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Car reviews - Volvo - C30 - D5 3-dr hatch

Our Opinion

We like
Performance, economy, coupe styling, manual and auto options, quality feel
Room for improvement
Diesel engine noise may offend, questionable value compared to petrol C30 T5 sibling, no six-speed auto like most diesel rivals

Volvo logo13 Feb 2008

VOLVO – the once staunchly conservative Swedish box maker that was seemingly only squarely interested in selling safety – might have just broken new ground with the first sub-$50,000 diesel-powered coupe in Australia.

There are three-door hatchbacks with diesel power – namely the Fiat Punto and the now-discontinued Audi A3 2.0 TDI – but neither has the true coupe-like silhouette (or indeed the four-seater interior) of the C30 D5.

Now, the smallest Volvo ever is a fine little car.

Based on the front-wheel drive C2 platform that underpins the Ford Focus, Mazda3 and Volvo S40/V50 range, it inherits dynamically sound capabilities simply by being touched by the genius of Ford’s now-retired chassis guru Richard Parry-Jones.

While this particular C30 is not the sharpest steering model, or the keenest handler (the nose does seem a little leaden for having a heavy five-cylinder turbo-diesel lumped between the front wheels), the Volvo is still a highly capable and entertaining vehicle to drive – especially if you use it with a bit of enthusiasm.

Motivating the driver is the D5 unit – which is not a quiet engine even in Volvo’s flagship S80 luxury sedan, let alone its base model range. In the C30, the occupants are definitely aware of the mechanical noise.

This is not a hushed diesel in the fashion of a BMW diesel, but the sound is not a clackety-clack bucket-of-bolts din that you may associate an old diesel engine either. Instead, what we have here is a rather guttural tenor, a sort of gruffness that seems to be the outcome of having a five-cylinder layout.

We think it sounds sporty and ‘alive’ in a way that involves you unashamedly with the workings of a car. Others might be bothered and even put-off by it, but we certainly forgot about the engine within a few minutes of first sampling it.

Regardless of the sound, the diesel donk can really pull the C30 around at a cracking pace once you get used to prodding the pedal in the five-speed Geartronic version sampled. There is 350Nm of torque at your disposal, and that fine chassis has no trouble coping.

The six-speed manual, which we did not sample, could be more fun, save money, fuel and carbon pollution, and adding another gear may quieten the engine on highway runs. It also gets another 50Nm of torque, so performance will be even better.

Our only real concern with the C30 D5 is the price. At $42,450, the 132kW D5 is lineball with the 169kW turbocharged petrol T5 but lacks that car’s myriad of standard features that total a not inconsiderable $14,350 when necessities like ESP stability control – as well as desirable items like leather upholstery, Xenon headlights and a premium sound system – are added.

That is a lot of money to spend to save 2.5L/100km of fuel – even if, compared to the D5, the T5 spews out 44g/km more CO2 and falls 30-80Nm short in torque.

Still, the same prospective diesel buyer will come across similar steep prices in the rival BMW 120d, Audi A3 and Mercedes B180 CDI.

The difference is that Volvo buyers are getting more than an ordinary two-box hatchback, but an historic diesel coupe no other rival can match.

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