By on November 14, 2008

You ever to try to find a good hamburger? It’s not so easy. Garbage fast food is all around us. And sure; if you want a good steak you just wander into any number of fancy-pants restaurants and pay (through the nose) for a juicy bone-in rib eye. But a juicy burger you actually enjoy eating? Not so much. Switching to an automotive metaphor, all many people want is simple, basic transportation. But like a good burger, have you looked? There’s a whole gaggle of nicotine-stained grifters eager to sell you a Ford Focus. And even more well-coifed grifters are hungry to show you the joys of entry level luxury. But what if you only want a good small car? Friends, let me tell you about the Volvo C30.

Like many female residents of Las Vegas, the first thing you notice about the diminutive Swede is its backside. Yeah, yeah, yeah– they were trying to ape the lines of the old 1800 shooting-brake. But credit where credit’s due: these cats did a better job. Years ago, Volvo decided it was the safety brand and began sticking monstrously over-sized (and terrible looking) taillights on all their cars. Except the lights on the C30’s derriere, which are (somehow) both cute and suave. The front-end is nothing but the Volvo schnoz writ small. Handsome sure, but… yawn. The side profile works best when painted lighter colors (say Orinoco Blue or Gecko Green). That way the black sills and wheel arches have a slimming effect. Otherwise the little hatch looks a little obese.

Unlike main competitor MINI’s ADD-inducing asylum, the C30’s interior is covered in an almost stark layer of Scando-simplicity. But it’s a ruse. At first the controls seem only calming and Ikea-fied. In fact, they’re brilliantly thought-out. Take the HVAC/Audio display. It uses a single digital graph to illustrate temp, fan speed and volume levels. While this might seem too-basic, it’s a warm bath compared to the maddening complexity of Audi’s MMI screens. I love the floating waterfall center console. And the handy storage bin behind it. Every surface, texture and design element has a rare “that’s how I would have done it” quality.  Like the mesh pockets attached to the front of the seats that are perfect for holding cell phones. You can even fit actual adults in the rear seats. Just smart.

Under the hood sits a 2.5-liter turbocharged inline-5 good for 227 horses and 236 torques. That’s potent by any yard stick. But you’d never know it. Not that the C30’s slow; it’s just not a show off. Running around town the power seems perfectly adequate. It’s only when you neglect to upshift and the revs climb into the 5,000 rpm range that you realize this sucker can haul the mail. We’re torquing 6.6 seconds to 60 mph. Not only is this faster than the MINI Cooper S (6.9), the C30’s quicker than a VW GTI (6.7). And those two are performance icons.

What you may not know about the C30 is that it rides on the Mazda3 chassis. The same beloved Mazda3 you all voted the best car of 2008. Go Ford parts bin, go! More to the point, the handling is– if not top shelf– pretty damn close to the summit. You’d be hard pressed to find a front-driver that’s more eager to eat corners. And there simply aren’t any as composed. Is it ideal? No. The dull all-season tires need to be swapped in favor of serious meat. And the bouncy rear end could use cut springs, firmer dampers and a strut brace. At that point you’re pretty close to ideal.

But again, performance isn’t the C30’s raison d’être. To understand what is, we need to take a closer look at the country of Sweden.

The Swedes have a term with no good English translation: Lagom. Roughly translated Lagom means “enough” or “adequate,” and is said to sum up the Swedish psyche. The phrase “Lagom är bäst” means “Enough is best.” Contrast this with our Yankee “bigger is better” mentality and it’s obvious (to some) how we bankrupted ourselves borrowing to get our greedy hands on 4-door, AWD, leather-lined pickups that sit in front of our 3,500 square-foot McMansions. Not me, of course. I’m a good patriotic American. Ahem.

My point is, the Volvo C30 T5 is all the car you need. The more I drove it, the more I was struck by the feeling that this is exactly what a car should be. And nothing more. To recap: it’s good looking with a great interior, has more than enough power and handles with class-leading aplomb. Our single option tester (metallic paint) stickered at less than $24,000 and gets about 30 mpg on the highway. As our Swedish friends might say, good enough.

[Volvo provided the vehicle reviewed, insurance and a tank of gas.]

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68 Comments on “Review: 2009 Volvo C30 T5...”

  • avatar

    You’ve expressed my feelings on hamburgers perfectly.

  • avatar

    If this isn’t your personal next car, Jonny, then how is this all of the car I need?

    I don’t know if you drove a C30 with the manual transmission, but the shifter has long, ropey throws. And, as noted, the stock suspension is fairly soft.

    So this isn’t really a choice for a driving enthusiast.

    For the driving enthusiast’s fiance? Sure. If she wants a premium feel in a compact hatch, and won’t be shifting for herself, this is perhaps the best choice.

    In TrueDelta’s Vehicle Reliability Survey the C30 has been requiring a slightly better than average number of repairs so far. So pretty good as Volvos go.

