By David Colman
For: : Lithe Lines, IKEA Interior, Wheel-spinning Power
Against: Touchy Clutch Tip-in, Nil Rear Seat Headroom
Volvo’s been down this road before. Forty years ago, they took their 2 seat sports car, the P1800, added 2+2 seating, station wagon storage accessible through a hatchback, and called the result the P1800ES. They resurrected that once successful formula by bringing the C30 to market several years ago. In 2012 form, the C30 has matured into a very handsome, useful and affordable hatchback. Volvo’s frequent forays into worldwide sedan racing have yielded dividends in refashioning the C30’s aerodynamic contours. These racing program refinements, called “R-Design” tricks, contribute new front and rear spoilers as well the honeycomb front grill. With the help of this trim package, the C30 presents one of the loveliest silhouettes on the road. Its appearance is as memorable as that of the P1800ES was in its day.
Let’s get acquainted with the C30 by climbing aboard for a test hop. You’ll need to drop down and in because the C30 is only 57 inches tall. Immediately impressive is the R-Design two-tone look of the interior, with front and rear seat cushions split into dazzling black and cream segments. Flop into the deep front buckets, and they feel even more supportive than they look. But if you’re climbing into the back seat, the drill is more complicated, First, use the handy seat-top button to slide the front seat forward. Then tilt the front seatback forward, push the safety harness aside, duck your head way down, and twist yourself into one of the two rear seats. Once ensconced back there, you’ll love the lounge chair seating position, and appreciate the big window next to your head, but rue the lack of headroom due to the C30’s sloped roofline.
The rest of the interior appointments befit the cleanly sculpted R-Design exterior. The cockpit fixtures remind you of a trip to an IKEA showroom, where good design is raised to a sensible and practical art form. Op-Art patterning embosses the swatches of anodized aluminum trimming the door tops and center stack. Metallic blue instrument faces mimic the dials of a chronograph wristwatch. The center stack, made from extruded aluminum, is a simple pillar of beauty, with all HVAC and stereo knobs conveniently laid out, rather than sequestered from view as is the rage these days.
The performance of the C30 is in keeping with its straightforward appearance. The transversely-mounted, in-line 5 cylinder engine, which is both intercooled and turbocharged, lights off with a twist of the plastic proboscis on the stubby key. You’ll need to keep the revs up as you move off from a standing start, though, as the motor wants to stall when you first dump the clutch. From then on, however, the silky 5 makes enough torque down low in the rev range to incite appreciable torque steer in this front-wheel-driver if you prod the accelerator in the middle of a turn. Our test C30 featured R-tuned suspension, plus sticky 18 inch Pirelli P Zero Nero tires (225/45R18) mounted on anthracite 5-spoke R-Design alloys. This combination of suspension/tire/wheel endows the petite sportback with a plush ride, enough shock travel to soak up potholes, yet sufficient stability to scorch tight turns with aplomb.
In its $35,000 price range, the C30 with R-Design refinements is well worth the entry fee. It will really transport 4 adults if needed, but serves primarily as a 2 seat sports sedan featuring high performance limits plus enough storage space to pass itself off as your family sedan.
2012 Volvo C30 T5 2-Door Hatchback
- Engine: 2.5 Liter In-Line DOHC 5, Intercooled and Turbocharged
- Horsepower: 227hp at 5,000 rpm
- Torque: 236 lb.-ft. at 1,500 – 5,000 rpm
- Fuel Consumption: 21 MPG City/29 MPG Highway
- Price as Tested: $35,720
- Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars