2008 Volvo C30 2.4i Review


by Luc Gagné,

Volvos used to be purchased almost exclusively by college professors and other intellectuals. The reliability of these austere-looking cars did more to entice such rational buyers than the power of American muscle cars like the Challenger and Camaro.

Today, the boxy Scandinavians are no more. Even before Ford took over, in 1999, Volvo had already tried to appeal to a wider, more diversified and, most importantly, richer audience by creating more dynamically shaped vehicles.

Volvo wants to make the C30 a "trendy" pick.

The automaker decided to target the same buyers as German rivals BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz. But elevating a mainstream car to the premium ranks isn't done overnight.

Wanted: Swedish compact
In order to speed up the process, Volvo came up with affordable luxury models like the S40/V50 duo. Now, there's a new entry-level model: the C30 hatchback.

Positioned as a "trendier", classier alternative to the MINI Cooper S and Volkswagen GTI, the C30 is no people's car -- make no mistake about it. With a base price of $27,495, the youngest and smallest member of the Volvo family does not suit every budget.

The lineup includes two trim levels: 2.4i (as tested) and T5. The former is powered by a 2.4L, 5-cylinder, naturally-aspirated engine that's transversally mounted. Producing 168 horsepower, it's the same unit that you'll find in the S40 and V50. Meanwhile, the latter gets a 2.5L, 5-cylinder, turbocharged engine generating 227 steroid-packed horsepower.

Precise manual gearbox
My tester featured a 5-speed manual transmission (standard with the 2.4i). Gear ratios are nicely calculated, the shifter is precise and the clutch is both flexible and easy to modulate. Buyers can also select an optional automatic transmission with Geartronic manual mode for $1,500.

Throughout the road test, which took place in late January, the C30 showed a significant thirst for fuel, averaging 12.4 liters per 100 kilometers on Quebec's snow-covered roads. Fortunately, the engine makes do with regular -- not premium -- gasoline.

The C30 is powered by a 2.4L, 5-cylinder, naturally-aspirated engine.

Pleasant to drive
At low speeds, the electro-hydraulic, power-assisted, rack-and-pinion steering felt rather light. On the plus side, it's speed-sensitive, which means that steering response increases as the car accelerates. And thanks to the tilt/telescopic steering wheel, any driver will be able to find his or her ideal driving position.

The C30 2.4i is very predictable on the road. The comfort-oriented suspension (as opposed to the T5's sport-tuned suspension) cancels most bumps and potholes without being overly soft. That's what makes the C30 an excellent companion for long road trips.

The front buckets are quite comfortable.

The brakes are strong but not quite progressive enough. While this front-wheel drive car suffers from understeer upon accelerating through corners, torque steer is negligible during takeoffs.

The C30 is 22.4-cm shorter than the S40 sedan despite using the same chassis. As a result, it proves to be even more nimble in the city, navigating through rush-hour traffic with disconcerting ease. Parking this car is also child's play, no matter how tight the spot is.

True, this Volvo is a four-seater; however, the rear seats are not suited for adults, making this car a "2+2" -- as was the old Volvo 1800 ES which the C30 borrows many design cues from. In fact, if you take a look at the spec sheet, you'll see "foldable 45/45 split rear seats" instead of the classic 50/50.

Anyway, access to the rear seats is so complicated that you need to be a gymnast or contortionist to get there without complaining. A small lever allows you to slide the front seats forward without too much effort, but putting them back in their original position requires a lot more patience... so much so that you quickly stop inviting your friends to step in the back of the car.

That being said, the front buckets are quite comfortable, wrapping your entire body and holding it in check. I would have made the cushions a bit longer, though, especially given how useless the rear seats are anyway. Tall drivers (over 6') would feel more relaxed as a result.

Access to the rear seats is so complicated that you need to be a gymnast or contortionist to get there without complaining.

The dashboard features a unique floating center stack which puts radio and HVAC controls within easy reach of the driver. Four big, easy-to-use rotary knobs allow you to adjust the basic parameters (stereo selection and volume as well as air flow and temperature). Over 20 others are associated to less important functions. They're tiny push-buttons for the most part, and they require too much attention from the driver. How can that be? After all, Volvo is usually known for producing extremely ergonomic and safe cars.

The dashboard features a unique floating center stack with a host of controls and buttons.

Well protected
Yet, the C30 2.4i certainly does not lack active or passive safety features: ABS brakes with Electronic Brake Distribution (EBD) and Emergency Brake Assistance (EBA), Dynamic Stability and Traction Control (DSTC) which, fortunately, can be turned off, safety belts with pyrotechnic pretensioners, etc. And let's not forget the front, front-side and side curtain airbags.

I was also impressed by the excellent all-around visibility. Despite the oversized rear fenders, reminiscent of the Volvo 1800 ES, rearward visibility is fantastic -- which is increasingly rare in today's auto industry. The large glass liftgate drops pretty low and makes up for the seatback-integrated rear head restraints.

The active bi-xenon headlights (optional) are powerful, perhaps too powerful for the poor drivers I was following. Their range is twice as long as that of the standard, projector-style halogen headlights. Moreover, the beams swivel based on the steering angle, improving lighting in corners. Such system provides a strong safety feeling, especially on remote winding roads.

What about the trunk?
Access to the trunk is easy thanks to the glass liftgate, which I found very light to handle. The available cargo room expands from 250 to 895 liters with the rear seats folded, which is less than what the Volkswagen GTI offers (from 350 to 1,305 liters). Oddly enough, the latter is 4.2-cm shorter than the C30. Blame it on the sleeker styling.

Because of the high cargo threshold, you have to lift your luggage and other items fairly high in order to load them into the trunk. What's more, the rigid cargo cover requires a premium of $350. Are you really willing to let your valuables be scrutinized by every onlooker and potential thief?

Access to the trunk is easy thanks to the glass liftgate, which I found very light to handle.

Other features worth mentioning include the wonderful Dynaudio system ($1,250). This unit will satisfy every music lover with 10 speakers delivering a rich, clear sound. It also comes with an in-dash 6-CD changer, redundant audio controls on the steering wheel and auxiliary input for MP3 players.

The C30 2.4i sure is desirable.

The Volvo C30 2.4i sure is desirable, but the asking price will prevent it from finding many takers. After all, trendy consumers can turn to a number of world-renowned alternatives, such as the GTI, Cooper S or even the Mercedes-Benz B-Class.