Sunday, June 23, 2013

Baby Volvo C30 is Not for Everyone--but Definitely for Someone

The C30 is Volvo's smallest car sold in the U.S. The compact hatchback resembles a little the iconic 1800es of the early 1970's, but it is a modern vehicle.

With more interest in compact hatchbacks like this today, the C30 is kind of a relic, but a charming one. It carries the Volvo look to younger buyers, and offers, along with its turbocharged 2.5 liter five-cylinder (!) engine, a manual six-speed. Perhaps only older folks of a certain bent want to shift their own gears, but this car definitely has a sporty feeling.

That odd-numbered inline engine puts out 227 horsepower in standard garb, but my test car was one of 250 numbered limited edition Polestar models (the tiny plaque on the dash said No. 249/250). Polestar is the official tuner that Volvo uses to give its cars higher performance and more youth appeal. Thanks to Polestar, my tester put out 250 horsepower, because they boosted the turbocharger pressure. They also re-optimized ignition- and fuel-mapping, and recalibrated the throttle response. It's all done with software and chips these days, but there is no doubt that I flew up those on-ramps on the way to work.

The EPA gives the car a combined fuel economy number of 24 mpg (21 City, 29 Highway). I averaged 27.0 mpg--perhaps thanks to some freeway miles. The Green scores are5 for Smog and 6 for Greenhouse Gas.

How can you tell it's a Polestar car? Well, it came in a bright Rebel Blue paint. It also wore the small, square Polestar logos and flaunted a set of black wheels--the latest trend with young folks, apparently. It helped that my tester was not the base car, which is known as the T5. Mine was an R-Design model, which includes 18-inch wheels, a body kit with front and rear spoilers, matte finish grille surround on the outside and a shiny exhaust finisher. Inside, there's a special leather upholstery design, beautiful blue "watch dial" instruments, a custom steering wheel, and aluminum pedals.That's how a car that base-prices at $26,395 comes to $35,545 (including shipping). But this is the ultimate C30.

The driving experience is mostly fun. I was surprised that the company that designed and promoted seatbelts had one that rubbed against the side of my neck--and had no height adjustment. But the feeling inside the cabin is certainly fine, if a bit sober. The Scandinavian design aspect of this car is something to treasure today, when cars like, for example, the Ford Focus or Hyundai Elantra, offer a bewildering symphony of curves and swoops in the cockpit. The contour of the door panels in the C30, uninterrupted by bling, along with neutral materials, promote calm.

The slim center console, a silver ribbon running from dash to floor, is unique in the industry, made possible by compact electronics. The textures in this car are a little more energetic, it being a special edition. The console metallic trim, for example, has op-art flows of lines around the knobs.

There are some definite quirks to this car that you will have to not mind dealing with. The audio system was easy enough to work, mostly, but when I wanted to see the artist and the song title for selections on the satellite radio, I had to pick one or the other--not both, thanks to the small display. And it took seven different button clicks to change the selection from one to the other.

Different but not troublesome is the way you hide your valuables in the open hatch area. The C30 offers a soft folding cover that uses two spring rods and four tie-downs to the hold it in place. Don't need it? It unhooks in seconds and takes up almost no room.

The car has a navigation system, but it is set using a remote control unit, which I found in the center console bin. The screen flips up on the top of the dash. There is also a button on the back of the steering column that gives you some control options. The software to operate the system is a little confusing, but I figured it out as I was driving around, so you probably can, too.

I've always liked the little kangaroo-style lower seat cushion pockets in Volvos, and this car has 'em too. Slipping into the C30 for a trip somewhere is a pleasure--except for those annoying seatbelts.

Volvos traditionally were boxy sedans and wagons that lasted forever, thanks to being designed for tough Scandinavian winters. During the period when Volvo was owned by Ford Motor Company, they began to be nice looking cars, too. The C30 is based on a compact Ford Focus platform, so since Ford has sold Volvo to a Chinese company, the C30 may not be long for the line. That means you should get one now, if you want one.

But who is the buyer for a car of this size and price? It's too expensive for most young people, and it is not the brand that MINI or Mitsubishi EVO enthusiasts go for. It's meant for that rare individual who can appreciate its many pluses and wants to drive something distinctive. And that blue and black combination really stands out!

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