  • avatar

    Nice review, but your translation is wrong. It translates literally as “enough is best”.

  • avatar

    bunkie :

    Damn! I missed that one. Text amended.

  • avatar

    I looked at one of these before I bought my last car (speed6), but couldn’t wrap my head around how this tiny car was somehow worth the $32,000 CAD MSRP, when I could get a mazda3 (or even a speed3) for less, thousands less.

    • 0 avatar

      Because while the Mazda3, Ford Focus, and Volvo C30 all share a common “platform”, they all tune their cars very differently, to the degree that there is very little similar about them. While I’ll agree the Mazda3 and Mazdaspeed3 (since you’re in that price range if looking at a new C30) is a sportier car, I think it’s wrong to call the C30 a “sports car”. The regular C30 T5 is MUCH more a GT than a sports car. There is a great video review comparing the Mazdaspeed3, the C30 T5, and the comparable VW in a “hot hatch” review. The Mazda is a much more adept handling car. While the engine is smaller and less refined (4 cylinder vs 5 cylinder), the Mazda is a noisy rough riding car due to it’s sport chassis. There is very little similar about the two cars other than the two companies start with the same chassis. From there the similarities end. While I’d consider the C30 T5 R-Design a hot hatch or a “sports car”, the C30 T5 should not be lumped into that catagory. The standard suspension is rather soft compared to the other two in the review (and the Focus as well). However, it’s also a safer car, with more reinforcement, more safety features built into the entire car (not talking just air bags, but the entire engineering effort), and had MUCH more sound dampening than the Mazda, Ford, or VW. In fact, the car is extremely quiet, especially considering it’s a hatchback. Mazda, Volvo, and Ford did their own thing when designing the suspension, handling, and overall feel of the car. The C30 is a heavy, solid car. If you want a sportier car, I’d go for the Mazdaspeed3 or the C30 T5 R-Design which adds dramatically to the handling characteristics of the standard C30 T5. If you want a comfortable car you can live with on a daily basis and not have your fillings jarred out of your teeth, the C30 is worth a look. I also think it’s worth pointing out the Mazdaspeed3 is ONLY available with a manual transmission. While I prefer manuals, many people do not. Also worth noting is the Mazda is pushing about 15psi of boost in a 2.3L 4 cylinder. The Volvo puts out 8psi of boost in a 5 cylinder. While 15psi isn’t an insane amount of boost, putting that much pressure in an engine is going to shorten the engine life span. “The light that burns twice as bright lasts half as long”. If you want a reliable, comfortable daily driver that you can have fun on on ramps once in a while, the C30 T5 is by far a better choice. If you want to zip around and want higher performance and can live with the noise, rough ride, cheaper materials, and vibrating 4 cylinder, go with the Mazda. It’s more like buying a tuner car out of a showroom, along with all the problems you’d expect from a tuner car.
      One last note; if the author only got 0-60 in 6.6 in the C30, it’s not being driven optimally (or he left the traction control on…something is wrong there). I can easily get 6 seconds, and have gotten 5.7, while I’ve read other reviewers getting 5.6 stock. And while I’ve read a lot of reviews mentioning the 6 speed manual being “rubbery” in the C30, I have no complaints, nor do any of my car enthusiast friends. In fact, I’ve had quite a few people say the like the feeling of it. I went from a Gen 1 Miata to the Volvo and had no problem getting used to the feel of the manual tranni in the Volvo.

  • avatar

    Our local dealer in semi-rural Maryland has stopped selling new Volvos but will, for a time anyway, keep the parts and service departments open.

    Now in the showroom? Offerings from Kia.

  • avatar

    I rather like the styling of this swede, I like the Mazda 3 also, and happen to drive a MINI-S. This would probably top my list of cars if the MINI was not so….uh….paid for. The more torque T5 engine would make me happy also. The MINI might be more driving enthusiasm than I need anymore.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    Great review. I have nothing to add except to point out it surely is no coincidence that the best Hamburgers are to be found in Japan. Here’s the “Tokyo Hamburger blog”:

  • avatar
    Matthew Neundorf

    It is a great little whip, but I agree with Mr. Karesh. In heated drives, the shifter throws felt eternal.

  • avatar

    I’m sensing a disconnect here. If Volvo truly follows the philosophy that “lagom är bäst”, and if, as Michael Karesh says, this isn’t really a car for driving enthusiasts, then why so much motor as the only engine choice? It seems that Volvo is missing sales here by insisting that the C30 is a bone-in rib eye on the relative cheap instead of just a really good hamburger at a fair price. I understand that federalizing costs money, but like everything else, it takes money to make money. Volvo is turning its nose up at its best customers here. Without sensibility, there is little sense to this Volvo.

