Iñigo S. Roces / Iñigo S. Roces | July 17, 2008 00:00
Sporty Volvo?It's pretty hard to become known as exciting when everyone knows you as the safe and conservative type. Whether good or bad, it always seems to be a stumbling block somewhere down the line when the need to be unpredictable arises. Such is the case for car manufacturers. Take brands like Porsche and BMW for example. For Porsche, the Cayenne seemed a blasphemy of its values. In due time, the Cayenne soon proved that an SUV could indeed become a sports car. For BMW, an SUV also seemed contradictory to the rear-wheel drive, driver's car mantra. Much like its German competitor, the X5 quickly became a desirable SUV. No surprise then that Volvo too is attempting to rejuvenate its former bland and boxy image with a new sports coupe called the C30.
True, Volvo's current crop of cars; the S40, V50, S60, S80, XC70 and XC90 are far from their predecessors. They're safe, reliable, and entertaining, but this C30 seems to have come out of a new mold entirely. It doesn't improve on a current chassis; much less target a niche that the brand is accustomed to.
It's out of Volvo character for many reasons. First of all, it's a 2-door hatch, neither a sedan nor station wagon that most would expect from the brand. The design, inspired by the sexy Safety Concept Car (SCC) shown at the Detroit auto show in 2001, sports an aggressive front with rear panels that taper towards the back. Slap an Audi logo in front and no one would be the wiser. Second, it's actually impractical. This is a first for Volvo. It only seats four (and the rear passengers don't even have their own door) and certainly wouldn't be the first choice of any family. Finally, it's powerful. It used to be that brands crazy enough to stuff anything larger than a two liter into a car this size were those closely associated with the World Rally Championship.
Hard to believe as it is, there's a hint of the past in this odd iteration. At first glance, it might remind many of the P1800ES hatchback of the same make from way back in the 70's. It too had the distinctively large glass hatch, proud shoulders and coupe profile. Yet far from the old 1800ES, this one has sportier aspirations.
Sporty because, on paper; this car has all the ingredients of a go-fast-mobile. First of all there's the shape: 2-doors and 4-seats is sports car (think GT) in any language. For its size, it has a rather large engine; a 2.4 liter 5 cylinder that produces 170 hp. There's also a T5 engine option if that wasn't enough (2.5 liter turbo 5 cylinder with 218 hp). The suspension is a product of the Ford C1 platform, a suspension system also seen in the Volvo S4, the Ford Focus and the Mazda3, all three of which have proven to be exceptionally good handling vehicles.
Inside, it bears all of the trademarks of the new generation Volvo's. The new think Volvo interior rewards the driver with its intuitive steering mounted stereo control, floating console and very clean and easy-to-use interior layout. The seats are very comfortable; power assisted and with three preset settings. Seats in the rear can fold flat to accommodate more cargo. The hatch itself makes it very easy to load the trunk. Power sunroof, auto wipers and lights, and bi-xenon headlamps are also there.
Of course, it wouldn't be a Volvo without the trademark safety component. The whole gamut of airbags is there; front, side and curtain. Stability and traction control is standard, as is new safety features like Volvo's IDIS (Intelligent Driver Information System), which delays certain functions, such as a phone call, if the driver is busy with aggressive turning or more extreme situations like heavy braking. Another is the Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) which illuminates a light mounted on the side mirror if it detects another vehicle in the rear blind spot.
On the road, the C30 still feels very Volvo. The steering is weighted halfway between a Japanese sedan and a heavy German. Power is copious but delivered fully only after you overcome that little notch at the end of the throttle. The suspension damps just enough to absorb the bumps without sacrificing enough to compromise the handling. There is, however, that slight claustrophobic feeling you get when you enter the cabin, that's trademark sports car alright. It's no all-out sports car, but it's certainly one of the sportiest Volvo's ever made.
All said, it's easy to see why Volvo chose to call it a sports coupe. There's a sharper edge to it, but there's still that bit of Volvo character any patron of the brand would recognize. It's satisfying to see that Volvo hasn't thrown caution completely to the wind and thrown out all of the safe bits that we often malign but nonetheless appreciate. Sporty, by Volvo's definition, might seem a bit tamer than the German competition but it's an interpretation that certainly adds an edge to what Volvo's used to be.