The C30 is Volvo’s attempt at reaching out to a younger audience and winning a few conquest customers. Based on the S40, it is available solely in a 3-door, 4-seat configuration and having been launched in the latter stages of 2006, it is somewhat of a familiar sight on British roads. Having Ford’s C1 platform means it should be dynamically sound and as you’d expect, safety is a key part of the C30’s make-up.
This review follows a week driving the cooking T5 R-Design with Polestar upgrade, a model that shares the same 2.5 litre 5-cylinder engine as the previous generation Focus ST, so I had high hopes for this car. But does it make for a viable alternative to the BMW 1-series or Audi A3?
I’m going to break with tradition for this review and get straight to the point. I’ll cut out the waffle, strip out the bunk and deliver my verdict on the Volvo C30 T5 R-Design with Polestar upgrade within the first paragraph. I absolutely and unequivocally adore this car. When my week was over, I genuinely didn’t want to give it back and could quite happily spend the next decade with it. Allow me to explain.
Volvo will proudly tell you that the design harks back to the brilliant 1800ES but there’s just as much of the 480 in the C30. In particular, the C30’s glass tailgate is a definite link, as is the wedge-like proportions of the car, albeit with an altogether smoother, rounder shape than the 480. To my eyes, the Volvo C30, especially in T5 R-Design spec, looks fantastic. So gloriously in proportion and wonderfully unique.
The C30 you see today was given a facelift in 2009, but this was more than just a nip and tuck exercise. Volvo carried out major changes to the body panels and front end, essentially to bring it in line with the rest of the Volvo range. The new bumper, front wings, front lights and grille give it a sleeker feel and somehow make it look faster than the old car! The R-Design models are distinguished from lesser spec cars by a discreet badge on the front grille, a roof mounted rear spoiler, colour coded bodykit, silver matt front grille and wing mirrors, plus five spoke 17″ alloy wheels. You might be forgiven for thinking that the Volvo C30 T5 R-Design looks too similar to the lesser C30s, but when put alongside a basic model the transformation is dramatic. The T5 R-Design is masterclass in subtlety and understatement and other manufacturers could learn a thing or two from it.
Once inside the C30 things aren’t quite so impressive. In fact, anyone familiar with the S40 and V50 models will instantly recognise the dashboard layout as it was carried over from these models. The result is an altogether sombre affair which seems at odds with the flair and individuality of the exterior design. But there are a couple highlights, the most prominent being the ‘floating’ centre console which is a triumph of Scandinavian design. The R-Design’s leather upholstery also helps to lift the mood, with my test car having the optional two-tone cream and black specification. With R-Design embossed logos the seats not only look the part, but they also do a very good job of keeping you firmly in place when cornering. They’re also incredibly comfortable and supportive on long trips. But with the exception of blue dials and sports pedals there’s nothing else to really get excited about on the inside. Shame.
The C30 is the smallest car in the Volvo range and as previously mentioned is available purely in a 4-seat, 3-door coupé configuration. When you consider that the C30 is vying for attention in a sector that includes the Audi A3 and BMW 1 Series, this is either an exceptionally brave or an incredibly stupid move. But regardless of your opinion, it certainly limits your sales potential. Volvo is bullish over the decision to limit the car to four seats, with the C30’s Project Director, Håkan Abrahmansson, stating that ‘four seats means great rear seat comfort for both rear passengers. Five would have been a compromise.’ To be fair the rear seats are delightful and the fact that Volvo hasn’t crowbarred a middle seat in does make it a better place to be. Besides, if you want more doors or seats, there’s the S40 to consider.
But in truth, the rear seats are the last place you want to be in the C30 T5. You’re far better off sat in the driver’s seat as then you can play with the C30 T5’s major trump card – its engine. The T5 is powered by Volvo’s 2.5 litre 5-cylinder engine and as anyone who has come in close contact with a five pot engine knows, the major attraction is the noise. The C30’s soundtrack is so good I wish Volvo would bottle it and make it available on prescription. I’ve heard people criticise the C30 for having a rather muffled soundtrack, but to my ears it is pretty much perfect. In truth, it actually matches the car’s overall character (more on this later on). The standard T5 engine produces 230 bhp and this is probably more than enough for a front wheel drive Volvo with sporting intentions. But my test car came fitted with the optional Polestar performance upgrade, giving an extra 20 bhp. A rather splendid extra and surely worthy of a nicer badge? It looks remarkably like a fridget magnet you’d pick up from a pound shop.
Mention the name Polestar to a petrolhead and most will respond with a mixture of delight and sadness. The Volvo C30 Polestar is a concept car developed by Volvo’s racing partners and was built purely to promote the Polestar brand (see video below). The headlines for the Polestar say it all – four wheel drive, 405 bhp, huge Brembo brakes, Recaro seats and 510 Nm of torque. If it made it into production, I have little doubt that it would become an instant legend. But it won’t, which is sad. So unless Volvo decides to launch a hotter version of the C30 in the future, the C30 T5 R-Design with Polestar upgrade is the closest you can get to the Polestar concept, without talking to an aftermarket specialist. The Polestar upgrade will set you back £645 and can be retrofitted at a Volvo dealer with no impact on the manufacturer’s warranty. Power is increased to 250 bhp and maximum torque increases from 320 Nm to 370 Nm. Impressive. Just a feather-light touch of the accelerator sees you being propelled forward at an alarming rate. When coupled with the raucous 5-cylinder soundtrack, the whole effect is rather exhilarating. There’s a degree of torque steer, but nowhere near as much as you’d expect, though you do need to have your wits about you on a wet road.