  • avatar
    John R

    From what I’ve heard of this platform it would seem that the Mazdaspeed 3 is the best execution. The interior, the performance and the value is so good that it has become the new benchmark for this segment(sorry VW).

    Also, while on paper this Volvo is a par to its competitors, they (Speed3, MINI, WRX, GTI and even Civic Si) do a better job of dispatching corners. Again, it may be due to the tires. I’d would also really like to see how well this does with summer rubber.

    I think being “…hard pressed to find a front-driver that’s more eager to eat corners” may be too strong a praise.

  • avatar
    Brendon from Canada

    Had one as a service loaner; it was a base model auto and I was far from impressed. Acceleration was acceptable, but the handling just felt awful at anything above parking lot speeds – perhaps higher profile tires with smaller rims and a softer suspension then the T5 (I assume the T5 has a beefed up suspension)… I wanted to like it, but found it difficult; it just seemed to big and wallowing for a small car. I’d probably also lean towards a Mazda3 over the C30.

    (Disclaimer: my wife drives a Cooper “S”, so my small car benchmark is slanted heavily towards handling)

  • avatar


  • avatar

    great car, too bad they haven’t sold more than like 3 of them here. I never see these, like the Saturn Astra.

  • avatar

    SherbornSean :

    Don’t you hate it when that happens? Text amended.

  • avatar

    great car, too bad they haven’t sold more than like 3 of them here.

    That’s the most appealing thing about the car to me. Bad for Volvo, but good for someone who drives cars into the ground and who could picture himself being one of the select few driving one of these tasty, funky things a decade from now. The MINI Cooper is a lot of things, but exclusive isn’t one of them.

  • avatar

    Bias disclosure: We own a MINI Cooper S and a Volvo 850 equipped the factory “sport chassis” and manual transmission.

    I’m eager to try out the C30, but not sure I’m ready to forgive Volvo for the S60 yet. Volvo lost its way in terms of understated design (yes, that WAS the reason people bought them) when they went all rounded in a sorry attempt to reach out to other demographics. I think they were after the people who hadn’t always owned Volvos and, ironically, lost the people who never looked elsewhere.

    The beauty of MINI is that there is a large installed base of aftermarket suppliers who can cater to the performance tweaks you want (short-throw shifter anyone?). With Volvo it’s pretty much just IPD (which I can recommend).

    The beauty of the older Volvos is that they are so, well, sensible. The design is superb, the visibility outstanding, and you can sit in the seats all day (where MINI definitely fails).

    We’ll look at the C30 when the time comes.

  • avatar

    I’m sharing my opinion on this car. I recently drove in a back-to-back comparison:
    – MINI
    – MINI S
    – VW GTI
    – Mazda 3 (base)
    – Volvo C30 (base)

    The Volvo came out as my #1 choice because:
    – it has good performance
    – is comfortable (e.g. softish suspension)
    – has good styling (in my opinion)

    I would have chosen either Minis if I wanted to drive a go-kart or make a fashion/lifestyle statement.

    I would have chosen the GTI if I wanted great all-around performance and that German engineering feel and design.

    I would have chosen the Mazda 3 if I wanted to do like everybody else, e.g. get a good, reliable car and blend in.

    My bias is that i’m 33yo, two young kids, a previous GTI VR6 and Audi S4 owner, a current Audi S8 (’01) owner, so i’m getting soft and don’t worry too much about reliability, thus my preferences stated above.


  • avatar

    I dig this car, but there’s the whole price thing. It’s too bad they can’t offer a version for under 20k with a Ford/Mazda 4 banger. With Volvo’s new free maintenance plan, it could be a hit.

  • avatar

    I test drove this car twice. I could not believe my feelings. None of local dealers can provide a car with manual, my tst drives were limited to slush boxes. With slush box it was definitely pathetic. I don’t care how many horses and pounds of twist motor generates, it does not translates into acceleration or enjoyment. C30 has 3200 lbs of heft (50% more then original P1800) and it shows. You can’t compare it to Mini (even non-turbocharged one). Furthermore, the 5 speed automatic (which is crap anyway) is not even overdrive. So there is a bit of engine noise above 60 mph. On paper 6 speed manual start overdrive action in 4th gear, so one can expect quieter operation, but in practice I could not get one to test. Perhaps, Volvo should charge more for this car to fit Paris Hilton aspirations, but driver’s car it is not.

    P.S. I loved Volvo 122 and P1800, despite long transmission throws

  • avatar

    The C30 and Mazda3 might share a platform, but they feel nothing alike. The Volvo definitely feels like a more expensive car.

    Curb weight is sometimes stated as 2970 (including on the Volvo site) and sometimes as 3200. It feels like 3200.

