Car reviews - Volvo - C30 - T5 3-dr hatch
Value, styling, cabin fittings, safety, equipment, dynamic capability
Room for improvement
Light on luggage space, four-seater only cabin, rear-seat entry/egress hindered by front seatbelt
23 Nov 2007
VOLVO has long been a maker of quirky cars.
In fact, with the sole exception of the interminable 360 and 440 snooze fests sold here in the 1980s and '90s, none of its cars have been ordinary.
Sure, a BMW generally steers and handle more adroitly. A Honda might be more fuel-efficient. Or an Alfa may have more style.
But a Volvo has an obvious and definable character.
In the new C30 T5, finding something ordinary requires you to look at the car’s inner schematics (it shares many components with the fine Ford Focus), because this car brims with a personality both corporate and individualistic.
Take the styling, a pastiche of several Volvos past – the nose is Peter Horbury’s 1998 S80 redefined the profile recalls the not-seen-in-Australia 480ES Coupe of the late '80s the rear a combination of contemporary Volvo Estate for the tail-lights enclosing a 1960s P1800ES glass hatch.
Like we said... pastiche, but pastiche that seems to work brilliantly on this little Swedish alternative to an Audi A3, BMW 1 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-class hatch – and perhaps the Mini Cooper and Subaru Impreza WRX.
Whether people like it or not, they often cannot help but have an opinion on it, and for that, we think Volvo has scored a visual victory. No Swedish wallflowers for us.
Now those elongated side windows conspire with the glass hatch to create a refreshing, light-bathed interior ambience.
So while most of us have already seen Volvo’s distinct ‘floating’ centre console stack in the S40, V50 and S80, in the C30 it seems to stand out more, with shadows and textures lurking behind, giving the item a more pronounced 3D effect.
As we’ve said in the past, this dashboard really lifts the Volvo as far as function, aesthetics and perceived quality are concerned. It is an extremely elegant and simple solution to using the various climate and audio controls without having a bewildering number of buttons or switches scattered throughout the car.
The C30 in T5 guise as tested is deceivingly well equipped too, though you wouldn’t think it by looking around the rather Spartan surrounds.
Sited discreetly within driver’s reach are niceties like a comprehensive trip and car-function computer, climate control air-conditioning, auto-on headlights, cruise control, six-stack CD/MP3 audio, heated front seats, driver’s electric seat adjuster, and auto-on for the Xenon headlights.
It sets the driver up nicely to find a comfortable and relaxing driving position, although some people did find the steering wheel in this T5 model of sporting pretension to be a little too large in diameter.
We like the chunky quality feel of the switches in this car, and they have the added bonus of not looking like they are aping the established leader in this field, Audi.
And as with all Volvos of late, the cabin feels well made, cocooning of the outside world, and long lasting. Only the lower-console drink holder receptacles jar with the look of the rest of the interior.
Contrasts feature prominently throughout this car, actually.
While the high-shouldered waistline, big wheel arches and weighty doors give the C30 a masculine look and feel, there is a fetching floral pattern set against the metallic console finish that suggests otherwise.
Similarly, a pleasantly light six-speed manual gearshifter soothes the rorty sound of the turbo-charged five-cylinder engine.
And while there is the space efficiency of front-wheel drive at play in this hatchback’s pronounced cab-forward shape, the rear seats in the T5 are twin individual buckets (that, sadly, don’t recline), much like you may find in a coupe.
While we’re in the back here, the side windows don’t open either, but there is an armrest, a couple of storage areas and ample support on offer.
Our only major gripe concerns getting in and out from back there: the front occupants’ seatbelt cuts across the path, which could lead to feet and knees becoming tangled up.
The hatch aperture is not especially large either, so manoeuvring larger objects in or out can be tricky. But while the floor is quite shallow (a space-saver spare lives under there), the cabin itself is quite long – an upshot of the C30 using exactly the same 2640mm wheelbase (and MacPherson strut/independent multi-link suspension) as the S40/V50 models that begat it.
Better still, that glass hatch makes reverse parking simple, since you can actually see stuff through the twin rear seats as you are manoeuvring back. We hope better all-round vision is a sign of things to come.
Moving forward, the C30 is surprisingly easy to drive – and also deceptively fast.
While the 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine’s turbo does take a moment to spool up, it does deliver its 162kW of power forcefully through a wide rev-range, accompanied by a sizeable increase in speed and that appealing engine note we mentioned earlier.
Keep your foot down and the velocity just keeps on rising – right up to the 7000rpm redline. 5000rpm is where power peaks, but the oodles of torque on tap (320Nm of it in fact) climaxes from just 1500rpm.
This is the Volvo engine found in the Focus XR5 Turbo, and so you might have some idea of how punchy it can be – particularly as the C30 weighs a significant 130kg less than the Blue Oval vehicle.
On the other hand, you pay for having this much performance at your disposal: We averaged only around 12.2 to 12.6L/100km, although we did often revel in the racy engine’s abilities.
With so much torque going through the front wheels, you might expect the T5 to be a tyre scrubbing mess, but in fact this car is more about swift and smooth progress rather than rubber-burning hot-hatch hysterics.
This is worth keeping in mind, because the T5 is not an especially tactile handler.
It certainly turns in eagerly enough, and cuts a fine line through a fast corner, aided by a nicely measured feeling of weight from the steering wheel.
And even when you go really hard, the T5 just keeps on turning cleanly, with an impressive amount of body control and stability there for the driver to exploit.
But there isn’t terribly much feedback for a keen person to revel in, while the steering doesn’t egg you on to find a set of sharp turns in order to carve up.
At least you are also spared unwanted feedback, like wheel shake or torque-steer tugging.
In keeping with the Volvo’s discreet nature, the ride is firm but not hard, with the suspension doing an admirable job in soaking up larger bumps and humps.
Even on really bad road surfaces, and with tyres as low and wide as these, the T5’s chosen line is kept straight and true. And the brakes stop the car with terrific speed and no drama.
That’s all saved for the styling.
Volvo has done extremely well to mine its heritage to produce such a well-rounded alternative to the A3 and co.
As the shape reveals, there is plenty of saucy coupe to lure in traditional hatchback haters, while all the hard work that the Swedes have carried out inside adds up to a cabin that punches above its weight.
But we’re not surprised at all by this. This car’s base is the S40/V50 – one of our favourite small car ranges
That it builds on these cars’ strengths while recalling so many other odd and offbeat Volvos is what makes the C30 T5 so characterful.
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