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Beyond the audio quality, we really like this stereo's simple display. It uses black LCD letters on a greenish background, but will invert its colors for night display. For audio sources, the premium audio system comes standard with Sirius satellite radio, a single disc player that can read MP3 CDs, and an auxiliary input in the center console. We like that the display shows track information from MP3 CDs, but the interface doesn't let you navigate a disc by folder. Instead, you start at track 1 and have to keep on turning the dial up through the tracks to get to the first song in the folder to which you want to listen. The same goes for Sirius where, instead of choosing music categories, you have to keep on turning the tuning dial until you reach your desired station. It's a very inconvenient design.
Along with Bluetooth, navigation was another option that we didn't have on our test car. However, we used the same navigation system on the Volvo C70 and found that it functioned well. This nav system comes with a remote control for the passengers, or the driver can operate it with a joystick and buttons mounted on back of the steering wheel spoke. Our only problem with the system is that the LCD, which pops up from the dashboard, is subject to glare on sunny days. We found glare a serious problem with the C70, but don't know how bad it will be on the C30.
Under the hood
Beyond the premium stereo, the other major difference between Version 1.0 and Version 2.0 is a sport-tuned suspension on the latter, what Volvo calls its Dynamic Chassis. The suspension felt like it had the right amount of rigidity to us, doing a decent job of damping out the bumps while also minimizing body roll during hard cornering. We put the Volvo C30 through its paces on Highway 9 and Skyline in the Santa Cruz mountains, two winding roads with some tight hairpins. The C30 didn't strike us as an ultimate sports car, but its powered front wheels dragged us through the corners with minimal wheel slip. Understeer wasn't a large problem as we took the car around mountain curves that seemed to end somewhere in the vicinity of 270 degrees, a lot of time to wonder if the turn would ever finish.
Our big regret was that our C30 came optioned with a five-speed automatic transmission, rather than the standard six-speed manual. This automatic seemed to hold back the potential of this car, with little inclination to downshift as we hit the brakes before a hard turn. Even in manual gear selection mode, we found the transmission sluggish, taking too much time to perform the up- or down-shift we selected. However, this transmission performed all right under hard acceleration, holding gears to about 6,000 revolutions per minute.
But, with the car's turbo-charged five cylinder engine, torque steer was an issue under hard acceleration. This 2.5-liter engine throws plenty of power to the small C30's wheels, making 227 horsepower at 5,000rpm and 236 ft-lbs of torque from 1,500 to 5,000rpm. We had no problem getting a squeak out of the front tires when we stomped the gas.
You will pay for the turbocharger at the pump, as the Volvo C30 gets an EPA rated 19mpg in the city and 27mpg on the highway, figures that should be better for a car of this size. During our time with the car we weren't able to get a conclusive observed fuel economy rating. As of our review, no emissions ratings were published for the C30.
Volvo makes its BLIS lane-change warning system available in the C30, a great safety option we used in the S80. We're happy to see an advanced safety system like this available on a less expensive car. Volvos also makes front and rear parking systems available, which seem unnecessary on such a small car.
Our 2008 Volvo C30 Version 2.0 had a base price of $25,700. The Version 1.0 C30 will cost you a base $22,700. For options, our test car only came with the automatic transmission, which adds $1,250. With a $745 destination charge, our total came out to $27,695.
We really liked the looks of the C30, both inside and out. Except for the transmission, it drove very well. Its hatchback gives it a practical side, but there isn't much legroom in the backseats. The stereo is phenomenal, although the interface could use some work. Equipped with the optional Bluetooth and navigation, the C30 becomes a very techie car. Although it has a smaller engine, the Mini Cooper S has better handling and is a worthwhile competitor. And if you're really into odd body styles and from-the-factory personalization, the Scion xB is a cheaper alternative, although it doesn't perform nearly as well.