First Drive: 2009 Volvo C30 R-Design Hatchback
The Volvo C30 is aimed squarely at first time Volvo buyers and the young, hipster crowd. Since I’m both young and hip (or so I like to think) and found the car to be pure joy to drive, I would have to say that Volvo definitely has done things right. It may appear that the C30 is a big departure from Volvo’s typically boxy sedans, but the 2 door, 4 seat, front wheel drive hatchback is actually an updated version of the Volvo 480 that was popular in Europe in the mid 80’s and early 90’s.
The vehicle that we were provided was the 2009 Volvo C30 R-Design, the company’s more sport and performance oriented variant. The R-Design has an assortment of both internal and external enhancements that separate it from its tamer brethren. Volvo’s R-Design packages are available for their C30, S40 and V50 models and provide customers with an opportunity to personalize and accessorize their vehicles. We would very much like to see this line extended to include performance modifications such as those offered by Toyota’s TRD line and Mercedes’ AMG division.
On the inside, sport seats (in either split leather with flex-tech upholstery or all leather) and sport pedals are the most apparent differences. There is also a fair number of R-Design logos on the seat backs and steering wheel. The exterior comes equipped with a roof spoiler, an aggressive front grill with R-Design badging, larger exhaust tips, matte silver finish mirrors and 18 x 7.5 alloy wheels. It’s a nice collection of touches that, combined, give the whole a distinctive look without being overdone. The base model Volvo C30 hatchback starts at $23,800 while the R-Design is available for $25,025. Our model came equipped with the optional automatic transmission as well as the Climate and Preferred package which brought the retail price up to $30,265.
Performance comes in the form of a 2.5 liter, 5 cylinder turbocharged engine in a front wheel drive configuration. The T5 engine produces 227 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque from 1,800 to 5,000 rpm. This is good for a 0 to 60 mph sprint in 6.4 seconds and a top speed of 149 mph. Low end torque is particularly strong but the car’s rather hefty curb weight of 3,201 pounds holds it back from being a true standout.
The Volvo C30 provides nimble handling but the steering felt a little vague and disconnected at times. When pushed hard on canyon roads along the Southern California coastline there was noticeable understeer and body roll though nothing to make you sense an imminent loss of control. In fact, the tight suspension and sticky Pirelli PZero tires made the car feel quite stable, and the cabin noise was nicely subdued.
A six-speed manual transmission is available for the Volvo C30 but our vehicle sported the company’s 5-speed Geartronic transmission. When in fully automatic mode, the gearbox did a nice job of holding gear to an elevated rev to get maximum thrust. Manual mode is accessed by sliding the shifting stem to the left, at which point a push up or down changes gears.
Unlike many of today’s cars, the C30 provides access to 1st gear which is both good and bad. Most people tend to let first rev too high or have a habit of forgetting they are operating in manual after a moment and redlining while listening to the radio. However, for those who are both aggressive and attentive drivers this is a nice touch. In addition, second and third gear can be held during deceleration all the way down to only 1 or 2 mph. For drivers who like to slow down to a crawl over speed bumps (we are not condoning rolling through stop signs) or conserving gas mileage, this is available. A complete stop automatically puts the car back in 1st. We would have liked to have driven the manual to really expose the engine’s true potential.
Volvo is known for its safety features and that certainly hasn’t changed.. The C30 has tons of design considerations and systems in place to keep you on the road and in one piece if there is ever an accident. These include Dynamic Stability Traction Control to maintain safe driving, a Tire Pressure Monitoring System for proper inflation, Intelligent Driver Information System to keep you well informed as well as an Anti-Lock Braking System, Electronic Brake Assistance and Emergency Brake Assistance, all of which have something to do with proper and safe braking (that’s why they pay me the big bucks).
A variety of impact structure and collapsible zones are in place along with fortified A-pillars. Airbags are provided around the cabin and a special Whiplash Protection System (code named WHIPS) moves the headrest forward during collision to mitigate against the possibility of your neck snapping back.
There are a few touches that make the 2009 Volvo C30 R-Design that much more special. As a long-time allergy sufferer, I was happy that Volvo has taken our cause to heart. A dust and pollen filter is installed in the passenger cabin. In addition, low emission fabrics and plastics are used which are more environmentally friendly. In an era of greater and greater sophistication and therefore more buttons and switches, the C30 is surprisingly simple to operate with four beefy control knobs on the center floating console and very intuitive levers that are well identified.
It was also nice to not have to press a button to unlock the doors as having the key in proximity allows for locked door handles to disengage when lifted up. My only gripes are that the seats don’t return to a preset position after being tilted forward and that if you want to use the center mounted cup holders, manual shifting is out the question unless you’re Plastic Man. But these are merely insignificant details in a remarkably well-conceived, designed and constructed hatchback.