Volvo C30 Electric impresses in hands-on test

We dive into a Volvo C30 Electric to see how it stacks up against the standard petrol model and electric rivals such as the Nissan Leaf.

Rory Reid
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The Volvo C30 is a car that, by all rights, should hang its head gasket in shame. It's the runt of the Volvo litter, the vehicle of choice for weedy vampire Edward Cullen in that Twilight movie and now -- as if that weren't embarrassing enough -- Volvo's ripped the last shred of respect from under its bonnet by making a battery electric version. The poor thing!

Some people would refuse to drive the car on this basis, but not Crave -- we have no shame whatsoever, having seen all three Twilight movies (go Team Jacob!) -- so we dove into a C30 Electric recently to see how it stacked up against the standard petrol model and, of course, electric rivals such as the Nissan Leaf.

Externally, the car has much in common with the standard C30 Drive, with the only clue to its non-standard propulsion system being the large 'electric' livery on the side. That, and the fact it had a long extension lead running from the front grille, through a puddle and into an open window of the restaurant where we were being shown the car.

Minding where we stepped, we hopped inside, where we found the interior was pretty standard too, aside from a couple of minor details. Volvo had replaced the rev counter with a power meter whose needle swings to the right of centre to show how hard the motor is being worked, or to the left to show how much energy is being harvested by the regenerative braking system.

Volvo's changed the gear stick, too. It's now a stubby, aquamarine and chrome lever you push forward to engage reverse or back to activate 'drive'.

Once we'd fired her up, the C30 Electric shot off like it was late for a Greenpeace protest rally. Its electric motor may only churn out 111hp, but the car feels noticeably more responsive than its diesel cousin, sprinting to 60mph in a respectable 10.5 seconds before reaching an indicated 77mph maximum.

It goes about its business in near silence, with only a slight whine from the motor, a touch of wind noise and a little rumbling from its low-rolling resistance tyres seeping into the cabin.

The C30 Electric handles well. Its 24kWh battery pack means it's 100kg heavier than the standard car, but Volvo says the cells are distributed in such a way as to provide a lower centre of gravity. We're not convinced it handles better than the diesel C30 Drive, as Volvo claims, but it's still a blast to drive -- even on twisty B roads. 

The regenerative braking systems in many electric cars can often meddle with the driving experience somewhat, but that wasn't the case with the C30 Electric. The braking effect is barely noticeable and it can even be disabled entirely by pulling the gear lever down into the 'h' position, which proves handy when driving at motorway speeds, up hills, or whenever slowing the car during regeneration would be counter-productive.

Volvo reckons the C30 electric will achieve a driving range of 75-95 miles depending on your driving style and how much you use the stereo, sat-nav, air conditioning and the various safety systems (lane departure warning and blind spot info both make an appearance). The car is also said to have a charge time of 8 hours when using a standard household plug socket, though a 2.5-hour charge will provide 25 miles of range if you're in a rush. Let's hope it's not an emergency.

Overall, the C30 Electric left a positive impression on us. It's nippy, handles well and isn't anywhere near as embarrassing to get into as one might expect -- even if it has been tarnished by Edward Cullen's emo vampire schtick. It can't be bought as yet (Volvo is busy evaluating whether it's ready for the real world), but if it ever does decide to sell these to the public, we reckon the company could have a real winner on its hands.

Have a gander through our photo gallery above to see it in more detail.

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