  • avatar

    I’m a little confused here. You didn’t say anything about what make the T5 different from the base model, since they all have the same engine I assume it’s suspension but you should probably say it somewhere. Also if it is just suspension how great can this extra trim level be if you have to do suspension work, add new tires, etc. to make it perfect. Would it not make sense to start with the base model cheapy and do the suspension mods to get the handling you want, why pay extra when you are going to replace those extra bits. Which brings me to my big question how can the T5 with only one option cost the same price as the base C30 shouldn’t there be about a few grand difference there. I guess I am going to have to go to the Volvo website again and look at this thing.

    Nice review though. And I dont agree with the tail end, it is ass ugly like the original 1800. I’m so glad my dad had the 1800 coupe.

    • 0 avatar

      “T5” is simply the engine type. “Turbo 5 cylinder”. When the C30 first came to the states in 2008 it was available as version 1.0 and version 2.0 level of trim. The version 2.0 had a tighter suspension and some more options available. In 2010 they got rid of the “version” numbers. Now there is the C30 T5 and C30 T5 R-Design. The R-Design has 18inch wheels, a much tighter suspension, and takes care of the handling softness that a lot of people here are complaining about in these comments. Judging from the pictures in this article, this was a version 1.0 the author test drove with the softer suspension and 17inch wheels (note the non-painted bumpers, and the wheels were different on the version 2.0). The 2.0 looked slightly more sporty but the difference is much larger now between the regular C30 T5 and the R-Design (check Volvo’s website). In Europe (and maybe Canada) you could get the C30 with several different engines (including a diesel in Europe). In the US the only available engine is the turbo 5 cylinder – hence “T5”. And I DO think that was a mistake on Volvo’s part. Perhaps they wanted to keep their semi-luxury image in the US. I think this car would have sold, and *WOULD* sell and lot better if it were available with a naturally aspirated engine at a cheaper price. God knows I would have gotten one instead of stretching my bank account to get one with the only engine available to me. That said, it’s a hell of a sleeper. ;)

  • avatar

    Nice review, I like the perspective of a car being good enough. 99% of the time, that is all we are looking for, really.

    My concern though is that the C30 is pretty hard to take as a stripper (no cruise control?) and unless you are very careful with the options sheet, you are in for $30K very fast.

    Speaking of which, the way the metaphor with the Las Vegas ladies is written, it indicates that it is the Nevada women who look at the car’s rear end. I don’t think that was the intent.

    • 0 avatar

      Cruise control can be added to a used C30 for about $200. Maybe $250. I added it to mine. The part clips on the steering wheel and requires a quick software update. It should have been stock on a car like that. Even Kia’s have cruise control stock… If you get the cruise control update also get the trip computer update if you find a used one that doesn’t have it (distance to empty, avg mpg, instant mpg, current speed, etc). All the parts/computers are there. It literally just requires them to connect it to a computer and enable it…

  • avatar

    I just wanted to mention that not everyone is looking for a cornering machine. My mother-in-law owns a BMW mini and whenever I want a headache I will drive her car. Here in the Northeast USA where the roads are terrible you do not want to feel every bump from the patched pavement. If/when I start rally racing I will take the BMW mini. Thanks for the review I cannot wait to test drive this car, dealer is supposed to have one this month.

    Look at purchasing Volvo C30, Audi A3, Toyota/Pontiac Matrix/Vibe.

  • avatar

    To everyone commenting on trim level, T5 is the “base” trim now. It’s either that or R-design, which adds some cosmetic bits, but they are the same car.

    And people always cite the Mini Cooper as hope for the premium small car in America. The C30 is proof that people still aren’t very willing to pay big money for small packages.

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    To answer a few question…

    1) 6-speed manual. The shifts weren’t especially long. A 1979 Porsche 911 has long throws. Saying the C30 has long throws is being petty.

    2) The T5 is the base model. The stripper. No options. The car Volvo gave me had one option — paint. The fancy model is the C30 R-Design. But, you don’t want that because the sills and arches aren’t black and it looks fat. 18″ wheels might help, though

    3) From what I know, the manual C30 weighs 3,198. Heavy, sure, but all cars are heavy.

    4) Karesh: you keep going on about how the C30 feels “expensive.” First of all, any car cheaper than my car (WRX) isn’t expensive. Second, what I liked about the C30 is that it doesn’t feel expensive. It feels “right.” An Audi A3 — i.e. a fancy pants GTI — feels expensive. The Volvo is quite austere by comparison. And the Mazda3 has one of the lousiest interiors on the market. Especially in terms of being able to read the gauges, which are not only orange, but at the end of long tubes.

  • avatar
    Steve Biro

    I’ve driven a C30 and I really liked it. As for complaints about long throws for the manual tranny’s shifter, it didn’t bother me that much. But I’m sure aftermarket short-throw kits can be found. I also don’t mind the lack of cruise control. We have it in two other vehicles in our household. We never use it – even on long trips. But that’s just us.

    Volvo gives buyers the option of the 168-hp non-turbo four (the base engine in the S40) in Europe. They should do the same here. Perhaps they realize the C30 is a bit of a niche vehicle and a business case can’t be made for the non-turbo powerplant.

