Oh, Volvo C30
, how we barely knew ye.
It's not often that the Leftlane
reviewing team gets to spend time behind the wheel of a car that has been already put out to pasture, but that was just the case with our recent jaunt in a 2013 Volvo C30 R-Design.
This sprightly blue three-door was one of the last C30s to roll off the assembly line late last year, and that's usually a sign for an automaker to sweep the discontinued model under the rug and move on. But not Volvo, which saw the C30's departure as an opportunity for a swan song model with a zippy style – and some added performance – of its own.
What is it?
Sharing much of its architecture (and its interior) with the under-appreciated Volvo S40 and V50, the C30 was envisioned in late 2006 as a spiritual successor to the nifty P1800 hatchback seen 40 years prior. Cash-starved Volvo didn't have the budget at the time for a new interior or front end, so it raided the S40/V50 parts bin. A few years later, a styling update gave the C30 the dynamic look it needed, but sales never took off.
What was to blame? The hefty window sticker – building small volumes of premium vehicles in a country with high costs (Belgium, in this case) is bound to drive up prices.
Two C30s are on offer, the plush base model and the sporty R-Design. Our tester came from the latter camp, which means that it had a unique R-Design body kit, some interior touches and a firmer suspension.
Our test C30 was further loaded up with an individually-numbered R Design Limited Edition package with 17-inch black alloy wheels, Rebel Blue paint and an engine tuning package by Volvo racing partner Polestar. The extra 23 horsepower (to 250) and 273 lb-ft. of torque (up 37 lb-ft.) goes a long way. Normally, that Polestar power upgrade runs $1,295, but the Limited Edition package costs a more reasonable $1,000.
This C30 was further topped up with the feature-heavy Platinum Package (think navigation, premium audio, power seats, a moonroof and HIDs with LED running lamps) plus a cold weather package.
What's it up against?
The Volkswagen GTI
is the C30's most natural rival, but you could also theoretically toss it up against the Ford Focus ST
, the Mazda Mazdaspeed3
and the Subaru WRX. An oddly-balanced comparison for sure.
What's it look like?
Drawing from the P1800 with its tall rear tail lamps and big glass hatchback, the C30 cuts a decidedly polarizing profile.
We like its elongated rear window and squat roof line and we aren't opposed to the more aggressive front fascia it gained for 2011. The R-Design package's color-matched bodykit has a tacked-on look thanks to the C30's unique plastic fender flares, but we generally think it is well integrated. At the rear, we're especially big fans of the R-Design-specific dual tailpipes.
One item we universally disagreed with is the wheel selection. While Volvo is generally pretty creative with wheel designs, black painting seems like too much of a passing fad for the contemporary chic style we expect from Volvo.
And on the inside?
The C30's T-shaped “floating” center stack remains one of our favorite design cues. Not only does it look pretty darn cool to have such a thin panel for all of the audio and climate controls, the design frees up additional storage space and imparts an airy feel to the cabin.
The button-heavy switchgear on the center stack looks a bit dated compared to touchscreen arrays on many rivals, but the C30's controls are generally logically arranged. Redundant steering controls on the large diameter three-spoke sport steering wheel helped out.
Hidden behind the right spoke is a nub and two little buttons to control the optional navigation system unit that, on the press of a button, rises to the occasion at the top of the dash. This integration feels a bit outdated compared to newer units, but it does have the ergonomic advantage of putting the navigation display up high for distraction-free visibility.
The navigation's graphics are similarly dated, though we found inputs very easy with the steering wheel controls. A wireless remote is also included for passenger use – again, a throwback to the early era of navigation.
Comfort, however, is timeless, and the C30 does not disappoint. The two-tone seats in our tester didn't prove well-bolstered for especially aggressive driving, but they were perfectly padded for a long drive and both front thrones were power-adjustable, a rarity in this class. Both front seats remember their previous position after they're folded forward to allow passengers to climb rearward.
At the back, a fiddly (yet typically stylish) cargo cover revealed good room for a pair of carry on-size suitcases.
Befitting the C30's premium heritage, its materials were all price-appropriate. Soft touch materials cover nearly every surface, and even the neoprene-like material on the outer seat panels (the black portion; the light sections are leather) felt bucks up. Only a silly fake key in the ignition (our tester had a proximity key that can be kept in a pocket, but the fake key must be turned to start the engine) stood out.
But does it go?
Under its bright blue hood, our C30's 2.5-liter inline five-cylinder engine had its computer remapped to the aforementioned 250 horsepower and 273 lb-ft. of torque. In practice, the C30 feels much spunkier than that already reasonably impressive power output might suggest.
The standard six-speed manual features a light clutch and positive gear engagement (admittedly, our test car had about 300 miles on it when it was delivered to us). Though it doesn't like to be hustled in the same way the VW GTI's stick does, the C30's gearbox was a joy to row.
Power builds progressively with little of the lag that afflicts smaller engines. At high speeds, passing rarely requires a downshift since the available torque peaks at just 1,500 rpm. Making the most of the experience is a subtle but refined thrum from under the hood, a five-cylinder growl that's mildly addictive.
The zippy engine is a good match for the C30's taut, composed chassis. Though well short of being as tossable as the GTI in aggressive driving, the C30 corners with little body lean and, unless pushed hard, it generally imparts a composed, docile feel. If anything, it feels a little too
grown up when the road gets really twisty.
Similarly, the C30's steering delivers predictable resistance but not a tremendous amount of feel. Combined with the gigantic steering wheel, the C30 feels more “buttoned down sedan” than “hot hatch,” a feeling confirmed by its firm but thoroughly compliant suspension tuning. In short, the C30 feels like a sporty car tuned for adults.
But that actually suits its demeanor particularly well. In town, its compact proportions and torquey engine made it a hoot to push around, yet it also proved exceedingly comfortable over a several hour highway trip. These are accolades we don't levy on must hot hatches. Making matters even better was its fuel economy, which easily exceeded the 21/29 mpg EPA rating. We saw 26 mpg in mixed cruising and 33 mpg on the highway.
Leftlane's bottom line
Though it was never a volume seller, the C30 will forever be a Volvo worth appreciating. That most of the remaining C30s have probably been accounted for by now should only make them more appealing on the used market.
And that's where they make the most sense given a sky-high price of admission that, unfortunately, kept plenty of would-be buyers out of showrooms.
2013 Volvo C30 R-Design
base price, $27,850. As tested, $35,545
R-Design Limited Edition, $1,000; Platinum Package, $5,000; Climate Package, $800; Destination, $895.
Words and photos by Andrew Ganz. Follow Andrew on Twitter for exclusive insight into the automotive industry.