Way back in 1970, now defunct American Motors lopped 18 inches off a car they sold called the Hornet, fitted the end result with a rear end that included a hatch-back lifting rear window and door and called the result the Gremlin. It was their way of rushing to the fore and beating the then Big Three with a domestic produced compact. It sold well initially and soldiered on for 9 years, before succumbing to a lack of product upgrades and changing market.
That bit of automotive history recalls the more recent entry of Volvo into competition with the likes of the Volkswagen GTI and the Dodge Caliber with a much more modern hatchback, its C30. If you take the Volvo S40 sedan, lop off about 8.5 inches from the rear and put a hatchback at the rear, you’d have the basic idea behind the S30. But when you see it in person, it’s much more eloquent than that.
Probably the most accurate historic precedent is Volvo’s own venerable 1800ES, produced circa 1972-‘73. At the time, it was considered a mini-station wagon; but in truth, it was a hatchback, with an all glass rear hatch with a handle to open it, stuck right on the glass. Elegant it was but it sold poorly then, although now it is amongst the most collectible of Volvos, with the high value of a 1972 or ’73 1800ES set at $18,100, according to the NADA Classic, Collectible and Special Interest Appraisal Guide and Directory.
The C30 has an almost identical all glass hatch lid at the back. It not only looks timeless, but you can lift or lower it with the touch of just two fingers.
The interior of the C30 has a center console that is reminiscent of modern Swedish furniture design. There a space behind the expanse of brushed aluminum that sweeps down, houses the sound system and HVAC controls, and finally goes up and over the transmission tunnel. Certainly, Charles Eames could not have done better.
What differentiates the interior’s modernity from the pack of confusing HVAC controls that seem standard on most Japanese and German cars these days, is the simplicity of that old standard, the control knob. Fan speed and temperature, along with sound sytem volume and tuning, are four major knobs, with a grid of small buttons occupying the space in between.
The rear deck has “T5” emblazoned upon it. It stands for the turbocharged DOHC (double-overhead camshafts, belt driven) 2.4-liter five-cylinder engine whiuch powers the C30; producing 227 horsepower and 236lb.-ft. of torque. Five-cylinder engines can sometimes be rough at idle and sounding peculiar at speed, the result of the uneven cylinder count, hard to counterbalance with even the best crankshaft; however, the engine in the C30 T-5 seemed generally smooth on the uptake and at idle. For that, Volvo deserves kudos.
The Borg-Warner KO4 turbocharger is a light pressure unit, producing just 0.53 atmosphere at full boost. The result is that you feel it coming on in a very linear and full way, in the lower gears; in fact, wheel spin is pretty easily induced, coming off the line. However, things seem to peter out when you row the gearbox into the higher gears, at legal speeds.
The C30 is available only as a front-wheel drive car; and in that sense, it is the perfect counterpoint to the VW GTI. (The GTI’s silbing, the R32, is all-wheel-drive.) It’s hauling 3,201 pounds versus 3,155 pounds of the GTI.
The C30 will ratchet up from a standing start to 60 miles-per-hour in about 6 seconds – Volvo says 6.2 seconds, to be exact. That’s not bad but certainly tuners would want more. In fact, the tuner market is exactly the one Volvo would like to explore with this car; however, only Volvo aftermarket parts supplier IPD has explored that with the C30 (see www.ipdusa.com)
The close-ratio, six-speed manual transmission has a decidely mechanistic feel to it. This after, all is a Volvo and they still seem to be built in a more sturdy manner than most cars. But the clutch has lmited travel and feels overmechanized. If you are not used to a manual transmission, you might feel a bit challenged; if that’s the case for $1,250 you can get a five-speed automatic transmission instead.
The suspension consists of independent struts, located by control arms, coupled with coil springs and an anti-roll bars, up front; followed by independent suspension in the rear, consisting of one trailing link and two lateral links, per side, coupled with coil springs and an anti-roll bars.
The damping on the shocks is set up for a bit better straightahead cruising, than the GTI. Driving over expansion joints is less jarring, and yet, handling is still pretty good. The Volvo feels more substantial and bigger than it is (103. 9 inches, wheelbase; 70.2 inches wide; and 57 inches of height).
Volvo has struggled in North America of late, since the cars are built in a country using a currency that is much stronger than our dollar; but the cars are sold and paid for, using that dollar. In fact, Volvo announced, a few weeks back, that it plans to close as much as 30 percent of its dealerships. Long time dealerships, such as one in Baltimore, Maryland, have already been shuttered.
The C30 we drove listed at $25,700; but that included options such as: metallic paint at $475; front fog lights at $295; sport gear shift knob at $100; sport steering wheel at $150; cruise control at $185; and a set of body modifications costing $300. You might want to consider buying a C30 sans all the add-ons – do you really need cruise control on a sport hatch? – and adding your own body modifications kit, as time and money allow.
The C30 coupe is hoped to achieve sales of just 8,000 cars, which comes out to one of every 10 Volvos sold. Of course, if you’re a collector, the fewer sold the better, eh? – Terry Parkhurst