Volvo C30 T5– 2008 First Drive: Perception can be hard to change.
Take Volvo for instance. If someone tells you to think of a Volvo, we’d bet the first thing to pop into your head is the old 240 sedan, the one that inspired Dudley Moore’s character in the 1990 movie Crazy People to use, “Volvo. They’re boxy, but they’re good,” as a winning ad line. Boxy hasn’t described Volvos for some time now, but the momentum of that classic sedan is tough to overcome, especially when your reputation is as square as your cars used to be.
With its buyers mostly female, mostly in their 40s and mostly earning around $140,000, Volvo feels as if it’s losing its common touch. The new C30 T5 is designed to be a car to change all that by getting younger, male, less affluent buyers into the Volvo showroom. Part of the catch is that the C30 represents a whole new way of selling cars for Volvo. Customization is as key to the C30 is it is for Scion and Mini, and the result is a Volvo that doesn’t look anything like your college physics professor’s ride. Instead, it’s narrowly focused on those who are intrigued by the Scion way of selling cars, but perhaps want a bigger car, secretly crave Volvo’s safety image, or just have more money to spend.
The C30 is definitely a step in the right direction to enhancing Volvo’s image. It isn’t a revolution in the automotive world, but it’s a serious step forward in associating Volvo with fun. The C30’s unique rear end styling is eye catching and the driving experience backs it up: part Volvo sedan, part edgy hatchback. The most obvious target for the C30 is the Volkswagen GTI, and while it doesn’t sink the German standard bearer, it gives it one hell of a broadside.
It’s no coincidence that the C30 bears a strong resemblance to the S40; they’re based on the same platform and share virtually identical sheet metal from the windshield forward. They’re also mechanically similar, with the same suspension, steering and engine, although the last is more powerful here. Another thing the C30 shares with its sedan cousin is safety: Volvo claims crash test results for the C30 are just as good as the S40.
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There are two main models of C30: Version 1.0 (V.1) and Version 2.0 (V.2). The 227 horsepower turbo engine is standard in both models, and is the only engine available; all to help the C30’s sporty image says Volvo. Version 1.0 models get power windows and locks, air conditioning, dynamic stability control, leather steering wheel and gearshift and 17-inch alloy wheels. Note that power seats, leather upholstery and many other luxury goodies are optional, a little surprising given Volvo’s premium status. The Version 2.0 adds a sport suspension with 18-inch wheels and Pirelli Rosso tires, a sport body kit and big exhaust tips, and a more powerful audio system with Sirius satellite radio.
The V.1 starts at $23,445 while the V.2 comes in at $26,445; both prices include a $745 destination charge. The prices for the individual options vary widely, and you’ll likely spend a great deal of time poring over the list as you build your C30. Want an automatic? That’ll be $1,250. How about power seats? An extra $800, or $450 if you want it just for the driver. Leather seats will set you back $1,200; a navigation system is $2,120 and Volvo’s BLIS blind spot detection system is $695. Start picking and choosing from the custom build program and you pay a $300 up front fee; that’s in addition to anything you actually order.
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The model number may be new, but the C30’s underpinnings – and its styling, to a certain extent – are old hat. Under its skin is an S40 sedan, shortened eight inches thanks to a trunkectomy; wheelbase is the same. The front end styling is instantly recognizable as new-Volvo, with a pronounced hoodline, broad shoulders, and the unique Volvo grille with its diagonal stripe. Interestingly, the side and rear view are just as distinct, but from a different era. If it’s familiar, it’s because the profile and tail were inspired by the 1971-1973 Volvo P1800 ES. Volvo notes that this is one of its most recognizable cars, even though only 1500 were sold in the U.S. during this time, and a paltry 8000 worldwide. See? Not all Volvos were boxy.
Although it’s a unique look, we were disappointed to see that the big glass hatch actually hid a small opening, at least, smaller than competitors such as a Volkswagen GTI or Mazdaspeed 3. This is primarily because of the pronounced tumblehome of the sides and roof of the car; that cool shape has its price.
Again, if you’re comfortable in the S40, you’ll fit right in here. The C30’s interior is lifted almost entirely from its sedan sibling, with a few exceptions. Styling on the door panels is different, the center console between the seats is changed subtly, and the rear seating is strictly for two; no five-passengers here. But looking out over the gauges and you’d swear you were driving an S40. We like the design of the climate and infotainment controls pillar, but the plastic felt a little cheap to some of us. There were also other touches that strike of cost cutting here and there: even in the $26,445 Version 2.0, power and leather seats are still an option.
In fact, most of the modern niceties are found on the option list, and when you start adding them up, the price of the C30 goes from reasonable to that much? in an eye blink. Regardless, Volvo appears to have spent most of its money in the right places. The controls all feel good, the switchgear is high quality, and the seat is enormously comfortable once you adjust all the knobs and levers to where you want it.
The same can’t be said for the rear seat. Despite Volvo’s claims to the contrary, it’s cramped for even moderately tall people thanks to a sloping roofline that cuts into head room. Cargo room is also compromised thanks to the small hatch opening and somewhat limited small cargo area. However, the seats fold down easily to expand cargo capacity, and we’d guess that a lot of C30 owners will simply leave them folded except for emergency friend hauling.