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

Our Opinion

We like
Funky styling, ride comfort, cruising ability, auto transmission
Room for improvement
Stability control a $2190 option, missing some standard equipment considering price

Volvo logo5 Oct 2007

VOLVO had us all on the verge of excitement when it started talking about its new, generation-jumping C30.

The below-S40 coupe would, the company claimed, take Volvo into ever more youthful territory and create as many enemies as friends with its challenging style (maybe more friends).

The reality is the company was right, if the reactions during the test drive of a metallic blue LE C30 were a true indication. While younger people thought it looked pretty dramatic, particularly viewed from the back, older observers even went to the extent of describing it as “fugly”.

Whatever, the C30 is a compact, sleek little coupe with a rear end that is entirely unmistakable and, to most people, attractively so. If there is an argument to be made, it would be that the C30 in actuality is an S40 coupe, not an entirely new car.

Living with the new Volvo for a week also demonstrated that some of the reservations voiced at the car’s Australian introduction in March this year were largely unfounded – particularly the suspension’s ability to live with less-than-perfect Australian back roads.

While a C30 LE with optional 17-inch wheels showed a distinct dislike for abrupt undulations on the launch drive, the test LE, with standard 16-inch wheels, proved entirely comfortable to live with during a week that embraced a lot of country driving.

The ride was as well balanced and absorbent as we have come to expect from this platform that is shared with Mazda3 and Ford Focus, and the electro-hydraulic steering was weighted nicely whether travelling the fast back roads or parking. And with its standard wheel-tyre combination there were no complaints about the C30’s ability to hold a chosen line.

The 125kW five-cylinder engine was up to the task too. Smoother and tending to be more vocal than a four, but with a bit more edge than a six, it was quite willing, with a few rpm on board, to take an excursion to the 6600rpm redline.

It did a commendable job of flinging the little coupe down the freeway, cruising at 110km/h with just 2300rpm on the tacho and returning a consistent 8.3L/100km all the while – which is better than the official 9.0L/100km factory figure, although it would undoubtedly increase with more suburban kilometres.

The five-speed auto transmission was smooth and reasonably intuitive, asking for less manual intervention – push forward to upshift, pull back to downshift – than many sequential gearboxes.

The packaging of the C30 is about what you’d expect: Not a lot of room in the back, but enough, plenty in the front and some compromises with luggage space that are not helped by the deep back window providing a view of just about everything on board, and the lack of a security blind – Volvo did say one was on the way at launch time.

No, you can’t load the C30 the same way you’d load an S40, but that is not what the new Volvo is all about anyway. As a personal coupe, not a shopping basket, it places the emphasis on efficient packaging rather than style.

The C30’s seats, which offer power adjustment and three-position memory to the driver but merely-manual controls for the passenger, leave passengers and pilot fresh after a long stint at the wheel and there’s a commendable simplicity to the layout of the controls that helps minimise driver distraction.

The cruise control is located on the left steering wheel spoke where it is easy to find and operate, while radio controls are on the right spoke, where it’s questionable whether they are easier to use than the dials on the centre console.

Volvo’s floating centre console maybe isn’t quite as outrageously adventurous as the company might think, but it still looks good, and the space available behind proves to be a handy complement to the small lidded bin between the front seats and the twin cup holders sited forward of it.

Getting into the back is a bit tight, except on the driver’s side where there’s a power switch next to the headrest that moves the seat forward. It should be on the passenger’s side. Once in place, passengers will find the rear seats comfortable, with adequate headroom and enough legroom providing the front passengers are considerate.

In a $40,000 car, it was a little disappointing to note that there is no auto headlight function, and that the wipers don’t have the rain sensors you find in the more upmarket T5.

What is more surprising is that the LE also misses out on the Dynamic Stability Traction Control (DSTC) that comes with the T5. The LE merely gets an electronic traction control system that is probably of little value given the fact it has a lot less torque to deal with than the turbo-charged, 162kW T5. Although some time spent on rain-soaked roads in the LE demonstrated that it has high levels of intrinsic grip and feels very secure.

Being a Volvo, the C30 comes with plenty of passive safety equipment including dual front and side airbags, as well as full-length curtain bags and collapsible floor pedals. The seats incorporate Volvo’s Whips whiplash protection system.

It is much more complex than that pioneered by Saab during the late 1990s in its 9-5, in that it is designed to absorb only one rear-end crash. The Saab system – and others – returns the headrests to their original position after a rear impact, where Volvo’s involves the whole seatback structure, spreading the load more evenly on the passenger.

Equipment levels on the LE, apart from the omission of full stability control, are appropriate for the price with a crisp-sounding eight-speaker audio (single CD only), air-conditioning, auto rearview mirror, trip computer, leather seat trim, headlight washing system and alloy wheels. The exterior mirrors also incorporate puddle lights and can be folded out of the way when parking.

Optional is Volvo’s new BLIS (Blind Spot Information System) that senses when a car is approaching out of the driver’s normal line of sight, dual climate control air-conditioning, bi-Xenon headlights, glass sunroof, DSTC stability control ($2190), rear park assist, rain-sensing wipers, metallic paint ($1350) and, if you’re worried the C30 isn’t responsive enough, a sport chassis at $1500 extra.

A funkier, more youthful Volvo?

Undoubtedly the new C30 moves the company ahead in styling terms, recalling past glories with the 1960s P1800, and there’s no question it is dynamically among the best cars it has ever produced. It is a nicely proportioned small coupe that looks more distinctive as you move towards the rear and leaves no questions concerning passive or active safety.

Funny though, the Volvo C30 looks less challenging, in a styling sense, the more you look at it. Surely that’s not what the designers intended.

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