Review: 2009 Volvo C30 T5

Jonny Lieberman
by Jonny Lieberman
review 2009 volvo c30 t5

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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2 of 68 comments
  • on Jun 08, 2009

    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

  • Drivebywire Drivebywire on Dec 31, 2009

    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).