    As codespewer pointed out, roads in the Northeast are rough. I’m sure the Upper Midwest is much the same. I can deal with the C30’s suspension tuning just fine as a daily driver. And that’s the point: The C30 isn’t a peak-performance boy racer. It’s an almost-perfect daily driver. A bit pricey, though… which bring us to…

    The argument that the same platform can be had with the Mazda3 for thousands less is a valid one. But the cars don’t feel the same. Still, the Mazda3 is a good piece in its own right and I’d be willing to go for one… if a two-door coupe version were made available.

  • avatar

    In Canada they still offer two engines: the NA 5-pot or the turbo. (MSRP is $27,695 or $32,195, respectively.)

    Most people buy a hatchback for practicality, so it’s a bit curious not to mention that in the review. IIRC, the styley tapered rear of the C30 seriously reduced space in the back. Definitely form over function.

  • avatar
    John R

    @Jonny RE: Mazda 3 interior

    Dear, Sir, may I show this dandy Cobalt SS?

  • avatar

    I really like the C30. I think it’s an excellent all-around car for a single person. Married with kids, maybe not so much because it is small. But a very well designed, well put together car. Form, function, layout are all really well thought out and integrated.

    Definitely one of the most striking designs out there for hatchback lovers. Certainly doesn’t follow the crowd which is really cool. To top it off the end result is a pleasing shape with innovative functionality (talking about the hatch).

    And Oh, that interior. Excellent all around.

    You can also get really nice wheels, if you’re willing to pony up a few $k.

  • avatar

    I definitely agree on the interior. I absolutely love it and the fact that there is enough headroom for my 6’7″ self to wear a hat and plenty of legroom, it’s just amazing. It even looks great with the 18″ rims. I just wish there was a performance oriented version with Mazdaspeed3-like bits and I’d be sold.

  • avatar


    It always been on sale on Route 9 on Lee Volvo.
    A pretty interesting car.

    I wonder Volvo’s market target for this car probably young urban professionals.

    This car is wanna be Rice Rocket and it’s not bad at all.

  • avatar

    Long time reader, first time poster. I just had to register to comment on the C30 because my wife is totally in love with this car… however I’ve some got issues with it (for reference her current car is a loaded ’00 VW Passat GLS 1.8T)

    1) As stated in the review it just doesn’t feel “fast” or all that powerful. Don’t get me wrong it motors around nicely but you don’t get that “weee, here we go” feeling. The I5 lacks the refinement of a V6 or rev-happy-ness of a 4 banger. Maybe its the gear ratios but honestly the 150hp in the bigger Passat feels stronger/quicker.
    2) Shifts are rubbery and a bit vague, there is non of that “snap” you get from a crisp upshift.
    3) The car doesn’t darn you to push it hard, the suspension is a touch too soft. If this was a sedan it would be fine, but in zippy little hatchback? Meh.
    4) Plain Jane interior. I think they sourced all the bits from IKEA. Its just a yawn on the inside, and takes minimalism to new heights. Its clearly well snapped together but just underwhelms. Hard to believe your in a $27+K car.
    4) Speaking of price, once you add in standard “luxury” options (cruise, satellite radio, nav system, sunroof, power seats, etc) your close to Infinity G35 money and this car ain’t no G-ride that’s for sure.

    However there are some things we really liked about the car:
    1) Its very unique, I think I’ve seen TWO on the road since the ’08 it launched in the spring.
    2) Hot hatch layout, its like a modernized and well refined version of my loved ’85 Civic S Hatchback. Even the size is just right.
    3) More upscale then the kiddie-Mini, both in color options and interior bits. My wife downright hates the goofy Mini’s interior dash and switch gear and I agree 110%.
    4) Did I mention NOBODY else at the mall drives one? This is one car that stands out in a sea of Lexus/BMW/Camry-clones that everyone on the planet drives.

    If we could score one slightly used (off lease?) at a $25K we would be all over it, but a custom ordered, well optioned one is easily in the mid 30s for what is a basically a Mazda Speed 3 in hatchback form. Volvo has the nerve to charge $300 for the “privilege” of adding ANY thing to the base model. They followed the Mini’s customization selling system but without the got-have-it funkyness that drives those sales.

    In a few years this car could be a downright bargain as I assume nobody will know what it is and just continue to ignore it. I read somewhere that Volvo was shipping C30s back to Sweden within months of its US launch due to lackluster sales.

  • avatar

    If I were about to buy a new car, the C30 would be on my short list. I dare say that I wouldn’t mind the option of a less-potent powerplant in exchange for a few extra MPG, however. Oh, and four doors wouldn’t hurt either, since the back seat can allegedly even accommodate adults!

