.

Like other small hatches, the C30 styling is a bit quirky. It carries the familiar Volvo front end, pretty much transplanted from the conventional S40, while the beltline rises sharply from front to back creating a wide-shouldered wedge shape. It takes some getting used to, but if you lean toward this type of car as we do you may find the look

intriguing from the get-go. At the rear, the glass tailgate surrounded by arching taillights is a unique touch to the overall design. And if you are old enough to remember the P1800 it has a touch of that nostalgic DNA mixed in as well.

Inside, The C30 features the ribbon-thin center stack that sweeps down into the center console. It’s the same unique design as found in several other Volvo models and includes the audio and climate controls. The configuration of the stack allows for storage behind it, a neat touch and a good place for a cell phone or sunglasses.

The controls are intuitive and we especially like the climate control that features the outline of a person with arrows showing the direction of the air flow. Not new for Volvo but nice that it found its way into the entry C30.

We found the front seats comfortable, although we think that opting for the $900 
power seats, to give a better seating position is a worthwhile add-on. As you might expect, rear-seat quarters are tight. But it’s possible to put two people in the second-row bucket seats when necessary for short trips. And the head room is good, even for a couple of six-footers.

The little Volvo comes in just two trim levels, Version 1.0 and Version 2.0. The good news is that the base 1.0 comes well equipped with a starting price of $23,445 including destination charge. The 2.0 begins at $26,445.

Remember, all models come with the standout five-cylinder engine. Adding an automatic transmission will cost $1,250. Standard equipment includes the aforementioned safety features, full power accessories, 17-inch wheels; tilt/telescoping steering wheel and a 160-watt audio system with CD player.

Version 2.0 adds 18-inch wheels, a sport body kit, upgraded 10-speaker 650-watt surround-sound audio system and aluminum dash inlays.

There’s a long list of options that can run the price toward 30 grand, but Volvo says the C30 comes with a special “Custom Build” ordering process in which individual options can be added as desired. There’s no bundling as in most cars, where if you want one feature you have to purchase it in a higher-priced package.

The only option on our Version 1.0 test car was the automatic transmission bringing the bottom line to $24,695. If it was our car we would add Sirius satellite radio for $295 and the 650-watt sound system for $800.

Other popular options include navigation ($2,120), leather seating ($1,200), power glass-sunroof ($1,200) and heated front seats ($450).

We like the fact that a buyer can choose individual items. One of the best features of the new Volvo is affordability, so don’t let the price get out of hand on features that might dazzle in the showroom, but will never be used on the street.

We recommend opting for the Version 1.0 trim level and then carefully adding features that are on your absolutely must have list. You will end up with a very satisfying hatchback that yields a rewarding driving experience as well as decent gas mileage rated at 20-mpg city and 28-highway.


Base price, $23,445; as driven, $24,695
Engine: 2.5-liter 5-cylinder
Horsepower: 227 @ 5,000 rpm
Torque: 235 foot-pounds @ 1,500 rpm
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
Drive: front wheel
Seating: 2/2
Wheelbase: 103.9 inches
Length: 167.4 inches
Curb weight: 3,120 pounds
Turning circle: 34.9 feet
Luggage capacity: 12.9 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 15.9 gallons (premium)
0-60: 6.6 seconds (Edmund's)
Also consider: Audi A3, Volkswagen GTI, Mini Cooper

The Good
• Powerful 5-cylinder engine
• Excellent handling and comfortable ride
• Rear seats will accommodate two adults

The Bad
• Torque steer can raise its ugly head

The Ugly
• Affordable base price can rise rapidly by adding too many options