"The Volvo C30 is arguably the best-looking premium hatchback on sale, while its build quality is superb."
The C30 is aimed at younger drivers, and with its sleek looks it has few problems turning heads. The Volvo badge adds prestige over more traditional hatchback choices like the Ford Focus and Honda Civic. Build quality is excellent and the interior is well laid out. The downside is that the C30 makes sacrifices for its obvious style as it's not particularly practical and is only available with three doors. It makes up for these shortcomings with a good choice of engines and competitive price tags compared to other premium hatches.
The C30 has a vast range of engines. The 1.6 and 2.0-litre petrol engines need to be worked hard and aren’t as good as the diesels. And while the 2.5-litre petrol turbo Polestar has 257bhp and is very quick, it's only available in the top spec T5 R-Design. The 1.6-litre diesel comes with 108bhp or 114bhp. Neither is particularly fast, but they’re both smooth and cheap to run. Go for the 2.0-litre diesel tuned to 148bhp or 175bhp for punchy performance. The C30 feels composed on twisty roads and the steering is weighty but precise. The driving position is quite low, which adds to the sporty feel.
The ride is bumpy at low speeds, but improves the faster you go. Overall, the Volvo is a comfortable long-distance companion. The seats are firm, however, and there's a little wind noise from around the mirrors at cruising speeds. The petrol engines and the 1.6-litre diesel are quiet, but the 2.0-litre diesel does rattle at low speeds.
Volvo is famed for its safety record, and the C30 lives up to that reputation. It has a five-star Euro NCAP rating and has front, side and curtain airbags as standard, plus whiplash protection, electronic stability control and a side impact protection system. Blind-spot indicators are available, while Bluetooth costs extra. Volvo's Intelligent Driver system stops non-essential calls coming through when the car is accelerating or braking heavily, to avoid distraction. Build quality rivals BMW and Audi, while Volvo came 10th in the 2012 manufacturers’ chart of Auto Express Driver Power satisfaction survey.
Practicality isn’t the C30's strong point, as it's built for style not versatility. The boot is quite large, at 539 litres, but there's no centre rear seat, so the Volvo is a strict four-seater. The boot is difficult to access thanks to its small opening and high, sloping sides. There's a central storage area, which is handy, but the door pockets are slim and there are few other storage spaces around the interior.
Value for money
While the C30 isn’t especially cheap, next to premium rivals like the BMW 1 Series and Audi A3, it looks good value. Every model gets climate control, alloy wheels, electric front windows and an MP3-compatible stereo. SE spec adds cruise control, automatic wipers and 17-inch alloy wheels, while the SE Sport gets 18-inch alloys, a bodykit and a leather steering wheel. SE Lux versions come with leather, heated front seats, an electrically adjustable driver's seat and electric folding door mirrors. Topping the range is the R-Design, with an even sportier bodykit and lowered suspension as well as an optional power upgrade from Volvo's performance partner, Polestar.
The DRIVe 1.6 diesel is extremely economical, returning 74.3mpg, while CO2 emissions of 99g/km mean road tax is free. Not much more costly to run is the 114bhp 1.6 diesel, with road tax at £30 a year. The 2.0-litre diesels return 55.4mpg and emit 134g/km, while the 1.6 petrol averages 40.4mpg and 167g/km. You get 37.2mpg and 177g/km with the 2.0-litre petrol, in which case road tax goes up to £200 a year. The 2.5-litre R-Design is fast but not cheap, returning 32.5mpg and emitting a hefty 203g/km, so road tax hits £235. However,strong resale values make the C30 a safe investment.