Alistair Weaver, VP of Editorial and Editor-in-Chief
If you're under 40, chances are you haven't ever craved a Volvo. Well, be prepared to crave. With the 2008 Volvo C30, Volvos will no longer only be bought by those who value practicality, safety and understated versatility.
Volvo's marketing boffins are claiming the C30 is a sport coupe that will appeal to couples aged 25-35 who are yet to breed, or the over-50s whose children have fled the nest. Moreover, they reckon that 75 percent of customers will be new to the Volvo brand. This Volvo seeks to steer trendy, affluent urbanites away from Audi TTs, Mini Coopers and Volkswagen GTIs, and it's priced to do so, starting around $23,000.
Although the C30 arrives in the U.S. next summer, it has already gone on sale in Europe so we headed for the U.K. and sampled one on the wrong side of the road.
A cool Volvo? Designed under the direction of Peter Horbury, the C30 was the last car he did before leaving Volvo to lead Ford's design team in North America. It was Horbury who revolutionized Volvo's styling in the '90s, replacing the angular monotony of the old models with a new curvaceous, distinctive design language. The C30 is the ultimate expression of this vision.
The shape was previewed in the Safety Concept Car (SCC), which was shown at the Detroit auto show in 2001. The positive public reaction gave the management the confidence to put it into production. While the front end is instantly recognizable as a member of the contemporary Volvo family, the unusual hatchback rear draws inspiration from the classic 1800ES of the 1970s.
Static pictures tend to flatten the C30's curves, particularly the manner in which the windows taper to the rear. In the metal this is a modern, distinctive and undeniably handsome car. This may well be the first Volvo that can justifiably be described as "cool."
Four-seater cabin With its two individual rear chairs pushed toward the center of the car, the C30 is strictly a four-seater. While it's positively commodious compared to an Audi TT, this is not a family car. Adults will find the rear accommodation adequate for short journeys, though two 6-footers will struggle to sit in tandem. The trunk capacity is also modest — golfers will have trouble accommodating their beloved clubs — although it can be extended by folding down the rear seats.
The dashboard will be familiar to drivers of other Volvos, including the C70, S40 and V50. The distinctive "floating" console is present and correct, although it can now be specified with an aluminum surf pattern or even with a glossy white finish, inspired by an iPod. Our test car boasted a more conservative aluminum. The quality is good, but it's a shame that such a youth-oriented car doesn't feel a little more sporting. We'd like to see supplementary dials, such as a turbo and oil temperature gauge and more side bolstering for the otherwise comfortable seats.
As you'd expect from Volvo, there's a plethora of safety features including front, side and curtain airbags. Stability control will be standard across the range, as will Volvo's IDIS (Intelligent Driver Information System), which delays certain functions, such as a phone call, if the driver is engaged in a more complicated maneuver (heavy braking, turning etc.). Customers can also expect a generous luxury specification with several "premium" options, including high-grade audio.
One engine The C30 will be launched with just one engine, a 2.5-liter five-cylinder turbo, borrowed from the S40 and V50. Dubbed the T5, it generates 216 horsepower at 5,000 rpm and 236 pound-feet of torque between 1,500 and 4,800 rpm. This engine is available with either a six-speed stick shift or a five-speed auto, which has the added benefit of a sequential shift facility. Our test car featured the latter.
Searingly rapid it isn't, but the C30 T5 is swift. The turbo is only lightly stressed so lag is never a problem and it has a distinctive five-cylinder hum. It also works well with the Geartronic transmission. Volvo says zero to 62 mph takes 7.1 seconds (6.7 for the manual) and top speed is 146 mph (149 for the manual). The last Cooper S we tested hit 60 mph in 7.4 seconds, while the last GTI needed 7.2, so the C30 T5 is quick for its class.
Although the turbo five-cylinder suits the C30's character well, don't rule out other engines in the C30's future — Volvo's 168-hp 2.4 looks like a good bet.
It's no sports car Based on Ford's C1 platform, the C30 shares its underpinnings with the S40, V50 and the second-generation (European) Focus. The MacPherson-strut front and multilink rear suspension is also a tried and trusted formula. The tune is more sporting than the S40 — Volvo spotters will notice the firmer ride quality — but the difference can be overstated. This is still no sports car.
The C30 is capable in the manner of Audi's A3. That is to say it is safe, predictable and blessed with plenty of grip. However, the enthusiast will still want for greater agility and more steering feel. The Focus ST uses the same basic ingredients but delivers a more engaging drive without any significant diminution in the ride quality. If Volvo is serious about producing a sport coupe, then it could do worse than to look to its stablemate for inspiration. What price an "R" version?
Conclusion Volvo has modest expectations for the C30 — of the 65,000 it expects to build each year, all but 25 percent will be sold in Europe. Given the C30's price tag, left-field image and compact dimensions, these aspirations seem sensible.
Those buyers who do take the plunge will find themselves driving something genuinely different. More distinctive than a BMW 3 Series coupe but more practical than a Mini or an Audi TT, it has a genuine depth of ability.
We wish it were a little more exciting to drive but the 2008 Volvo C30 does appeal as a non-default choice — even if you're under 40.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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