No-one knows how much longer Volvo will be part of the Ford family.
The American company is in crisis, despite last week’s George Bush- backed bailout of General Motors and Chrysler, and has already sold its stake in Mazda to clear some cash.
Volvo would bring in more bucks, but the brand has a lot of value and is making some classy cars which are more than just a safety-first choice for people. So perhaps Ford will keep it under the blue oval if things start to turn around in the USA.
But, back to the cars. Like the good looking S60 concept which will be unveiled at the Detroit Motor Show in a fortnight, and the XC60 which is a sure-fire hit in Australia next year.
And then there is the C30.
The baby coupe has been down the Carsguide test road before, but this time it was back for more than a week. And winning us over.
It still has shortcomings, like doors which refuse to stay open on a slope and a back seat with only two spots, but it is not like a regular Volvo. It is funky and stylish, good to drive on a twisty road, with a quality cabin.
Perhaps best, most people don’t pick it as a Volvo. And that means it is a genuine rival for a Mini, or a BMW 1 Series, or an Audi A3 with people who put a badge and good looks first on the shopping list.
The C30 is a kinda retro car, because its tail-end styling draws from the P1800 coupe from the 1960s, but really it’s right up to date.
It was revealed in September 2006 and came to Australia a year later, which means it is getting on a bit. But it is still fresh and different, which counts for a lot in a car-conscious country like ours.
The C30 got a tweak at the start of the year with the arrival of diesel and S models which have helped sales to 565 by the end of November, up from 486 at the same time in 2007 and third on the Swedish brand’s sales totals after the XC90 and S40 sedan.
Pricing and variants
The C30 family is now four models, with prices from $35,950 through to $43,950, which buys either the D5 with a 2.4-litre turbodiesel or the sporty T5 with the same 2.5-litre turbomotor also fitted to Ford’s XR Focus.
The basics of the car are pretty familiar, from its front-drive layout to a four-passenger cabin, the company’s signature safety gear – including the optional blind-spot indicator – and quality which matches Audi for finishing but not the initial impact.
On the rival side of things, life is not easy for the C30. The Mini is into its second generation, BMW has added a coupe to the 1 Series line-up, and there is pressure from below from four-door hatches which don’t have the brand value but still stack up well on the bottom line.
The baby Volvo is typical of the new generation of cars from the Swedish maker.
It’s still not a sharp-edged sports car, but it is capable of pushing along briskly enough and makes you feel like you are the driver and not – like the days of the 200 and 700-Series – just a passenger in a moving lounge room.
We took a T5 to see how it would be over a couple of months and, so far at least, there has been zero drama. It drags the optional front spoiler a bit over one of our driveways, and the doors are annoying on a slope, but mostly it just does the job.
“It’s funky. And it’s fun to drive,” says Ali, one of the Carsguide team.
“The boot is pretty small, but otherwise it’s good. And people don’t think it’s a Volvo.”
The T5 engine means the car gets along well but doesn’t use too much fuel. It’s averaging just on 8.8 litres/100km but still has heaps of overtaking punch and the sort of off-the-bottom torque that means you don’t have to do much gear changing.
The cabin is well designed and well finished, from the funky centre console to clear dials, well-shaped seats and controls which feel like they will last forever.
We miss having a left-foot rest and the driver’s bucket could do with more shape, but that’s about it.
The blind-spot warning is a great thing which should be in every car, lighting an orange warning near the side mirrors, and we know the airbags will be good and the brakes are firm and responsive.
Up against its rivals, the C30 does not have the youthful zest of the Mini but it drives almost as nicely and its better value. It doesn’t have the badge or shape of a 1 Series coupe, but it is much cheaper.
It probably lines up closest to the Audi A3, but we always see that as a fancy Golf, although the Alfa 147 makes a case with fantastic looks.
And it is way more appealing than a Saab 9-3.
We are spoiled by having a T5 and if we were shopping the class we would be far more likely to go for the basic C30 S at $35,950, then spending a little extra on extras.
The basics are good, the car turns heads, and it is one for the long run.
Engine: 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbo
Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
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