Full Test: 2008 Volvo C30

2008 Volvo C30 Hatchback

(2.5L 5-cyl. Turbo 6-speed Manual)

A Volvo for Young Urban Males. No, Really.

Volvo's product planners usually hit the Aquavit, but the 2008 Volvo C30 proves anything is possible if you drink enough tequila.

How else can you explain the gigantic blender?

When the Volvo guys stuffed their product-planning blender full of a new Mini Cooper S, a 1971 Volvo P1800 ES and a Volvo S40 sedan, it couldn't have been easy, but you can bet your ABBA collection it was a heck of a party. A few jabs at the pulse button, a little salt on the rim, and voilá: a Volvo for young, urban singles.

It's the Margarita Method of car creation, and the front-wheel-drive, turbocharged 2008 Volvo C30 that results is an intoxicating brew.

Only New in America
The Europeans like it, too. By the time this hatchback goes on sale in America in October, it'll have been on sale in the old country for more than a year. And sales are good over there, even though the C30 competes with the Audi A3, Mini Cooper and Volkswagen GTI (the same cars it'll be battling over here, actually). But Volvo understands America's lukewarm enthusiasm for hatchbacks, so it's projecting yearly sales of just 6,000-8,000 C30s, even while the company sells about 65,000 C30s worldwide each year.

In the States, two trim levels will be offered — Version 1.0 and Version 2.0. Both are powered by the same turbocharged inline-5 that powers the Volvo S40 and V50. This engine is rated at 227 horsepower at 5,000 rpm and 236 pound-feet of torque at 5,000 rpm, which makes it the powerhouse of its class. A five-speed automatic is optional, but our test car featured the standard six-speed manual gearbox. The shift linkage isn't as precise as we would like, but its low-effort shift action matches the character of the car.

Despite its power advantage over its rivals (a Mini Cooper S packs only 172 hp), the C30 fails to leave them in the dust. In fact, should the Volvo line up next to a Mini Cooper S, it's the C30 that gets left behind. With a 0-60-mph time of 6.6 seconds and a quarter-mile run of 15.1 seconds at 94.5 mph, the turbo C30 is slower than the last Cooper S we tested, although it's a tick or two quicker than a Honda Civic Si or VW GTI. It's also more than quick enough to keep you entertained.

Still, with the five-cylinder's strong bottom-end torque and generous power rating, the C30 should be quicker than it is. What's holding it back? Weight. At 167.4 inches long, the C30 is much larger than the Mini, so it weighs significantly more — a portly 3,198 pounds, in fact. (The GTI is actually heavier, if you can believe it.) But the trade-off is interior space. "We made sure the backseat fits two fully grown adults," Andreas Friedric, the car's interior designer, tells us just before he folds the C30's two rear seats, tosses a surfboard into the cargo area and closes the glass rear hatch. Try that in a Mini.

Hot Child in the City
In addition to its drivetrain, the Volvo S40 sedan contributes its four-wheel independent suspension, four-wheel disc brakes and its entire interior to the new hatchback. Actually the C30 shares everything with the sedan, including the front end, the windshield glass and even its wheelbase dimension. Only the rear third of its bodywork is different, which looks as if it's been snagged from the famous 1971 Volvo P1800 ES.

The combination works. This is an attractive car that grabs eyes and collects compliments. It also makes the C30 some 8.5 inches shorter and 330 pounds lighter than an S40. Tie it all to the road with a set of fat, low-profile 18-inch Pirelli P Zero Rosso tires (version 1.0 rides on 17-inch rubber), and you're left with a car that likes to be tossed around and delivers some impressive handling numbers in the process. The C30's skid pad performance of 0.85g, its slalom speed of 69.1 mph and its ability to come to a halt from 60 mph in 117 feet ranks it as good as the last Audi A3 we tested.

With all that weight up front, we weren't surprised by the C30's desire to understeer through the corners, but the Volvo takes a nice set in faster bends and the overall limits are high. In general, the C30's steering and chassis respond in a rewarding way. Just don't misunderstand, though. As fun as the C30 is to dance with, this is not a hot hatch for weekend track days. It's a city dweller that likes to zip through traffic and dig into the occasional on-ramp.

On serious driver's roads like Mulholland Drive or the Ortega Highway here in Southern California, the C30 feels large and soft. You notice that the driver seat that feels so great in the city isn't capable of holding you in place anymore. Steering feel is well above average, but the C30's torque steer out of corners isn't exactly a treat and the soft brake pedal can give you a fright.

The seating position is excellent, the visibility over the nose of the car is expansive and the steering wheel is good to hold (if a bit oversized). We should also applaud the C30's comfortable ride, which is quite an accomplishment considering its athleticism.

Priced To Sell
At a total MSRP of $27,700, our test car undercuts an Audi A3 by quite a bit, but costs a bit more than a similarly equipped Mini Cooper S or Volkswagen GTI.Base price for the Version 2.0 is $26,445, some $3,671 more than a Version 1.0. Basically you're paying for stiffer suspension tuning, a sporty body kit, a stereo upgrade, sport exhaust tips and 18-inch wheels and tires. Our test car also wore optional foglights, cruise control and the C30's signature Cosmic White over Java Pearl paint that'll cost you an extra $475.