  • avatar

    I agree with JMII about the interior. It’s stylish but definitely not substantial or luxurious… reminds of the Yaris Sedan’s interior. :O

    But then, single yuppies living in big urban centers (it seems to be the target demographic) probably care more about parking ease/manuverability/style over comfort/luxury space.

  • avatar

    I just can’t get over the mileage and price. The price is just too high after you add a few options. Perhaps the stripper is a better deal, but when I last looked it didn’t seem like a car I wanted until it got in the high twenties.

    The mpg seems wrong. How does this compare in performance and mileage to the most comparable BMW 1 series? I think I would prefer a BMW 3 door, but they don’t have it here.

    I have always looked at an engine’s output and mileage to get a good idea how good it is, and how reliable it is likely to be. IOW, smooth, efficient engines are what you want in a car like this, but this engine just doesn’t give me a good feeling.

    It’s a good looking car, and a nice package, but I think it’s the engine that’s killing it for me. If there were better options I think it would be a real seller. Also, it’s a porker.

  • avatar

    Why does everybody always test/review the version 1.0 trim line? I want to see a review of the version 2.0 trim, damnit!

  • avatar

    I have a version 2, and the pirelli’s and stiffer suspension definitely make a difference.

    Just an FYI, the picture from the back is of a 2008. On the 2009’s, “Volvo” is spread out more and above the hatch handle, not on it.

  • avatar

    Since the C30 shares the same chassis with the Mazda Speed 3, costs roughly the same, which car would you go with if you had to choose one Jonny?

  • avatar

    I have a silver C30 on order, and I can’t wait. I cross-shopped the MINI (nice, too many in LA), the Saturn Astra 3 door (you can get a great deal, it’s rare, needs an engine of some kind), the GTI (never buy a Volkswagen, it’s good advice), and the Audi A3 (it seems to be a Volkswagen).

    I loved the Volvo’s look and feel. And the power. The only thing that gave me pause was the milage. It should do better. I don’t drive that much, though, so it wasn’t a deal-breaker.

    Can someone suggest a good set of tires to throw on her? It’s the only mod I plan on making.

  • avatar

    would you believe what this car is worth (in T5 trim) in Canada? you’re into $40k and then some! Its too expensive, too thirsty, and not nearly exciting enough to justify that price. not by a long shot!

  • avatar

    I object to calling the classic brick Volvos taillights’ ugly. Those are some of the best branding pieces on a car ever. Even in the dark you can tell you’re behind a Volvo.
    Remember, the key to taillights is other motorists being able to see them, not that they’re pretty.

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    RGS920: Without question the Volvo.

    Now, MazdaSpeed3… Hmmm.

    Dunno. I really liked this Volvo.

  • avatar

    “And the Mazda3 has one of the lousiest interiors on the market.”

    Wha? In my opinion it has the best quality materials in the class. I can see how you may not like the gauges, but for the 15k I paid for it, I don’t think there’s a better interior available.

  • avatar

    I drove a C30 T5 loaner when my S40 T5 AWD was getting serviced. I like my car better. It seems like the chassis is tighter.

    I have the MT6 transmission. I like it except in cold weather. My favorite thing about the engine is the torque band. You can drive it up hills with the RPMs as low as 1500. The engine has lots of traction down low. When you rev it up to about 4500, it snarls and is really quite fast.

    Tires make a huge difference. I have two sets of wheels. With summer tires, the car handles very solidly.

    I easily get 32-32 on road trips. In suburban driving, I average 22.5.

  • avatar

    Sometimes layout and design is more important than material quality in interiors. I can see where Jonny is coming from regarding the 3 dashboard. Not only does it have the red color and tube gauges, I also think its depressingly dark.

  • avatar

    I think Jonny hits it right — Volvos tend to be very good all around vehicles that grow on you over time. Great seats, good ergonomics. Good power with the turbo, although it doesn’t leap off the line. Driving dynamics are generally better than what they are given credit for, although there is a definite feel to the Volvo that can be a bit of an acquired taste. I suppose the great fault of the Volvo is that it doesn’t stand out in any one area – but I suspect that many folks would do very well with them if given a chance.

    While I do think the C30 and related S40 are a solid step up from the mainstream brands, the interior quality does fall a bit short of the luxury competitors. The s60 does a bit better here, and certainly the new s80/v70 do very well in direct comparison. Volvo would do well to up the interior quality a bit on the C30/S40 — at least on the higher end options.

  • avatar

    The Volvo S40/V50/C30’s shared DNA with the Mazda3 is actually how I ended up buying my 2006 Mazda3.

    I fell in love with the Volvo S40 instantly on my first test drive of the 2005 model. I didn’t want to spend over $20k, but toyed with the idea of stretching my budget for the Volvo. A few months after the 2006 models showed up, the Volvo dealer near my office parked a white S40 Demo on the curb with a $21k sale price. It had a manual transmission and no options- but still looked good and drove even better.

