Car reviews - Volvo - C30 - 3-dr hatch range
Visual appeal, safety, five-cylinder engines across the board
Room for improvement
Suspension inadequacies on poorly surfaced roads
23 Mar 2007
By CHRIS HARRIS
VOLVO has been keen for some time to put the finishing stamp on its model range with a car able to compete at the entry-level prestige point.
And Volvo executives reckon the model that will do that is the new C30.
Price wise it will eventually come in well under the existing S40, of which it is a derivative, to do battle with the likes of Audi A3, VW Golf, Mini and BMW 1 Series.
Getting a handle on what the C30 is all about (or at least what Volvo thinks it is all about) ends up being a little complicated, especially when it’s talked about as a competitor for the above, which - except the Audi which can be had in three-door form as well, and the Mini - are five-door hatchbacks.
The C30 is a bit like the Holden Monaro – it’s a coupe version of an existing car that leans in the direction of style, rather than practical substance. It is designed to appeal to those less concerned with pragmatics than with making a statement.
So, given the fact we already know pretty well what the car’s dynamic potentials are, it’s all up to how onlookers react.
Volvo, in its sales and marketing program, is going all-out to identify the neat-looking hatch as a polariser of opinions, one that will establish some sort of exclusivity, conveniently coinciding with the fact Australia will be lucky to see 600 annual allocations.
The initial burst of C30 activity sees just the LE and T5 models available, covering the early adopters already showing interest in the new model despite not having yet seen it in the flesh.
The less expensive S model, along with the D5 turbo-diesel, should arrive here around September this year – the former starting a tad below $35,000 and the latter priced the same as the T5.
The interesting thing about the C30 is that, despite no attempts having been made to disguise its indebtedness to the S40 it looks, from any angle except full-frontal, all of a piece rather than just a three-door version of an existing model.
And the rear view is quite spectacular, with its now identifiably Volvo shoulder line and a deep, all-glass hatch that recalls the P1800ES version of the 1960s/1970s coupe.
But there’s not a lot of hatchback space and, while it offers the same shoulder width as the S40, the C30 is pretty tight on back-seat legroom. Like the Monaro again, the new Volvo coupe offers two distinct rear seats although in this case both fold forward to help increase luggage space.
The early production launch cars lacked the roll-out cargo blinds Volvo will offer as standard, and a couple of the LE models used fabric seat trim just to show it’s available should customers choose to delete-option the standard leather. Not a bad-looking cloth either.
If the exterior of the C30 is appealing, the interior is a bit less exciting as it is a virtual clone of the S40, complete with its floating centre console and tidy, practical instrument layout.
Standard finish for the console panel is an attractive yet uninspiring gloss white which gives way to brushed aluminium if you’re more adventurous, or a free-wave graffiti pattern if you’re completely off your face. None of this helps give the C30 more than a tasteful, quality look inside – it’s certainly no Mini.
But the seats are comfortable, power adjusted on the driver’s side in both models, and there’s plenty of space up front.
The five-cylinder non-turbo has a nice feel to it: smoother than four-cylinder, yet lumpier than a six with a muted but appealing sound.
It responds well to initial accelerator input too, and the five-speed gearbox is sweet-shifting and entirely pleasant to use.
But when under way, the 2.4-litre engine reveals that it is actually desirous of a bit of a rev to get anywhere – no surprise when you check the specs and see the reasonable torque maximum of 230Nm doesn’t come in until 4400rpm, and that the 125kW isn’t on board before 6000rpm. The power band is a narrow area of opportunity covering just 1600rpm.
The C30’s lower 1331kg weight (than S40) helps a bit, and the slick-shifting gearbox contributes mightily to make this less of an impediment than it might otherwise have been.
The T5 of course is a different animal altogether, with plenty of gutsy power from just 1500rpm where the 320Nm torque maximum is developed, to the 5000rpm/162kW power peak.
The T5 copes well with the five-speed Geartronic sequential auto too, but really comes into its own in six-speed manual form where the power is dished out competently without too much sign of front-drive torque steer or wheel scrabbling.
There is a shortfall in the C30’s dynamics though, and this relates more to ride quality than handling dynamics.
While the C30 steers well in its various guises – LE and T5 use different suspension settings, then there are sport options available on top of those – there are suggestions right from the base, 16-inch wheel LE, of an intolerance for sharp-edged bumps and sudden road dips.
Step up to a T5 with its standard 17-inch wheels, lower-profile tyres and optional sports suspension, and this intolerance can become downright violent, to the point that significant crash-through was a consistent reality on the drive route through the northern NSW coastal hinterland.
The chosen roads certainly pinpointed an inadequacy in the C30, although it would have been interesting to compare rivals over the same terrain.
This was a disappointment in the light of the C30’s general ride quality in other circumstances and brought to mind the deficiencies experienced in S60 sporting variants.
We don’t recall such issues arising with the all-wheel drive T5 S40 – or with Ford’s front-drive XR5 for that matter (AWD may be down the track for the C30 but there’s nothing in the wind at the moment).
Put this aside (how about a T5 with just its regular suspension and maybe 16-inch wheels from the LE?) and Volvo seems to have secured itself the chance to make an impact in the segment quite different to that being experienced with the successful S40/V50 range.
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