We take a look at, and a spin in, the 2011 Volvo C30 R-Design and try to find some function behind its form.
The littlest Volvo
For 2011, the C30--the smallest vehicle in Volvo's lineup--gets a face-lift, receiving larger headlamps and more sculpted sheet metal. The result of the face-lift is a bulbous front end that's less plain and anonymous compared with its previous generation. She's an attractive little hatch but--as is often the case with cosmetic surgery--we think she looked better before going under the knife.
Still based on the Ford C1 platform, the C30 has the same basic underpinnings as and similar dimensions to the Ford Focus and Mazda Mazda3. However, the similarities stop there, and the C30 is as different from its platform-mates as they are from each other.
Behind Volvo's corporate grill is a turbocharged inline 5-cylinder engine that outputs a healthy 227-horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque. Its power is transmitted to the front wheels through either a five-speed-automatic or six-speed-manual transmission. Our test car was equipped with the latter.
However, the R-Design package gains a little performance cred with 30 percent stiffer springs, tighter suspension damping, a quicker steering ratio, bigger wheels with stickier tires, and firmer bushings.
During a winding back road blast, the C30 managed to hang pretty close to the back bumper of a Mazdaspeed3 (that, to be fair, probably wasn't really pushing). The hatchback felt composed and tossable; its 227 horsepower supplying just enough grunt to feel quick without overpowering the front wheels.
We weren't able to test it, but wannabe-canyon carvers will probably want the standard 6-speed-manual transmission to maximize their fun.
Though not on our test car, the C30 is available with Volvo's Blind Spot Information System and Xenon HID adaptive headlamps that steer a few degrees left and right to better illuminate turns at night.
Like many new Volvos, the C30 has the manufacturer's floating center console. It's a very cool aesthetic that both frees up visual and practical space in the cabin and brings the controls closer to the driver.
The C30's center stack is fairly button heavy, which wouldn't really be such a huge deal if they were intuitively laid out. Instead, we get a messy pile of stereo and numeric phone buttons. Fortunately, most driver interaction will use the large volume and climate control knobs.
Although labeled High Performance Sound, this is actually the basic Volvo audio system. Before you get disappointed, "basic" means 160-watts with eight speakers, USB and auxiliary inputs, and HD Radio, which is pretty pretty good. It also includes a Bluetooth hands-free calling system.
The true premium audio option is a Dynaudio sound system with Dolby Pro Logic II surround sound. Speaker count has been pushed to 10, but they are also of higher quality and are pushed by 650-watts of amplification. This system also includes Volvo's hard-drive-based navigation system with real-time traffic information.