Looks are a big factor in the Volvo C30's appeal. The little hatchback coupe is undeniably sexy—in a grin-inducing, dorky sort of way. From any angle that involves the back end, where the glass-and-blacked-out hatch and curved flanks can be seen, it's quite possibly that the 2009 Volvo C30 is the best-styled hatchback currently sold in the U.S.
But get inside and there are a few things lacking.
For one, the packaging of the interior doesn’t make it nearly as comfy for drivers or passengers as the S40 and V50, with which it shares its platform. You'd expect this coupe to give tall drivers and front passengers plenty of space to sprawl out, as the back seat space looks quite limited to begin with. But instead there are two contoured seats in the back—and a real attempt to make them habitable for adults—even though taller adults won’t fit, and anyone but the lean and fit will have entry/exit issues.
2009 Volvo C30
The result is that the front feels a bit compromised with just enough headroom and legroom for taller folks. At 6’6”, I couldn’t get into a very comfortable driving position; I couldn’t get the steering wheel far enough away from my torso, and my knee rested against the center console; it’s odd as seating is usually a Volvo strength.
Factor in the high cargo floor, and a small-opening hatch that’s basically the back window, and it’s not super-practical; your goods are on display, with none of the substantial hidden compartments that many hatchbacks and crossover vehicles now have.
If the C30’s rear styling and glassy back hatch isn't calling out to you, you're probably going to be a lot happier with the V50, a vehicle that's often overlooked by hatchback buyers.
Oh, but the C30 is still quite a looker, even several years after its debut. For 2009, the new R-Design package brings some flashy-looking 'Atreus' five-spoke, 18-inch alloy wheels with grippy Pirelli P Zero Rosso rubber, side skirts, a matte-silver finish for the grille and side mirrors, a roof spoiler. It also adds cruise control and Sirius Satellite Radio—two items that it seems should be no-brainers for the C30’s standard-equipment list. In all, the R-Design costs $2,150 more than the base C30.
The other good news is that this sharper R-Design package is powered by the same 2.5-liter turbocharged in-line five that’s in the S40 T5 and V50 T5 models, making 227 horsepower—along with a more important 236 pound-feet of torque beginning at just 1800 rpm. I've driven this engine with the standard six-speed manual transmission in the S40 T5, but I have to admit it's almost better-suited to the automatic, where the turbo is kept spooling and it grabs each higher gear with gusto.
The turbo engine actually does very well with the automatic, as there's the slightest bit of lag with this engine and it keeps the turbo spooling. We only wished that the torque converter would keep things locked up a bit more; subtle changes of the throttle at boulevard-cruising speeds are met with an obvious drone as the revs raise slightly. There’s not a lot of torque steer, but as in the Mazdaspeed3 the front wheels are still a bit challenged for traction and you can't get too hard on the throttle at too low of a speed. It’s also quite economical; we averaged 22 mpg hot-footing around Detroit suburbs when outside temps were still in the 20s.
Overall, it’s too bad the 2009 Volvo C30 is being left off some shopping lists. If you can oversee a few deficiencies, the C30’s unbeatable style and poise will keep you grinning.
For more info, check out TheCarConnection.com's page on the 2009 C30, which includes our Bottom Line, a Full Review including a survey of other sources, photos, and links to other news and reviews.