The engine is mated to a 6-speed manual gearbox with a delightful short change that requires only the slightest effort. Making progress in the C30 is effortless. So there’s no doubting the C30 T5’s performance, but what about the ride and handling? Well you soon realise that this isn’t a car that likes to be chucked about a B-road. The C30 T5 is much more at home on an A-road with long, sweeping corners than it is on a tight and twisty back road. The steering is too light and lacking in any feel for the C30 to tempt you into setting the alarm for a dawn raid on your favourite driving road. But that’s not to say that it isn’t without appeal. The C30 grips well and there’s virtually no body roll. The ride is also exceptional, with only the most severe road conditions unsettling the car. There’s also very little road or wind noise, so whilst the C30 T5 may not be the most precise instrument, it is a delightful car to drive. There’s a real sense of sophistication and reassurance about it.
In fact, these two words could be used to summarise my thoughts on the C30. Despite the unique and somewhat bold styling, the C30 somehow manages to go about its business in a discreet and sophisticated manner. Volvo tells me that the majority of C30 buyers are aged between 35 and 45. This figures as it presents a great case for those seeking a more grown up performance car. A little soft around the edges, but enough up its sleeve to ensure that you don’t feel shortchanged when it comes to excitement.
As you’d expect, the C30 T5 R-Design does have one or two issues. I’ve already mentioned the lack of steering feel and the slightly soft handling, but there’s also a few niggles on the inside. The steering wheel is ridiculously oversized and at 251 litres, the C30’s boot is on the small side, although this can be increased to 539 litres with the rear seats folded down. Sadly nothing can be done about the frankly ridiculous soft load cover which is fiddly, difficult to use and annoying. I suspect a designer spent many months working on a solution for the cover, but in my book it wasn’t quite long enough. Volvo will sell you a hard load cover, but this will set you back £55. For what its worth Volvo, I reckon you should just make it a no cost option.
At £21,875, the C30 T5 R-Design is rather good value, but you will want to tick a few options boxes. Take the optional Premium Sound audio system which gives you a 5x130W amplifier, ten speakers and Dolby® Pro Logic II Surround Sound. At a shade over £1,000, it isn’t a cheap option, but plug your iPod/iPhone into either one of the Aux/USB sockets and the C30 is transformed into a music theatre. The quality and crispness of the sound is amongst the very best I’ve experienced in a car. So much so that I urge you to tick the option box. Believe me, you won’t regret it.
My test car also had Rear Park Assist (£385), Bluetooth connectivity (£275) and Winter Pack (£385), the latter of which gives you heated front seats and headlamp washers. Then there’s the Convenience Pack, a £500 option which provides auto dimming rear view mirror, automatic folding mirrors and rain sensors. The wonderful 18″Atreus diamond cut/dark grey alloys come in at £795 and the aforementioned Polestar upgrade at £645, which takes the final figure to £25,240. Consider that the 197 bhp, non-quattro 2.0 S-line Audi A3 starts at £24,320 before options and the C30 suddenly looks to be exceptional value for money. It’s a similar story with the BMW 125i M Sport Coupé, which will set you back £27,115 before options. Ouch.
Horses for courses I guess. There will be many buyers who simply won’t entertain the possibility of Volvo ownership and instead will flock in their thousands to the trendy and en vogue Audi A3. And of course, the purists will stick to the rear wheel drive shenanigans of the BMW and in fairness, I can see their point. But to rule out the Volvo C30 in T5 R-Design Polestar spec is a huge mistake. It is a highly personal opinion, but I completely fell in love with the C30. I know I’ll get shot down in flames for this, but the C30 T5 R-Design is right now one of the sexiest new cars on sale in the UK. The styling, the driving position, the quality, the noise and the image it portrays are just perfect for me and my requirements. With two small children, safety has become a hugely important factor for me and this is one area where the Volvo C30 rates very highly, with multiple airbags, protection systems and driver aids.
But ask me if I’d buy one and the answer would be no. Not yet anyway. Having a large petrol engine means that depreciation is going to be a big issue on the T5. Volvo tells me that only 2 – 5% of all C30s registered are the range topping petrol cars, so the T5 R-Design is always going to be a rare sight on Britain’s roads. And although Volvo has worked wonders to keep the C02 emissions figure to just 203 g/km, the first year road tax of £580 and subsequent annual cost of £260 isn’t exactly tailor made for austerity living. It is also impossible to ignore the problem of fuel consumption. Volvo’s claimed figure of 32.5 mpg combined looks fine on paper, but in reality you’ll be looking at figures somewhere in the mid twenties. Face it, with an engine this good and a soundtrack this sublime, you’ll want to make the most of it. If not, then you’re better off choosing the 2.0 R-Design which starts at just £17,010.
So although I could quite easily see myself living with the C30, I’d ultimately wait a few years for the depreciation to take a large chunk out of the screen price and then pick up what I’m sure will become something of a cult classic from Volvo. By the end of my week with the car, I was beginning to draw parallels with my old Volkswagen Corrado VR6. A similarly joyful soundtrack, brilliant driving position and a car which will ultimately fail to totally win over the buying public. It doesn’t quite have the all round ability of the Corrado, but mark my words, time will be kind to the C30 T5 R-Design.
Sex sells. But in the case of the Volvo C30 T5 R-Design, it might be a slow burner. Just do me a favour. If you’re planning on buying a C30 any time soon, make sure it’s the T5 R-Design, in white with Premium Sound and Polestar upgrade. Then give me a shout in three years time. Thanks.