2013 Volvo C30 Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
June 12, 2012

The 2013 Volvo C30 still has a stunning design, inside and out, but its performance and practicality can easily be beat.

With the discontinuation of Volvo's S40 and V50 compact models, the C30 continues on as something of an outlier in Volvo's U.S. lineup. While the S60 and XC60 manage to woo the traditional Volvo family crowd with a solid set of family-friendly credentials and a roomier package, the racy-looking C30 offers something quite different. Part sporty coupe, part chiseled hatchback, the 2013 C30 makes an appeal to a more performance-minded and style-conscious crowd, arguably, but it only manages to hit the mark with the latter group--and falls surprisingly short on practicality.

The Volvo C30 was one of the most stylish small cars on the market when it was first introduced many years ago, and it remains that way today—a sign that it's aging well. The C30 has a design that clearly makes some packaging sacrifices for the sake of being sleek, low, and rakish, but overall the C30 looks unabashedly proud of it. Inside, the C30 has a design that'smore sophisticated and laid-back, compared to most 'hot hatches', with the now-familiar Volvo 'floating' center stack, a thin panel housing radio and climate controls, with a pass-through compartment just ahead, by the footwell.

Three-door hatchbacks with any sort of performance bent are typically geared toward serious younger enthusiasts and tuner types, but the C30 tends to be something different. While the look is racy, the combination of the C30's stylish interior, well-isolated road feel, and handling that opts out of the ragged edge, the C30 is surprisingly not the kind of car that wants to be flung through corners. Instead, it's a fast touring coupe, or a comfortable commuter--and one with a responsive side that won't let you down if you approach it from that direction. 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. The automatic transmission is a surprisingly willing companion, as it keeps the engine on its boost and works well with your right foot; a somewhat notchy six-speed manual transmission is your other option, and that's fine, too.

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There aren't a lot of other positives to share about the interior, once you get beyond the style points. While front-seat space is generally good, headroom is surprisingly tight with the sunroof; and the two carved-out bucket seats in back aren't really sized for full-scale human adults. Cargo space is disappointingly limited, with a high cargo floor and a narrow opening through the glass hatch--pretty much assuring that you'll block off some of your rearward visibility just in a typical grocery run. Ride comfort is no more than adequate, either; the suspension is on the firm side (although soft when pressed); and the C30's interior can get boomy over coarse highway surfaces.

Volvo has been making the R-Design models the top trims in all of its model ranges, with a sporty edge plus extra comforts and distinctive materials and trims, and here it's the way to get a C30 if you're willing to pay some thousands more. R-Design models get an aero package at the front and rear, Pirelli high-performance tires on unique alloy wheels, a retuned sport suspension, xenon High-Intensity Discharge headlamps, and a standard navigation system that includes live real-time traffic data. Premier Plus and Platinum models get the most R-Design extras, as well as power driver and front passenger seats, keyless drive, and LED running lamps.

All C30 models also gain fully synthetic motor oil for 2013, which increases service intervals out to one year or 10,000 miles.

9

2013 Volvo C30

Styling

The racy shape and retro cues of the 2013 Volvo C30 will charm, even against some of the latest hot-hatch models.

The design of the 2013 Volvo C30 is by no means fresh, but it's worn well. Thanks to a mild restyle a couple of years ago, it's kept up to date with a mild frontal restyle bringing new headlamps, reshaped front fenders and hood, and a revised front fascia.

Part of the reason the C30 manages to look so good, year after year, is that it owes a lot to its design inspiration--the 1800ES two-door sport wagon of the early 1970s. With its entirely unique sheetmetal, and its role as the only two-door hatchback in the Volvo range, the C30 carries that torch.

You can also see some of that retro-futuristic design inspiration in the C30's all-glass rear hatch, complete with a shoulder line over the rear wheels. The effect is a rakish silhouette that's distinctive and appealing. Contrasting trim helps outline the wheel wells, and large wheels give the look of a fastback coupe more than the upright three-door hatchback it arguably is.

The interior design of the 2013 C30 remains a big part of its charm. With Volvo's now-familiar "floating" center stack holding the sound system controls as well as those for the climate system, leaving room for a clever storage space just behind that panel and atop the shift tunnel, there's space for all sorts of smaller items, mostly out of view. And the modern and sophisticated themes are kept up inside with clean, simple aluminum trim inlays with a honeycomb pattern.

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7

2013 Volvo C30

Performance

The 2013 Volvo C30 is smooth and strong, but it's by no means sharp or edgy--especially with respect to handling.

Three-door hatchbacks with any sort of performance bent are typically geared toward serious younger enthusiasts and tuner types, but the C30 tends to be something different. While the look is racy, the combination of the C30's stylish interior, well-isolated road feel, and handling that opts out of the ragged edge, the C30 is surprisingly not the kind of car that wants to be flung through corners.

Instead, it's a fast touring coupe, or a comfortable commuter--and one with a responsive side that won't let you down if you approach it from that direction. 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. The automatic transmission is a surprisingly willing companion, as it keeps the engine on its boost and works well with your right foot; a somewhat notchy six-speed manual transmission is your other option, and that's fine, too.

