2008 Volvo C30

With the C30, Volvo has hit one out of the park. The new compact hatchback combines the performance of a tuner car with European styling and world-class safety. It's affordable to buy and with 23 mile-per-gallon fuel economy, affordable to drive as well.

The C30 has a large rear glass, creating a wide load-in space with a low lift-over height. A small person like myself can easily toss a bicycle in back. A lever on the outside of each rear seatback folds it flat to create a long, flat cargo floor.

Volvo's first custom build program allows buyers to choose from a 440 paint and trim combinations. The $300 program fee adds an iPod input in the center console, and access to factory options not included in the standard build program.

Thinking Outside the Box

Hatchbacks are the wallflowers of the automotive world. Despite their popularity in the tuner culture, three-door cars still carry the stigma of 'econobox.'

The C30 is a box that doesn't look like a box. It has wide shoulders, big wheels, a swoopy front grille with wrap-around headlamps, and a bullet-shaped profile.

Inside, it feels like a sports car: four bucket seats, lots of glass area, high-tech instrument panel, and aluminum pedals. But unlike a sports car, the C30 holds the stuff we active types need to carry.

If the Sunday trail run turns ugly, there's a standard first aid kit in the cargo area. Under the cargo floor, extra storage bins around the spare tire keep valuables and spare tools concealed.

Zero-to-sixty in Six Seconds

Horsepower makes a car look good on paper: torque makes it fun to drive. The inline five-cylinder engine in the C30 reaches peak torque, 236 foot-pounds, at 1800 rpm.

Both grades come standard with a six speed manual transmission, or an optional automatic. Zero-to-sixty acceleration with the manual is 6.2 seconds.

Though manual transmissions have their drawbacks traffic, the gearbox in the C30 is easy to live with. The clutch pedal is as light as any passenger car I've driven. Shifting is crisp and precise, with no noticeable gearlash. All of the gears have extremely wide range, to minimize shifting on crowded freeways.

The C30 is slightly wider and shorter than the S40 sedan that it shares components with. It's 300 pounds lighter, enhancing overall performance and gas mileage.

The front-wheel drive chassis feels well balanced. I noticed little tendency to push in the corners. A fully independent suspension tuned for sport is standard on both grades, as is variable assist, rack-and-pinion steering.

The upscale grade tested comes with eighteen-inch wheels and summer tires. Seventeen-inch rims are standard on the base model. Though temperatures in the southwest never get cold enough to require winter tires, buyers in northern states will want to buy a second set of rims and snow tires. The summer tires get too hard to produce adequate traction when temperatures dip below freezing.

Four-wheel disc brakes with four-channel antilock braking are standard on all models. Discs stop the car better on wet surfaces, and are much easier to service. Though I didn't have a chance to drive the car in the rain, I found braking to be firm and linear

Visibility is good all the way around the car, with no obvious blind spots. Volvo's rear park assist and blind spot information systems are available as options through the custom build program.

Scandinavian Interior

Volvo excels at creating stylish, ergonomic interiors. The standard cloth seats in the C30 are attractive enough to be living room furniture. Although the manual seats have lack a lower lumbar adjustment, I found the lower back support more than adequate.

Cruise control settings and redundant audio controls on the steering wheel minimize driver distraction. Audio and temperature settings on the center stack are accessible from either front seating position.

The floating center stack, a design borrowed from the S40, creates a concealed story space for a purse or small pack. The glovebox is exceptionally deep: capable of holding magazines or small electronic devices. A covered bin below the center armrest contains a MP3 plug-in.

A Dolby surround-sound system is standard on the upscale grade, including a free six-month subscription to Sirius satellite radio.

Two cupholders in the floor console are big enough for water bottles. There are two, twelve-volt power points: in the floor console, and behind the center console. Both doors contain map pockets with molded bottle holders.

The three-door configuration makes second-row seats harder to access: front seats slide forward to widen the through-space. The car's short wheelbase translates to limited legroom
for second-row passengers. I had to push the front seats forward to find a comfortable position. Head, hip and shoulder room should be adequate for most adults.

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