But that's just the tip of the iceberg. There are actually 5,000,000 build combinations and enough options to crank a C30 up past $40,000. Things like a power sunroof, a navigation system, Volvo's Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) and heated seats are all on the car's mile-long options list.

You can even opt for Mini Cooper-style graphics including an American or Swedish flag on the roof and doors (although we wish you wouldn't).

Bring in the Kids
Silly graphics aside, Volvo has created a car that's as fun from the curb as it is from the driver seat. Now it just needs younger folks to care."We want to bring a new, younger, very active customer in the Volvo family," Kent Johansson, Volvo's car-line manager for the C30, tells us. "City people interested in design."

By "younger," Johansson doesn't mean the C30 is for kids in high school. "Younger" for Volvo means 28- to 38-year-olds, some 65 percent of whom will be conquest buyers and more than 50 percent of whom will be male. "The C30 will also help change the perception of the Volvo brand for a broader group of customers," claims Johansson. Right now, the brand's clientele is essentially comprised of middle-age suburban moms.

So there's a lot riding on the C30's broad shoulders, despite its small sales volume. Volvo is convinced the C30 is cool enough to pull it off, and a week behind the wheel of this 2008 Volvo C30 Version 2.0 has made us believers.

That blender thing has turned out pretty well. Skol.

The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.

Second Opinion

Senior Content Editor Erin Riches says:
When I saw the Volvo C30 hatchback at last year's Paris auto show, I liked it immediately. Here's a car that takes the mundane, three-door hatchback body style and elevates it to an art form. While the Mini Cooper (old or new) is merely pop art, this Volvo strikes me as a conceptual piece — it draws me in and makes me want to engage with it on a deeper level.

Now I've had my chance, but I'm walking away a bit unfulfilled. Keep in mind I had one very specific expectation: I wanted the C30 to be a genuinely sporting drive. And this is a car that wants to be more, and less, than that. Foremost, it aspires to be pleasant and unobtrusive. For example, the T5 engine is barely audible at lower rpm, and only by switching off the Dynaudio system will you hear any evidence of the turbo at work. The ride quality is soft, yet always composed. Anyone could find a comfortable driving position in this car, and with the all-glass hatch, the C30 probably has the best rearward visibility of any current production vehicle.

If you start making dynamic demands, the C30 will answer them — up to a point. The engine note opens up to a pleasing growl at middle to high rpm, and it justifies the trip to redline if you can stand the torque steer. Pitch Volvo's hatch into a corner and it feels better than its soft ride leads you to expect: The body rolls, but in a very predictable way. Plus, those 18-inch Pirellis can overcome almost any balance issue.

This will all be enough to please a mainstream audience. But for those who'd hoped for a driving experience as avant-garde as the viewing experience, the C30 won't quite satisfy.

Stereo Evaluation

Overall Grade: B+

Brand Name: Dolby Pro Logic II
Watts: 650
Speakers: 10 Dynaudio
Optional Equipment: No
Price if optional: Standard on version 2.0 models
CD Player: Single disc
Formats: CD, CD-R, MP3
Aux Jack: Yes
iPod Connection: No
Hard Drive: No
Bluetooth for phone: Dealer-installed accessory
Subwoofer: No

How does it sound: B+
Rich bass is the Pro Logic system's strong suit. Deep without distortion and sharp without feeling overpowering, the bass isn't quite thumping, yet anchors the sound nicely.

Separation is also very good thanks to a variety of surround settings, including three-channel, full surround and an adjustable setting for center channel and variable surround. Of course, it's not really true surround sound, but the Volvo's optional audio system does a great job of mimicking the effect with two-channel CDs and FM radio.

Highs can sound shrill and tend to distort fairly early as the volume is raised. This can result in the listening experience being somewhat taxing at higher volumes.

The audio system lacks the intensity many of the C30's younger buyers might expect. This system more than makes up for this by offering a truly rich listening experience that even audiophiles will enjoy, regardless of age.

How does it work: B-
This system does a lot, so the menus are deep. Making your way through the various menus and submenus doesn't always make sense, but the incredible customization makes it all worthwhile.

Overall, our complaints are few and relate to the system's usability.

There's a large knob located on the right side of the head unit that we assumed was for manually tuning the radio. Wrong. It's for selecting the source — Sirius 1, Sirius 2, CD and Aux. Once you select one of those sources, you navigate various other features via an up/down arrow located below the round knob. It's counterintuitive and it makes tweaking kind of a hassle. We also like the fact that there's a menu for adjusting the EQ for the front and rear separately, but the way you get there is clunky yet again.

Some editors also felt that certain customizable functions were buried too deep in submenus, but we're impressed with the features themselves, so it's really a mixed bag. For the most part, this sophisticated stereo is easy to navigate once you're used to it.

Special features: An audio system that mimics surround sound is nothing unique, but Volvo's Dolby Pro Logic does it better.

One of the features that makes this system so great is the fact that you can customize the amount of surround effect and center channel you want. A little less sounds better for rock music, while a little more surround works well with classical. More premium audio systems should offer this feature.

Conclusion: A very good audio system, Dolby's Pro Logic II is one of the best-sounding stereos around. Its primary drawback is that some features are difficult to access. Still, it's a worthwhile purchase for those who view their car as a listening booth on wheels. — Brian Moody, Road Test Editor

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