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|2011 Volvo C30
|2011 Volvo C30
By Dan Tsuchiya
- Overall attractive styling that brings back the P1800 for the 21st century
- Zippy engine with power that comes on very early utilizing great torque
- Built for cold weather
- Tight cornering prowess always has you looking for the next turn
- Front seats a bit narrow on the bottom half and no headrest adjustment
- Price with options getting close to a 1-series BMW
- Not built for warm climates
- With good handling comes a stiff suspension
Few shows were as popular in Britain in the 1960s as “The Saint”. The show starred Roger Moore as Simon Templar, a spy with a penchant for gorgeous cars. The classic image of Roger Moore driving his Volvo 1800 sports car in the 1960′s TV show, “The Saint”, endures even today.
On the other side of the Atlantic, hatchbacks have never been largely accepted in the United States except when they were disguised as sports cars like the XKE, 240Z, RX-7, and Pinto (sorry scratch that last one). The Volvo C30, which is a peppy little four seat hot-hatch, comes in deep into competitive territory with the Mazdaspeed3, WRX, GTI, and even the tidy little MINI Cooper S. We would like to think that the Volvo C30 can stand up to its peers, but you be the judge.
We were reminded of the cool P1800 when Volvo launched the 2-door, 4-passenger C30 a couple of years ago. It was an attractively different design that had not seen the market for quite a few years, in fact the last P1800 rolled off the production line in 1973. Since that time the U.S. public has come to recognize Volvo as the safe sedan car company. When the C30 was launched, it was kind of a shock as people were trying to figure out where this car would place given the company’s reputation. This confusion has led to slow sales of the initial C30’s.
Fast forward a few years and Volvo is taking the C30 to the next level to compete head to head with Japanese and other European rivals all the while being sold to Geely of China. Volvo, while still under Ford, took the European Focus chassis and provided some unique style to the vehicle, everything from the front fascia, bold body lines, attractive body kit, thickly stitched leather to mimic racing seats, and a creative yet simple approach to the dashboard for driver and passenger entertainment. All this wrapped around a 227HP/236 lb-ft 5-cylinder turbocharged engine which provides plenty of great city driving with brief stints of acceleration.
Jump in the C30 and it fits the driver fairly well. Volvo is a company that uses technology sparingly so you might feel that the driver interface is sparse — which is a two edged sword. On the one hand it’s straight forward and easy to understand; on the other it feels inadequate and not very inspiring. The C30 is an easy car to jump in and take for a spin, everything is essentially Civic/Corolla about 5 years ago, it just goes and handles a lot better than those two sedans from yesteryear.
It must be the sale of the company to Geely that has them distracted. From a fit and finish standpoint, this is one of the worst cars the staff has come across in quite some time. We found the gaps for the body were fairly poor from the hood being misaligned with the front fenders and the nose interface being out of plane (not even.) Something uncommon for a European car in this price range.
Volvo’s compact hatchback didn’t have any noticeable squeaks or rattles, except for the side windows. With the side windows being so long, the glass to weather-strip interface made a little creak when driving over small bumps. The other issue is turbulent wind noise at freeway speeds from the side view mirror design. Maybe Volvo engineers forgot to remove their earplugs during the wind tunnel tests.
We had several guests go for rides or just sit in the car to provide some initial opinions and most felt that the materials used on the dash and side panels were sub-standard for the vehicle within this price range. Everything from the hard plastics used for the window panel tops, to the carpets, to the heavy use of rubber for the dashboard was a bit disappointing. Interior fit and finish was decent for this level of car, just the materials were less than top grade.
Interior Comfort and Ergonomics
The driver’s seat provided fairly good support with narrow and relatively deep bolsters to keep you in place. The downside here is that the seat will only fit those with a 32 waist or smaller, the Swedes are fairly thin, but for American tastes, it might get a little narrow. The best place to sit is the driver’s seat because you get to see the beautiful analog gauges that almost look like a fine wrist watch. Unfortunately, the good seating ends there because the passenger seating is so close to the dash, the glove box hits you right at the knees when opened. The rear seats are only good for those 5’10” and shorter otherwise your head will be touching the ceiling. Rear seats do fold down, but the opening for the rear hatch is only through the glass, so size of items stored is limited.
While the C30 shares the same platform of the V50 wagon, it feels smaller and more nimble. Volvo has stiffened up the suspension on this hot hatch to a point where it can get jarring when the road is uneven. The low profile tires on the 18’s don’t help the cause for comfort but do contribute to the fun factor (more on that later).
The Swedes must have ape arms because the seating position causes your arms to be extended, tiring them early in the drive. Radio and climate controls are easy to understand and use but the AC vents in the dash are very small so it takes a while to cool the car after parking it in the hot sun and one needs to keep the fan blowing strong if the outside temps are high….probably not a factor in Sweden.
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