    I had every intention of buying that S40, but wanted to test drive a few other premium small cars for the sake of comparison. The VW Jetta didn’t impress me, but the rave reviews of the Mazda3 (and knowing that it, the Volvo S40 and Euro Ford Focus were platform mates) made me want to check it out myself. I really liked the Volvo, but the Mazda3 s 5-door was LOVE (and LUST) at first drive!

    Now it’s three years later and it’s still amazes me that a 5-door hatchback (some even say “wagon”) can look that damn good! I have a similar affection for the C30, funky looks and all! I’ll be buying a new car in the next six months or so and the C30 is on my list! The S40 is off of my radar now because the T5 versions are too expensive…but the C30 and 2010 Mazda3 are the front-runners.

  • avatar

    I missed the hamburger mention. easy solution to that.
    Make it yourself.

  • avatar

    In Europe you can have this with a wide range of engine choices (1.6/1.8/2.4NA/2.4T/1.6D/2.0D). However, it’s main problem is that it’s at exactly the same pricepoint as a comparable BMW 1-series hatch.

    In that comparison, the C30 loses on all counts except maybe the subjective one of style. I kind of like it but then again I also like BMWs, and overall that’s a better car (did I mention it was a hatch?).

    In any case, for the C30 you have to have the right color, I drove behind a black one in traffic a few days ago and all of the sudden I was less than impressed.

    @Martin Schwoerer: damned, I had to look, that last one looked really tasty, now I’m hungry, and there’s no place I can get a burger like that in these parts…

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    Hmmmmm… I’d have to disagree with that JJ.

    BMW’s 1 Series has always struck me as the same prototypical BMW design and driving experience that just doesn’t interest me. It’s not that I hate them. It’s that it seems like everybody wants to climb aboard the same roller coaster for the same experience.

    The C30 is completely different from the rest of the Volvo line in terms of driving. It’s weird of me to say, and perhaps I’m not saying it in the way I want to. But to me the C30 has an amazing level of utility and ‘contentment’. I guess that’s the word I’m looking for.

    The T5 powertrain is one of the most proven in history. The design of the C30 is stunningly different and yet useful. Interior materials have a WYSIWYG authenticity that is very much in keeping with the classic RWD Volvo approach.

    I don’t look for snob value when buying a car. I look for something that suits my needs and will last 250k if I really want it to. By those two measurements, the C30 would be high on my list.

  • avatar

    I like a good burger too! But if you add your favorite fixings and it ends up costing as much as a steak, I’ll take the steak.

  • avatar

    Thanks Jonny, I’ve been waiting for this review. As a current Volvo owner, I really like the C30. I will consider it when my XC90 lease is up in 2010. I’ll probably wind up with an XC60, though.

    I’ve heard rumors of a 300HP AWD R version; it’ll probably never make it to production.

    Check out these pics of the “XC30.” Looks cool.

  • avatar

    Prado…that was too funny!
    And yet true.

    Usually love your reviews and look forward to them.
    But this car?
    Is it me or is there some DNA from the old AMC Pacer here?
    I mean, the total glass rear, the rear/side look makes it seem as though it was dropped to the floor as a clay model, landed on the rear….and they liked it!
    Only 2 doors and premium fuel?
    Simply does not compare to a Mazda3 dollar for dollar.

  • avatar

    2009 EPA 19/28/23…Why the hell can’t such a small FWD car get better mileage than a large Accord?
    I mean, even adding just a few nice things and its approaching the A3!
    A3 27K

  • avatar

    I rented one a month ago in Missouri. Much quieter than my 2008 Accord, ride was good, interior was nice but no pep going up hills.

  • avatar

    I test drove a C30 auto out of curiosity late last week. I really like the idea of a hatch as my next vehicle. Only trouble is, I’m looking for something with more practicality. The deal breaker here, among other things, is the size of the hatch opening. It really negates having the hatch in the first place on this vehicle. If I recall, it was around 23″ wide x 33″ high. More like a portal really. And no rear doors for access also cuts down on practicality.

    If your focus is more on looks, I’m with you. In the right color, of course. And my God do they have some colors, wheels, options!

    It was a very solid little guy – definitely no tinny door closing here. Interior was impressive – nice build quality, upscale seats and unique center stack for sure.

    That 5-cylinder is a bit strange sounding, but that’s par for the course. I really had trouble with their Tiptronic equivalent. As in it’s not. It wouldn’t upshift worth a crap for me. I’ve shifted plenty, so I don’t think it was me. Might have been a bad example.

    I’d like to see a diesel and a more practical hatch. The Jetta TDI or even the A3 would hold much more interest for me. Both look as good, are as solid and safe, and have much more in the way of room and real-world practicality. The mileage is going to really put off a lot of folks.

