November 24, 2006

Photo Gallery: 2007 Volvo C30

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Mallorca, Spain – Volvo has a well-earned reputation for building safe, responsible, environmentally conscious vehicles that last for a very long time. Those characteristics are commendable, sensible, and marketable to a good many people throughout the world. But they aren’t, according to Volvo executives, particularly interesting to a younger demographic that’s looking for something a bit funkier and more exciting.

The front-wheel drive Volvo C30, designed under the supervision of Swedish-based Montrealer Simon Lamarre, and expected to be priced from $28,000 to $32,000 (without options or packages), is set to change all that. Not that the car lacks substance in the Volvo tradition, but it is also very much about style.

As Mr. Lamarre pointed out at the C30’s press introduction in Mallorca, younger buyers (aged 25-35) are keenly influenced by the latest brands and the ability to personalize, to some extent, their consumer purchases. Just like clothes, grooming, jewellery, food, entertainment and personal electronics, vehicles are expected to say something about them, rather than being simply functional. These items have to fit, therefore, into a specific cultural language.

Can a car do that? Sure, if it hits the right note.

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The C30 is inspired by Volvo’s SCC safety car concept from 2001, and also recalls the edgy and radical Volvo 3CC concept car first shown in Shanghai in 2004. The SCC features a distinctive glass hatch that’s a direct quote from the 1972/73 Volvo P1800 ES sport wagon.

The C30’s slippery wedge shape comes from the SCC and 3CC as does its most striking feature: the glass rear hatch. There’s nothing else on the road quite like it, and while there’s still some debate as to who actually came up with the original idea for it 35 years ago, the fact is that the glass hatch has become a Volvo signature piece. While rarely used, it was also found over a decade ago on the Volvo 460 in Europe.

Unlike the battery-powered three-seat 3CC, the C30 is a more conventional four-seat hatch with a five-cylinder, 2.4-litre engine that makes 168 horsepower and 170 pounds-feet of torque. It loses the electric power in favour of gasoline, and is also available with a turbocharged version of the same engine that makes 218 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque. There’s a choice between five-speed manual or five-speed automatic (with “Geartronic” sequential shifting) for the normally aspirated engine, or six-speed manual and the same five-speed automatic for the turbo (T5) version. The platform, or structural and technical basis, for the C30, is from the S40 sedan/V50 wagon.

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Even though the C30 has four seats, and even though two good-sized adults can sit back there with reasonable comfort, the car is targeted to singles and couples whom, for the most part, tend to have only two people in the car. The back seat, of course, can be folded to add cargo room, and one can imagine that for many of its buyers, this will be the typical position of those seats.

The C30’s interior can be considerably customized and special-ordered, better reflecting the tastes of individual buyers. Three levels of audio are available, with the top level DynAudio system pumping out a formidable 650 watts through 10 speakers (a jack for iPods and MP3 players is included, although it doesn’t come with the base system). The clever “floating” centre console from the S40/V50 is not only used, but is also available in three colours.

The exterior is available in a choice of six main colours, but buyers can choose from an extended palette that further personalizes the car. An optional body kit can be ordered to complement or contrast with the body colour, and a lowered sport chassis is available as an option, as are 17 and 18-inch wheels (up from the standard 16-inch rims).

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Premium and Sports packages are available ranging from $2,150-$3,400, and a leather interior, navigation system, metallic paint, sunroof, among other items, can be ordered separately.

So you get the picture. Customizable, distinctive, stylish, but offering the full range of safety technologies for which Volvo is known, including standard anti-lock brakes, stability control, side curtain airbags and Volvo’s Side Impact Protection System.

On the road the C30 seems a bit roomier than the S40 for front seat passengers, even though the C30 is 22 centimetres shorter. Putting things in the back seat, however, is a chore, as the seat backs don’t move forward enough to easily fit things back there (you wouldn’t want to wrestle with a car seat, for instance). As already suggested, owners will use the hatch for stowing groceries and bags (it’s not much of a reach to the backs of the front seats from the rear of the car).

The C30’s highway ride is superb, with the car hunkering down and feeling very stable at speed. Wind noise is almost nonexistent and tire noise can barely be heard. We drove the C30 on some slippery country roads in Mallorca, however, and it didn’t excel there. With a tendency to plough through the corners, the stability systems frequently intervened, and the C30 seemed somewhat nose-heavy. The S40 platform is set up for all-wheel drive, and that would make the C30 more entertaining and responsive, I should think. Additionally, during sporty manoeuvres, the driver’s left foot will regularly slip off the dead pedal. It’s very narrow; a function of the tight space between the transmission tunnel and wheel wells.

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Visibility is generally good, but the short side windows make it difficult to see the road ahead in certain conditions (twisting, hilly roads), and the thick A-pillars can also obstruct vision. The glass rear hatch is a magnet for road spray, we found when it started to rain, and quickly becomes opaque. The rear wiper on both my test cars was effective but noisy, however.

We only drove T5 C30’s and these are very fast cars, although the exhaust note is not particularly satisfying (a feature of five-cylinder engines). There was no torque steer evident and the six-speed manual version, especially, was fun to drive and offered quick, precise shifts through the gears.

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Instrumentation is clear and easy to read, but the TV-remote style buttons on the floating console, while they look cool, are kind of fussy to use. If you owned the car for a while, you’d likely get used to them.

All in all, we’ll just have to see whether the coveted young, urban, hip category of buyers will be intrigued enough by the C30 to move into the Volvo brand. There’s lots of competition in this segment, including the Volkswagen Rabbit and GTI, Subaru Impreza and WRX, Mazda3 GT, Audi A3, and MINI Cooper.

The 2007 Volvo C30 goes on sale in Canada at the beginning of the second quarter of 2007. The C30 is built in Ghent, Belgium.

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