The Volvo C30 does battle with a VW Golf GTI while being lifeless at the same time
I never followed up with an update on life with the 2009 Volvo C30 R-Design that I eluded to in this piece, so let’s jump forward three years. The C30 has not grown on me since I purchased it. I had low overall expectations, and they have stayed there. It corners and accelerates as well as a GTI and comes with a 6-speed manual transmission. After 70,000 miles with this car, it’s clear that Volvo could have easily sold more of these if they had chosen to make the driving experience a bit more raw. The cost to own this car was the biggest surprise, given it’s a Ford Focus with a serving of 90’s Volvo mechanicals and a splash of Mazda 3. Let’s first jump into what it’s like to live with everyday from driving to practicality:
It’s measurably quick, but deadpan about it.
The shifter is vague, the flywheel is heavy, the pedals are poorly spaced for heel-and-toeing, mechanical grip is high with little feedback, the engine is silent, and the cabin is silent—the NVH difference between 55 mph and 90 mph is negligible. All of this works because the sound deadening and aerodynamics are quite effective, the suspension is well thought out and provides neutral handling, all of the tires have a little bit of negative camber, and there’s that turbo plugged into Volvo’s famed modular 2.5 liter 5-cylinder. The root of the issue is that there is no feeling of engagement for the driver—until the car is chucked well into a “reckless driving/endangerment” condition—the steering feels dead and the motor only starts to make a vacuum-cleaner like drone at 4,000 rpm. The only perennial weak point on paper is the brakes, which have a spongy pedal and can be prone to moderate fade if thrashed.
Get a nice rack, you won’t regret it.
I live in Vermont and this car replaced a Volvo 850 T-5 wagon. The Volvo C30 has 20 cubic feet of space with the seats folded down—the 850 has 65 cubes—and the C30 only manages 12.9 cubes with the two bucket seats in their upright position. Despite the lack of space, a set of Thule Aeroblades and ski racks made mid-day escapes from the office to the nordic center effortless (mixed driving gas mileage only drops from 30 mpg to 26 mpg with the racks on). For two persons, the storage behind the rear seats is enough for wintertime dayhiking. The rear buckets are actually quite comfortable and offer excellent support while cornering—though egress is tedious. For couples with an outdoor lifestyle and no kids, this car is entirely practical.
Think of the sex appeal (and mental toughness required) of buttering a cold waffle.
The Volvo C30 is front-heavy, the wheelbase is short, and all-around negative camber conspires to make this a handful in the snow. With 1-year-old Hakkapeliitta snow tires on it, “twitchy” is the order of the day. Cornering is on the oversteer side of things and driving along over straight but collapsed sections of roadway causes things get sideways quickly. Have I passed out-of-state folks spinning their all-season tires in their SUVs up a hill from a full stop in this two-wheel-drive low-clearance car? Of course, but that’s all down to the tires. Oh, and while we’re on the subject, it was a masterstroke for Volvo to put the DSTC (traction control) switch on the turn signal stalk.
$3,000/year to maintain a dolled-up Ford Focus?
The car clearly doesn’t provide “all of the feels”, or whatever it is kids are saying these days, but what is it like to maintain? Volvo’s been using the 5-banger since 1993, this is not the first rodeo for Getrag’s M66 transmission with Volvo, and, let’s face it, this is really a dolled up Ford Focus. The truth is sharp—$3,000/year in maintenance for 20,000 miles per year. This includes largely DIY and independent work, though some things like the clutch were farmed out to the dealer. Much of the funds have gone to tires and suspension. The driving has been spirited and it’s hard to get anywhere near 30,000 miles on a set of tires. This is partially down to the stock suspension setup for which Volvo issued a service bulletin, merely advising technicians that because of the car’s mild negative camber, that it would regularly eat through the inside of tires. It’s great for those using directional tires, not so great for those using asymmetrical tires.
The interior doesn’t age.
For all of the negative issues, the positives make this car pretty competitive in its class. The interior is spartan without being cheap and has defied the test of time in a way that economy and luxury cars seem to always fail. Apart from vacuuming light-colored dirt out of the black carpet, Volvo designed the interior to be free of overly shiny surfaces and ‘magnets’ for wear. Buy nearly any car on the market today, drive it for a full day, and the interior will appear ‘lived in’ at the end of the day. Volvo has managed to evade this, and it’s hard to give them enough credit for doing so.
After a long day at the office or a long day out, dropping into the car still feels like a quiet, contemporary sanctuary. The front and rear seats are great for average to small-sized folks, it’s quiet, the stereo isn’t bad for an entry level stereo, and the interior pieces doesn’t rattle incessantly over bumps. Having all 236 ft-lbs of torque available at 1,500 rpm never gets old.
In today’s car market if you ask for an ample, flat torque curve, a manual transmission, headlamp washers, heated leather seats, an attractive, but low-maintenance interior and unusual styling, you may find there just aren’t many cars out there like this anymore, certainly not for this car’s original asking price of $30,000. I just wish it was alive.
-By: Sawyer Sutton
All photos © 2017, Sawyer Sutton, egmCarTech