2008 Volvo C30 Review – A different kind of "hot hatch"

Expert Reviews Volvo

2008 Volvo C30
By Kurt Gensheimer


  • Engine has more grunt than a railroad chain gang
  • Oozes with style (not applicable to our test model)
  • Solid, quiet, reassuring ride
  • Millions of build options – yes, millions


  • $24K car and no cruise control?
  • Default super typhoon-force defog setting
  • Narrow roofline drips rainwater into cabin when entering
  • A bit portly for its size

Ruling: Proof that style and a nice backside can also earn “hot hatch” status.

Rain falls with more ferocity than a fire hose. Cross winds make eucalyptus trees on the shoulder of 101 bend sideways in submission. Big rigs slither to and fro in the slow lane like giant steel centipedes and kick up a deluge of water spray. Gigantic puddles emerge out of nowhere causing moments of sheer panic. Even with windshield wipers on full blast, visibility is so bad that cars slow to a crawl. To make matters worse, all of this is taking place in coastal California; a state where motorists completely forget how to drive the moment a raindrop hits the pavement.

I’m only one hour into a five hour trek from San Jose to Ventura and my knuckles are already whiter than the snow falling on the mountaintops around me. But at least there’s one reassuring aspect among the peril – the Volvo C30 that I’m driving. Its small profile is impervious to the gale-force cross winds, its stout 3,000 pound curb weight resists the urge to hydroplane in puddles and its all season radials and front wheel drive provide an abundance of traction. Even the smallest, lightest car that Volvo makes is still a solid, safe and reassuring machine in the most dangerous of driving conditions.

2008 Volvo C30

Despite the horrible visibility, even in downpours our C30 test car got plenty of looks from passers-by. Whether they were admiring the low slung tailgate glass in homage to the P1800ES, or they were gawking at the unmitigated audacity of the Swedish flag decals emblazoned on the doors, for better or worse, our C30 was a looker. And that’s Volvo’s entire goal with this new three-door hatchback. They’re trying to attract the attention of people – especially younger buyers who think of stuffy suburban soccer moms when they think of Volvo. The C30 is destined to be an image-changer for the Scandinavian brand, predicting that 75 percent of C30 buyers will be first time Volvo owners.

With a reported 5,000,000+ build combinations that would make Scion cringe, a turbocharged powerplant grunting with torque, a mix of new and old characteristic Volvo styling cues and a base price starting at $23,000, the C30 seems to have the right ingredients. But are they in the right proportions to compete with other so-called European “hot hatches” like the esteemed Volkswagen GTI, Audi A3 and Mini-Cooper?

2008 Volvo C30

Driving Impressions
Driving on the interstate in a full-blown Northern California tempest is a telling study of a car’s mettle, and the C30 excels like any other Volvo. Even in the worst conditions the car is stable, solid and reassuring. And when the weather is good, drivers are rewarded with a ride so quiet, supple and serene that the risk of dozing off might be one’s gravest concern.

The turbocharged 2.5 liter inline 5-cylinder engine is equally quiet. Some might not even know there’s a turbo on the other side of the firewall, as it’s practically inaudible. The motor puts out 227 hp and 236 lb. ft. of torque, pulling with authority on the freeway – even under 2,000 RPMs. It’s got so much grunt that it’s reminiscent of a European spec Volvo turbodiesel.

2008 Volvo C30

Fuel economy isn’t quite up to diesel standards, but 19 city and 28 highway is respectable. We averaged 26 with mostly highway driving. 0-60 times are competitive, in the mid-6 second range with the quarter-mile in 15 seconds. If it weren’t for the C30 having to move so much mass, it would be markedly quicker than all competitors. The C30 six-speed tranny is easy enough for even the most rank beginner to use. The clutch pedal is light and friendly, and pickup is predictable.

Despite its terrific highway performance and power numbers which outshine adversaries, once on the backroads, the C30 begins to show its weaknesses. The C30 is by no means unpleasant to drive on winding roads, but its heavy curb weight and soft suspension tend to make it less agile than the GTI or Mini-Cooper. Understeer and body roll are prevalent. It’s like comparing a dull X-Acto blade to a brand new one – sure it still cuts, but it ain’t as easy and effortless.

The C30 is definitely not your classic “hot hatch.” It lacks the aggressive suspension feel, the slick shifter, the heavily bolstered seats and of course, the growly, audible exhaust note. But maybe there’s more than one way to define what a “hot hatch” is. Although the C30 isn’t as athletic when the road doubles back on itself, it more than makes up for those shortcomings in other places.

The first observation people make when seeing the C30 is its unique styling. The second observation is its build quality. This happens the moment you yank on the door handle. The door must be lined with lead. Its big, thick, heavy and makes a CHUNK that sounds like a vault hatch. Mercy to the unfortunate car that sits next to a C30 owner when he accidentally opens the door too fast and too far. And you think a moose ramming your door does a lot of damage?

Although the important aspects of build quality are present – advanced safety features, tight panel gaps and high-grade dash and interior plastics – we were disappointed with others. Take for instance the driver’s seat, which made an irksome clicking and creaking sound depending on how your weight was distributed. And the flimsy cupholder trim, which broke from its mooring anytime you put a larger bottle in it. Of course, these are minor quibbles, but quibbles nonetheless. And sometimes the minor quibbles are the most irritating quibbles. Now that I have fulfilled my quibble quota for the year, let’s move on.

Volvo C30 interior

(Continued on page 2)

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  • Fax machine dash? says:

    I test drove this car, and really enjoyed it. The price and features were right, but…. the damn dash center console is horrid. I think they found an old fax machine from 1986 and ripped the control panel off of it, then went to the pub. It has a NUMBER pad on it! You could literally use it as a touchtone phone dial. Above it is a narrow slit MONO colored LCD screen backlit with green LEDs. It’s a good thing the car doesn’t drive like a fax machine, but it sure does look like one from the driver’s perspective.

  • I am not so impressed with this machine…I mean, others might like it. But it is not my cup of tea.

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