    If you’re really stuck on this vehicle, measure that hatch opening. And imagine your dogs trying to jump up through that or, even worse, through the side and up on top of the high folded seat. Or imagine that big box from Fry’s that would sit outside the C30 while your friend with the Fit/Jetta/A3 swallows it right up.

  • avatar

    I love the look of this car, but I don’t know if I would want to have to explain what a C30 is all the time! Plus, the back is a bit small for putting stuff in. A while back, though, there were “pics” floating around of a 5-door version. It looked fantastic, and offered a bit more room. I would like to see that!

    The prices of used C30’s will drop like a stone in another year or two. They might make a convincing bargain at that point.

  • avatar

    It’s funny, when I read more about the C30, I hear a lot of good reviews. But when we reviewed the car (Volvo C30 T5 Review) we hated it.

    Damn thing wouldn’t hold on to the road, wasn’t stable, and there were too many general annoyances with it. I wouldn’t take on if you gave it to me.

  • avatar

    This car is a real sleeper. Based on the same chassis as the European Ford Focus (no relation to the US Focus) and the Mazda 3, this foundation is one of the finest small GT platforms in the market.

    In fact, Ford is going to introduce the Focus with basically this same T5 engine that can produce 300hp. Just upgrading the software can net a noticeable performance increase. There is a lot of potential in this platform. The fact that the Volvo flavor does not push it with a turbo that peaks at only 8psi translates to a longevity you would be hard pressed to find in some other offerings.

    Lets not forget that you can also run “regular” pump fuel in this engine without any problems. How many forced induction engines do you know that can do this?

    The Volvo chassis can come with 3 different suspensions. The base level is the softest, the R-Design has the ‘Dynamic’, and then there is a ‘Sport’ available in the Volvo parts catalog that also lowers the car a bit. For a daily driver over rough New England roads, the ‘Dynamic’ found on the R-design feels the best compromise for me with both Pirelli summer tires and winter snow tires.

    One of the things that most people notice is just how quiet the car is. Until you are spinning the motor high in the RPMs or long left the legal speed limit behind you have little sense of the speed. You can easily get up to highway speed in second gear and do it in a hurry with a full load. In mountains or otherwise cowpath type roads where the corners are variable and unpredictable, the car isn’t. Some understeer exists to really keep you honest, but overall it is a good flickable driver that provides enough feedback to keep the unskilled from getting into real trouble.

    Inside, the layout and comfort is ideal for long rides, or your daily grind. Options like the automatic climate and IAQS (automatic air source control to keep bad air out) just make driving comfortable.

    2 doors? Why not? Go to Europe where it costs too much to have a large vehicle and climbing into a hatchback isn’t a huge deal. Practicality wins over the slight issue that a few times a month someone might have to squeeze in.

    Being a Volvo, you get a lot of safety that few realize exist. The Volvo whiplash protection in the seats where the seatback is designed to move to help limit injury is just one such feature.

    Instead of complaining about how much this car costs for a small car, the press should really be crowing about how much luxury, performance, and practicality you get in such a small package for so little money.

    When fuel prices are as unpredictable as they have become, a car that can get 30mpg is a nice thing to have. To get that and a car that is really fun to drive as well as able to go many miles in comfort is a very very rare combination. To do that in the $30k range is nearly impossible to find.

  • avatar

    JL and TTAC’s B&B,

    I really want a nice, small, upscale hatchback/small wagon.

    I like the C30 but Volvo’s future seems shaky.

    I also like the Audi A3 but worry about its reliability.

    Between the two… Which would you buy?

    And… What else should I consider?

    Note: My wife is handicapped and the seats — at least on the driver’s side and preferably on both — need to be power.

    Many thanks.

  • avatar

    After reading the first few posting I think there msut be something about people who are interested in this car – lots of metnioned of Mini’s, other Volvos, etc.
    I’m a current Mini Cooper S owner. Love the drive, but the expensive service, expensive tires, and periodic gremlins are getting to me. That and I need something I can carry two dogs in. I can’t wait to get a better look at the C30 at the local auto show – the rear hatch looks spacious in a front-on photo, but then I look at the length and the tiny hatch and think it must be a optical illusion.
    I find the bent-lam plywood finish look console that is available on the Volvo website very handsome.

  • avatar

    It’s funny, when I reviewed this car last year I seemed to be the only person who didn’t like it, and apparently that trend continues.

    Here’s another recent review of the car and he loved it: 2009 Volvo C30 R-Design Review

  • avatar

    Volvo’s C30 is merely Ford doing exactly what GM did when they rebadged a WRX into the Saab 9-2, and I think both fall into the category of: Why overpay?
    This is why I consider Acura an overpriced Honda (Lexus/Toyota, Infiniti/Nissan). If I want a Subaru WRX or a Mazda-3, I’ll buy one directly. I don’t like Ford and GM trying to trick the consumer (which I suppose they’ve done for generations).

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