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No model in Volvo's current lineup—not even the all-new S60 that was introduced this year—speaks to the brand's design revolution quite as much as the C30 hatchback. With this model, Volvo has proven that not all of its models need to be boxy and chiseled, or that they even have to prioritize practicality. The C30 has a design that clearly makes some packaging sacrifices for the sake of being sleek, low, and rakish. And this retro-styled hot hatch looks proud of it.
From the front, it's easy to peg the 2011 Volvo C30 as a truncated, hatchback version of the S40 sedan and V50 wagon. Indeed, they're related, but those similarities only do hold from the front. The C30 has unique sheetmetal all around, and from the rear it's nothing like those other more conventional-looking models. In back, this truly stylish, sporty Volvo looks to Volvo's 1800ES 'shooting brake,' from the early 1970s, for inspiration, with a smaller, rounded, blacked-out hatch opening.
Inside, the C30 has a design that's unlike the S40, and unlike that of most hot hatches. It's sophisticated and laid-back—a bit of a necessity, given the lower roofline—and it has the now-familiar Volvo 'floating' center stack, a thin panel housing radio and climate controls, with storage space just behind.
The interior is obviously sacrificed a bit for the style, and the low roofline. It's tight; tall drivers might find themselves surprisingly short on space, as the sunroof cuts precious headroom. And the rear seats—configured more as two separate contoured positions with scaled-down proportions—are snug. The cargo space is a bit disappointing, too.
You won't find the 2011 Volvo C30 twitchy or incredibly nimble; overall, compared to what you might expect given the interior it's tuned to feel like a slightly larger, more mature coupe. Power comes in a remarkably linear fashion from the proven 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine, here turbocharged and producing a healthy 227 horsepower. Its peak torque of 236 pound-feet of torque is reached at just 1,800 rpm, so it does very well with the automatic; the standard six-speed manual is also pleasant but a bit notchy.
The C30 can be optioned with a host of safety gear—par for the course on a Volvo—but its the luxury-vehicle level of equipment you can get on this little hatchback that also separates it from the crowd. The highlight of the lineup, at least visually, remains the style-centric R-Design model, which includes different front and rear aerodynamic work; a sport suspension; Pirelli performance tires; special 'Midir' wheel design; xenon HID headlamps with Active Bending Light; and a hard-drive-based nav system with live traffic. Options on the C30 lineup include a moonroof, leather upholstery, a climate package, and a preferred package with rain-sensor wipers and headlight washers.