Having driven the C30 T5 a couple of years ago and loved it, I couldn’t pass up the unique opportunity to drive another (this time a C30 VER 2.0) while on a business trip/vacation in California. The manual transmission in the C30 T5 is one of the sweetest and slickest gearboxes available; however, since probably 90% of these cars are purchased with an automatic transmission, this provided a valuable opportunity to experience the other side. With the intended sightseeing route, I figured it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to drop the transmission into D and just go.
After a bum-numbing 5 hours in the plane, I wasn’t sure how I could put up with sitting in a car for most of the day. I needn’t have worried though, because as per usual for Volvo’s, the C30’s seats are exceptionally comfortable. After leaving the airport we took a very leisurely 5+ hours drive to our destination in Monterey – roughly halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. During our week in the beautiful Northern California area we spent a lot of time driving – but not once did we get out of the car fatigued or stiff!! I can’t think of another vehicle that would have been more perfect for our trip.
Not a day went by when I wasn’t stopped and asked by someone: “What is that!?” When I told them it was a Volvo C30, inevitably the next question was: “Is it a hybrid or a prototype car?!” Even Volvo owners asked if it was a prototype. I could only guess they don’t sell many C30’s in California – we saw one other just outside of San Jose the day we were leaving, so there is more than one in the state. People were constantly stopping and staring at it and everyone I talked to was impressed and loved the look of the car. Even one guy in a new BMW 3 series convertible stopped and circled the C30 in a parking lot.
With my previous experience in the manual version of the C30 T5 (same car – different name) the previous summer, I wasn’t expecting the automatic to be too exhilarating. While the automatic is not as responsive or as much fun as the manual version, it is still an excellent vehicle. More than a few times it caught me out when I applied a little too much pressure to the go pedal. The low-end torque – available at only 1,500 rpm – makes the C30 a very enjoyable car at the traffic lights. Once you get the green stomp on the gas and leave everyone in your wake!! Turbo lag is negligible – even in the automatic. The shift points are completely seamless and nicely spaced for leisurely or aggressive driving.
The nice thick (optional) steering wheel is tilt and telescopic adjustable and offers a perfect balance of weight at any speed. The firm suspension, combined with the tight steering made the trip down twisty Highway 1 a very pleasant experience. Whether puttering around town or bombing down two-lane highways – this is one of the sweetest cars you could choose for every day driving – at any price.
Throw in the straight 5-cylinder turbo engine and it doesn’t get any better – just press the go pedal and hold on!! While many non-turbo engines need to get close to the red line before they show some enthusiasm, the C30 gets the speed, well into illegal territory long before the red line appears, and it does so quietly and without a fuss. One of the many things that really stood out with the C30 was the wind noise being exceptionally quiet with only the whirr of the air conditioner fan disturbing complete silence inside the cabin.
Storage compartments in the C30 are less than generous. The door pockets are very small and the centre armrest/storage compartment is a bit too small as well. Unless you have very small items like sunglasses or gum, there isn’t a lot of room for anything else. The glove box is a reasonable size and additional storage can be found behind the “floating” console – a great spot for CD cases.
As with every Volvo, the audio and climate control systems are very logical and easy to use – I’d have to say that no one does it better than Volvo. The in-dash 6-disc CD/AM/FM/MP3/WMA unit is manufactured by Dynaudio, one of Europe’s leading home theatre companies. The Premium sound system incorporates Dolby® Pro Logic® II surround sound, 10 Dynaudio loudspeakers that are specially designed to provide 650 watts of total power combined with the powerful amplifier.
The centre speaker and sophisticated sound processing is calibrated specifically for the Volvo C30, and includes: RDS radio, separate 5×130-Watt digital amplifier, 130-Watt centre speaker, AUX input and steering wheel controls. How does it sound? Incredible!
I was a little surprised that the climate control was manual and not automatic – not a big deal because in 99 percent of cars the automatic climate controls aren’t worth spit – it was just little unexpected for a car in this quality/price bracket.
Rear seat accommodation is very good for a car of this size. As is the norm when entering and exiting any two-door coupe, it’s a bit of a struggle, but once back there it’s very comfortable with plenty of room for feet, knees and hips as well as a surprising amount of headroom. One thing to note is if the driver is tall, the rear seat accommodation will probably not be quite so generous.
The seats are very comfortable and perfectly angled to coddle rear passengers. The rear seat folds 50/50 for additional cargo capacity, and folds virtually flat. One rather annoying aspect is with the front seats – when getting in and out of the rear seat, the front seat doesn’t return to its set place. It moves forward as if the front passenger or driver has lost 6″ in height during the thirty seconds or so that he/she took to retrieve something or let someone out of the car. While I realize that this isn’t that uncommon – it’s still an annoying trait.
The 433 litre rear hatch trunk is a reasonable size for this type of car, with the usual advantages of a hatchback. Unfortunately, the cargo cover (soft or hard) is optional – which surprised me for a vehicle in this price bracket. Because the rear window is so large, it’s virtually impossible to keep your belongings hidden from prying eyes without the cover.
Another extremely annoying pet peeve is that there is no interior hatch release. You have to unlock the entire car – then you can use the pressure-sensitive pad under the rear hatch window. Very annoying when getting out of the car and going to the back to get something out of the hatch area while leaving the engine running. Going back and fumbling for the interior power door lock button was equally annoying.
As a sporty coupe in the small-luxury market, the Volvo C30 VER 2.0 /T5 is one incredible car. This is everything the Audi A3 should be – but isn’t. The seats are very comfortable and supportive, while the chassis and suspension are on par with any true sports car.
The automatic transmission is superb and I’m glad I had the automatic instead of the manual on our trip. There is nothing other than a couple of quirks to fault this car that I can think of. I wouldn’t hesitate to purchase one of these.
A blast to drive
Extremely comfortable seats
Great fuel mileage
Superb suspension & transmission
No beverage holders for rear occupants
No rear cover for the cargo area.
Audi A3, Dodge Caliber SRT4, Honda Civic Si, MAZDASPEED3, MINI Cooper S, VW GTI
By The Numbers…
For more details, pricing and options visit your local Volvo dealer.
Powertrain: 2.5 Litre 5-cylinder Turbocharged DOHC engine with Variable Valve Timing;
5-speed automatic with Geartronic, FWD.
Horsepower: 227 @ 5,000 rpm
Torque: 236 @ 1,500 – 5,000 rpm
0-100 km/h: 7.4 seconds
Curb Weight: 1,447 kg
Cargo Capacity: 1,534 mm x 954 mm x 470 mm Behind Front Seats
711 mm x 954 mm x 470 mm Behind Rear Seats
Towing capacity: 900 kilograms
City: 12.4 L/100 kms // Highway: 8.7 L/100 kms // Combined: 10.7 L/100 kms
I averaged a very good 10.8 L/100 kms in very steep hills mixed with plenty of city and freeway driving.
Copyright © 2009 by Iain Shankland. All rights reserved.
Text: Iain Shankland / Images: Gail Shankland
Also published at Automobilsport.com