Drive the C30 a little too hard, and you'll find out that it's no Mazdaspeed3 chaser. The C30 occasionally scrambles side to side under hard acceleration at low speeds on bumpy or uneven pavement, and it plows hard when pushed into corners. The C30 is among the less nimble compact hatches, even when fitted with the sport suspension and performance tires of the R-Design package. Nose-heaviness, and 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.

The positive side is that the C30 has its wheels positioned out toward the corners of the car, with a long wheelbase for a smaller two-door hatchback, so the C30 is a happy highway cruiser, with a stable and relaxed feel at and well beyond legal U.S. speeds.

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6

2013 Volvo C30

Comfort & Quality

The C30 cabin has an impressive instrument panel design, but its tight seating and cargo space could be dealbreakers for some.

The interior design of the 2013 Volco C30 remains a knockout, even in a class where there are several other more recently updated models. And it manages to pack in a lot of functionality with its Euro-chic cabin appeal. 

At the center of the instrument panel is a thin center stack panel that "floats" between the dashboard and the console on the tunnel, leaving an open space behind it for storage. It's not the easiest space to reach, but the effect is still striking. The front seats are stitched in an attractive two-tone pattern, with thread colored to contrast, and soft-touch materials cover most of the points where occupants will touch the interior of the C30.

Look around the rest of the interior, and you may be a bit disappointed. While front-seat space is generally good, headroom is surprisingly tight with the sunroof; and the two carved-out bucket seats in back aren't really sized for full-scale human adults. Cargo space is disappointingly limited, with a high cargo floor and a narrow opening through the glass hatch--pretty much assuring that you'll block off some of your rearward visibility just in a typical grocery run.

There aren't a lot of other positives to share about the interior, once you get beyond the style points. Ride comfort is no more than adequate; the suspension is on the firm side (although soft when pressed); and the C30's interior can get boomy over coarse highway surfaces--making it a step or two behind Volvo's other models like the S60 and no better than some sharper, edgier hatchbacks in noise or refinement.

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9

2013 Volvo C30

Safety

Among compact hatchbacks, the C30 has a strong safety set.

Volvo has a longstanding reputation for top-notch occupant protection and top-notch safety equipment, and for the most part the C30 lives up to that.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, gives the C30 its highest rating of "Good" for frontal offset, side-impact, and rear crashes, as well as roof strength. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) hasn't rated the current C30.

The 2013 Volvo C30 includes electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes, front and side airbags, and side-curtain airbags with rollover sensors. There's also the Intelligent Driver Information System (IDIS), which monitors the car's maneuvers and may choose to delay certain functions to prevent driver distraction--an incoming phone call, for instance. Optional equipment that's unusual among compact hatchbacks includes both a lane-departure warning system and a rear-obstacle detection system.

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9

2013 Volvo C30

Features

The 2013 Volvo C30 is equipped as a small luxury coupe, but it's the R-Design models that stand out.

In recent years, Volvo has priced its cars a little higher than mass-market brands but a little lower than full-fledged luxury marques. At the same time, it's equipped them as luxury vehicles, essentially, which makes them pretty good deals.

And the same is true here. The 2013 C30 plays right into this positioning by including an impressive set of standard features. Choosing among several options packages will let buyers turn it into a very small luxury car, or give it an upscale, sophisticated appearance with the R-Design trim.

The base C30 starts at about $26k and includes things like cruise control, a trip computer, and Bluetooth hands-free compatibility, along with more standard features like air conditioning, power windows and locks, and an adjustable steering wheel that both tilts and telescopes. Rain-sensor wipers and headlight washers have been made standard across the lineup for 2013. The sound system on the base model is far from skimpy, including both 160 Watts of output and standard HD Radio compatibility. Opt for the Dynaudio premium sound system, and you'll find it to be the best in any compact car.

Volvo has been making the R-Design models the top trims in all of its model ranges, with a sporty edge plus extra comforts and distinctive materials and trims. R-Design models get an aero package at the front and rear, Pirelli high-performance tires on unique alloy wheels, a retuned sport suspension, xenon High-Intensity Discharge headlamps, and a standard navigation system that includes live real-time traffic data. Premier Plus and Platinum models get the most R-Design extras, as well as power driver and front passenger seats, keyless drive, xenon headlamps, and LED running lamps.

Review continues below
7

2013 Volvo C30

Fuel Economy

Gas mileage is unimpressive for such a small car; packing a large five-cylinder engine is part of the problem.

The 2013 Volvo C30 is a small, three-door hatchback, and given its size and appearance you might expect it to be fairly green. But EPA ratings ring in at just 21 mpg city and 29 (manual) or 30 (automatic) mpg highway. Those figures are closer to what you'd get in a mid-size four-door sedan, and rank on the low end of the compact scale in a year when more than one compact sedan achieves 40 mpg on the highway. Blame, at least in part, it's rather large five-cylinder engine.

In a real-world test drive several model years ago, we saw a real-world 23 mpg during a particularly cold winter road test. Against sportier hatchbacks like the Mazda3 or the Volkswagen GTI, those numbers look a bit better, although versus some of the intermediate options, like the more economical 40-mpg SkyActiv Mazda3 model introduced this past year, this smallest Volvo is looking surprisingly thirsty.

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