2011 Volvo C30 Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
February 7, 2011

The 2011 Volvo C30 provides a stylish look and feel, but that means plenty of sacrifices inside.

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.

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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.

9

2011 Volvo C30

Styling

With a racier shape than nearly any other small hatchback, and an especially handsome hatch, the C30 won't disappoint stylistas inside or out.

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, from the early 1970s, for inspiration, with a smaller, rounded, blacked-out hatch opening. The broad-shouldered sides complement the a rakish silhouette. Large, flashy alloy wheels and lipped wheel wells with dark lower-body and window trim help give the whole design a fastback coupe look from the side.

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.

For 2011, the C30 line gets a subtle refresh, including a new front fascia, reshaped fenders and hood, and new headlamps, plus inside, a new honeycomb-design aluminum inlay.

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7

2011 Volvo C30

Performance

The 2011 Volvo C30 doesn't have the edgy feel of a sports car, but most will like its smooth power delivery and docile handling.

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.

Because the C30 sends a lot of power to the front wheels, it can scramble side to side a but when accelerating hard on bumpy surfaces at low speed, but overall the C30 handles in a solid and secure way. The C30's long wheelbase lends a stable feel, and relaxed highway cruising, and the steering has a longer ratio compared to other hot hatches—meaning it's less twitchy. At the same time, even with the R-Design package, which adds a stiffer suspension and slightly quicker steering, the feeling of heft, the less sensitive steering, its noticeably nose-heavy layout, and a rather firm suspension conspire to make the C30 feel a little less nimble than other cars its side—even if it delivers when you push it into action.

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2011 Volvo C30

Comfort & Quality

The 2011 Volvo C30 offers an interior that's very impressive in terms of design, materials, and trims but impractically confined for some needs.

The C30 manages to wow with its interior design, and it's not just the appearance that's impressive. The 'floating' center stack, a thin panel where radio and climate system controls are located, allows an open space with storage just behind. Front seats have an attractive two-tone look, with contrast stitching, and there are soft-touch areas for the elbows.

However, the interior is tight; tall drivers might find themselves surprisingly short on space, as the sunroof cuts precious headroom. The rear seats—configured more as two separate contoured positions with scaled-down proportions—are snug, and adults will complain even if they can wedge in. The cargo space is a bit disappointing, too, with a narrow opening through the glass hatch—and a high cargo floor that doesn't make much of it usable if you want rearward visibility. Such is the sacrifice for the fashionably low packaging.

Ride comfort isn't so great either. The underlying firmness of the suspension results in jarring jolts over potholes and some boominess on coarse surfaces—exposing that noise insulation isn't quite up to the standard of Volvo's other vehicles.

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9

2011 Volvo C30

Safety

The 2011 Volvo C30 offers top-notch occupant protection, plus several features you won't find in any other hot hatches.

While the 2011 Volvo C30 includes all the usual safety equipment that we've come to expect, even in small hatchback models, over the past several years—like electronic stability control, side airbags, roll-sensing side-curtain bags, and anti-lock brakes—the C30 comes with a few more features that aren't so common.

The C30 includes Volvo's IDIS (Intelligent Driver Information System), which delays certain functions, such as a phone call when the driver is engaged in a more complicated maneuver (heavy braking, turning, and so on). A rear obstacle detection system is also available as an option. Other options not otherwise available in this class are a blind-spot alert system (Volvo's BLIS) and a lane-departure warning system.

Although the federal government hasn't crash-tested the C30, its safety looks to be one of the best, among small hatchbacks. It's an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) Top Safety Pick, earning a top 'good' rating in every test category, including the new roof strength test.

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2011 Volvo C30

Features

The 2011 Volvo C30 comes better equipped than any other hot hatch, and it's a good value at the base level.

Part of what separates the C30 from other hot-hatch models is that there's no skimping on features; Volvo packs it with a great set of standard features, and adding one of several option packages will get you a luxury-vehicle level of equipment or, with the R-Design, an even more sophisticated, upscale look. Over the past several model years, Volvo has been adding many more options to the C30 without substantially raising the price, and it feels like there's bit more value for the money than when it was first introduced, with the base, well-equipped car costing about $25k. Be careful, though, as the R-Design can top out out toward $35k.

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.

The base sound system is quite good, with 160 watts and HD Radio compatibility, but the high-end Dynaudio system is better than you'll find in any other small hatchback. Satellite radio remains a standalone option.

A trip computer, cruise control, and a Bluetooth hands-free calling interface are all currently included on the base C30 T5, in addition to things like power windows, air conditioning, and a tilt/telescopic steering wheel.

Other options on the C30 lineup include a moonroof, leather upholstery, a climate package, and a preferred package with rain-sensor wipers and headlight washers.

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7

2011 Volvo C30

Fuel Economy

While the 2011 Volvo C30's numbers aren't bad, they're unimpressive after you size this little hatchback up.

Purely on the basis of carrying passengers or cargo, the 2011 Volvo C30 isn't a very green choice. With fuel economy ratings of 21 mpg city and 29 or 30 highway—figures that would seem about right for a mid-size, V-6 sedan—it's hardly impressive.

If it's any consolation, our editors have seen figures well within that range, even in enthusiastic driving; in one drive of the C30 in a particularly cold winter snap, we saw 23 mpg overall.

Also, if you consider that the C30 is up against sportier hatchback models, not the mainstream ones, it begins to fit in a bit better—with its thirst about the same as the Mazda3 with the larger 2.5-liter engine.

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Styling 9
Performance 7
Comfort & Quality 6
Safety 9
Features 9
Fuel Economy 7
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