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Car reviews - Volvo - C30 - 3-dr hatch range

Our Opinion

We like
Familiar C30 strengths retained – strength, quality, quirkiness, comfort, refinement, safety Sports Chassis’ improved dynamics, extra standard safety, more personalisation options, no price rises
Room for improvement
Some garish optional trim, no four-cylinder petrol engines, no auto on DRIVe, dated five-speed auto option except on promising 2.0D with dual-clutch Powershift, T5 outclassed by Golf GTI despite improvements

5 May 2010

SINCE 2007, Volvo’s smallest has loomed largest amongst the Swedish car-maker’s offerings.

Reeking of individuality, solidity, quality, and Scandinavian design, the C30 scores over its siblings for driving pleasure, youthful exuberance and the fact that – along with the XC60 – it really is a credible alternative to the default Germans in its class.

The striking Volvo is big on friendly character too – and that’s an oft-overlooked component in many a premium car. Plus, even without a five-door version, this four-seater hatch still pulls off the spacious practicality bit, and is entirely easy to live with.

Now, three years on, there has been a C30 makeover, yet it scarcely needed one since the original looked so right. Frankly, the new-found fussiness added to the nose and rear bumper detracts a little from the old car’s purity, but such detailing is fashionable and well executed in this case anyway.

The interior has also come in for a freshen up, but – other than a lot more personalisation options now available including a worryingly grubby-looking ‘Hagström guitar’ inspired hue for the ‘floating’ centre console – there is nothing too different to coax owners out of their old C30s in there.

However, there’s been plenty going on in the engine bay to help address the one massive issue we had with the previous version – high fuel consumption.

The thrummy old D5 turbo-diesel is dead (and for that we shed no tears), and in its place comes two four-cylinder engine options of excellent repute.

Now we say ‘repute’ because Volvo couldn’t get either of them to the launch venue on time, but they’re both tried and true Ford/Peugeot/Citroen units that have scored highly in models such as the Fiesta Econetic and Focus TDCi.

The former donates a variation of its 1.6-litre high-efficiency engine, and in the heavier C30 DRIVe it returns a sensational 3.8L/100km and 99 grams of carbon dioxide emissions. We can’t wait to sample that one.

Meanwhile, the latter’s 2.0D 2.0-litre version – mated to Ford’s excellent Powershift dual-clutch gearbox – promises to elevate the Volvo to new heights of frugal driving pleasure (for a C30). We wait with baited breath.

The only model available at the C30 release was the T5 R-Design with standard six-speed manual gearbox, the showy flagship that is expected to command at least half of all sales.

This has no economy pretensions since the rather thirsty 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbo-petrol engine continues under the bonnet (and fans of the excellent Focus XR5 Turbo will instantly recognise the quite distinctive and guttural exhaust beat).

But as all the C30 T5s were fitted with the $800 optional Sports Chassis pack with tweaked steering and suspension for sharper handling and better body control, we at least had good reason to take the cars out for a long drive.

Barrelling along quite irregular Victorian rural roads, the T5 R-Design Sports Chassis pack makes for an interesting hot hatch alternative, thanks to this punchy five-pot engine’s linear power delivery from quite low revs.

It is deceptively quick too, eclipsing the Golf GTI’s 6.9-second 0-100km/h time by 0.2 seconds while barely raising a sweat, and will happily whoosh along quietly at high speed without really making the driver aware of just how fast the car is travelling.

But the GTI is in another league as far as cornering, grip and poise is concerned, despite the appreciably more responsive steering rack and firmer yet still pliable ride quality.

In comparison the T5 feels less agile, with a nose-heavy attitude and a tendency to understeer at speed. Still, armed with strong brakes and a slick manual gearbox, the T5 makes for a terrific grand tourer with plenty of oomph and lots of refinement.

We came away from the fastest C30 as warm to it as we did three years ago, and believe that the small but important updates not only keep premium small-car buyers interested, they also maintain and even enhance the essence of our favourite Volvo.

It’s just too bad we couldn’t drive the diesels – particularly the Toyota Prius-worrying C30 DRIVe. We also have high hopes for the 2.0D with the Sports Chassis as an intriguing alternative to something like the upcoming Golf GTD diesel, so stay tuned.

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