Reviewed: Volvo C30 T-5 R-Design

I began drinking the Volvo Kool-Aid before I went to college;  three 850s later, I bought another car that is a bit overweight and soft: a 2009 Volvo C30 T-5 R-Design, which now has 110,000 miles on it.

The car uses Volvo’s P1 platform, sharing much with the S40, V50 and C70 and by extension, the Ford Focus, Mazda 3 and 5, Ford Kuga, and Ford C-Max, to name a few. The engine is part of Volvo’s effort to constantly reinvent their straight five introduced in the mint ‘93 850 sedan I mistakenly kept for only a year.

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With a similar configuration and output of the 2005 Focus ST’s drivetrain, the six-speed ‘box in the C30 is overkill for the 236 ft-lbs of torque available at 1,500 rpm (and it doesn’t go away until 4,800 rpm). This Ford-platformed car is my daily driver for a 45-mile commute that’s half Vermont backroads and half interstate.

2009 Volvo C30 T-5 R-Design Specifications:

  • Style: Three-door hatchback
  • Seating Capacity: 4
  • Base Price: $25,950
  • Price As Tested: $28,325
  • Engine: 3.6L B5254T3 I5 – 227hp at 5,000 rpm and 236 lb-ft at 1,500-4,800 rpm.
  • Transmission: 6-speed manual
  • 0 to 60 mph: 6.6 seconds.
  • Top Speed: 146 mph.
  • Curb Weight: 3,211 lbs.
  • Fuel economy: 18/28 mpg (EPA) 33/38 (observed)  city/highway
  • Options: Premium Electric Silver Metallic Paint, Off-Black Letter Seating Surfaces without R-Design Embossment, Climate Package (Heated Front Seats, Rain Sensor/Headlight Washers)

Handling: Dirt and Pavement

This car is nothing special in the handling department; it corners somewhat flat and the steering is pretty well weighted; it’s far from twitchy despite the short wheelbase and the front does not scrub out as easily as you may expect. It does not turn in nearly as well as the related Ford Focus.

I live a couple miles up a winding dirt road which quickly gains the most of its 700 feet quickly, through some satisfying switchbacks, so I feel I run the gamut of handling challenges during my commute. Though it may not be an everyday whim, handbrake turns are videogame easy in this car. Without going into too much minutia, this car outhandles the two 850 wagons and one 850 sedan I used to own. But for what it is, the C30 does not deliver the carnal pleasure of the 850’s primitive passive steering and longer wheelbase.

The six-speed transmission is inoffensive and unremarkable, and the clutch is slightly heavy. Turbo lag is there, but it is pretty short in duration for a single turbo and engagement is not brutal; compared to a 2012 528i BMW I drove last year, there is very little between the two in terms of lag and the 5er of course has a low range turbo and a high range turbo.

Practicality/That Crazy Glass Door/Comfort

Storage space is a joke, though 179cm skis do fit. The rear door really is just the window, so if you are interested in hay bale rustling, you’re better off looking somewhere else. While we are on the subject of barnyard excitement, the car is easy to get stuck in deep sand. Four adults will work for short trips, their legs won’t even be cut off, but rear egress is poor. A weekend ski trip with three is doable, but a roofbox is 100% necessary for four. I am incredibly average in many ways, including size; at 5’8”/~135 lbs, the car fits me just fine. The rear buckets might be a better place to be when cornering though than the fronts. As this is the slightly edgier R-Design trim level, I would have expected something above the standard seats.

Interior

Seats and ergonomics are about average for this segment, cruise control buttons on the steering wheel and stereo controls are well placed. The seats don’t offer enough support while cornering, but most things in this entry level luxury/hot hatch segment often fall victim to this. The sound system is adequate and makes reasonable use of its meager 160 watts, though it is not well set up for aftermarket replacement head units. The keyfob offers the standard secondary and primary lock/unlock as well as unlocking just the hatch, turning on the parking lights and rolling down the windows via several buttons that unfortunately all feel the same.

Economy and Maintenance

Ever so briefly, let’s get into the costs thus far: front pads and rotors, done by my local mechanic, cost $470, not terrible, but still twice what I’d pay for my previous 850. An oil change done at home is about $70 worth of synthetic oil and paper filter with a special tool and much dis-assembly required.

Fuel consumption is an aberration, and because I’m a nerd, I keep track of all of it on a spreadsheet. The original window sticker for the car reads 19/28 mpg (city/highway). My commute, yields 33 mpg. 100% politically correct driving on the interstate has yielded me 38 mpg on multiple occasions. Textbook tire chirping jackrabbit starts, nailing it through the corners and aggressive entrance into traffic translates into no less than 30 mpg in the summer.

I cross shopped this car with the Honda CR-Z, the Toyota Yaris, the Prius C and the Mini Cooper Coupe S, and only purchased this because it was fun, shockingly clean, mechanically sound and offered reasonably under blue book value that day. I test drove the Polestar C30 and found it slightly more raw than my C30, but it was not worth the difference in price, if anything, it felt far too similar for a special edition. The identical six-speed transmission and mere 20 bhp (so up to about 250 bhp in total) it had on the standard T-5, power seats and other weight adding options made it feel alarmingly similar to the used car I picked up. Similar to discussion of Road and Track’s Subaru WRX and WRX STI test, the standard T-5 gets a flatter torque curve than the Polestar.

Overall

At the end of the day, I followed the philosophy that most affable and sensible humans follow: if the car doesn’t put a smile on your face, you’re blowing a lot of money on a mere receptacle for more money rather than a sensible and rewarding object of pleasure.

Lines are subjective as are badges, colors and other shiny features that automakers use to suck us in, and I am totally sucked in for the moment. My first car was a lightly modded, rusty but freshly repainted Zinnoberrot (arrest me red) E30 BMW that turned quite a few heads, but sadly did not come fitted with a paper bag for me to put over my head while driving it. The C30 offers 60-70% of that driving magic with a bit of peace. Stay tuned for an update at the conclusion of winter and mud season.

-By: Sawyer Sutton

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All photos © 2014, Sawyer Sutton, egmCarTech


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Sawyer Sutton

Sawyer Sutton is a long-time Vermonter and lover of cars, big machinery, and photography. These are his words on cars as Senior Editor of egmCarTech.

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