Though three-door compact hatchbacks often qualify in the "hot hatch" segment, the 2012 Volvo C30 is somewhat different. Despite its stylish interior, the road feel and handling are tuned to feel like a larger coupe that's neither twitchy nor begging to be flung through corners. The turbocharged 227-horsepower five-cylinder engine provides a steady flow of linear power, with its peak torque of 236 pound-feet achieved at a remarkably low 1,800 rpm. That makes it tractable and well-suited to the optional automatic transmission, which gets marginally better fuel economy on the highway cycle. The six-speed manual transmission is fine, but some drivers may find it somewhat notchy.
Traction control can be an issue in sending more than 200 hp to the front wheels of a small compact, and the C30 occasionally scrambles side to side under hard acceleration at low speeds on bumpy or uneven pavement. But its wheels are pushed out toward the ends of the car, meaning the wheelbase is long enough to give the car stability and relaxed cruising at highway speeds. The steering ratio is longer than most hot hatches, meaning you'll spend more time turning the wheel, but the benefit is a total lack of twitchiness at any speed.
The C30 is among the less nimble compact hatches, even when fitted with the sport suspension and performance tires of the R-Design package. But it feels hefty, and the five-cylinder engine makes it nose-heavy. That plus the low-geared steering detract from any desire to throw the C30 into corners. All that said, the car delivers when pushed into action--it just doesn't encourage doing so the way other sporty hatchbacks do.