02 November 2006
|Category:|| Lower medium|
|Prices:|| £14,750 - £23,795|
|Key rival:|| Audi A3|
Volvo, taking note of the increasing success enjoyed by Audi's A3, has finally entered the growing market for premium badges on smaller cars.
It's made an impressive start. The C30 is certainly prettier than either of its main rivals - BMW's 1-series and the Audi A3 - and you'd be brave to choose the aesthetically pleasing but fragile Alfa Romeo 147 over the new Swedish contender.
The smarter looks are at least in part thanks to Volvo's decision to make the C30 more coupe-like rather than the traditional hatchback. Instead of a tailgate, only the reinforced glass partition opens, which makes for a very high boot lip and obviously impacts heavily upon boot space. However, it's this sort of individuality that will mark out this car.
Volvo is looking to sell just 5000 units in the first year, which is in stark contrast to Audi's A3, which shifted nearly 28,000 units in 2005 and is running ahead of that so far this year. That means Volvo residuals should stay high, and that demand should mean waiting times in excess of anything the company has ever seen (with the exception of the XC90).
The massive eight engine options and four trim levels means there's plenty of choice, from the entry-level 1.6-litre petrols and diesels through the predicted best-selling 2.0 diesel to the range-topping D5 diesel and T5 turbocharged petrol. The latter two were the only models available at launch, so we drove the more business-friendly diesel.
The C30 is only a four-seater as Volvo took the decision to fit two individual rear seats instead of a three-person bench. It is, though, surprisingly spacious in the back; there's more shoulder room and it's less claustrophobic than you'd expect given that high rear shoulder line, although a six-footer won't sit comfortably behind another one.
From the front seat it's standard Volvo fare with the cockpit and switchgear taken from other models in the range. The company claims the stereo system is class-leading, given its target market is under 35 years of age and they appreciate such things. There's also an auxiliary input socket to plumb in an iPod through the car stereo, another nod to the younger target market.
It's fair to say we've had quite high hopes for the C30 since the concept was revealed at the beginning of this year, and it's a relief that it doesn't disappoint.
Despite the 18-inch wheels it rides well - it's firm rather than comfortable, and the UK's less-than-perfect roads could cause discomfort, although we won't know until we get to drive the car here next month. The C30 is about level with its main rival A3 through twistier sections of road, although neither handle as well as the rear-wheel driven BMW 1-series. (However, that's a flawed car in terms of ride quality and the three-door version is yet to hit the market).
Surprisingly, the 180PS diesel needs to be worked quite hard - only feeling as powerful as it actually is when the accelerator's firmly prodded - and the otherwise slick standard automatic gearbox appears to sap that power. And under harsh acceleration the C30 D5 is surprisingly noisy. At motorway cruising speed all's quite, though, with impressive levels of refinement.
The C30 is an impressive machine - well styled, well built and good to drive. The costs are likely to be competitive due to the small numbers and desirability, as was the case with the XC90 4x4. It looks as if the Volvo has another winner on its hands, and once the costs are finalised we'll see if it beats the Audi.