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Volvo C30 2.0D SE

Volvo breaks its restrictive mould with the C30

  • Stylish and unusual looks, attractive pricing, cabin design, smooth ride, comfortable seats, slick gearbox, strong and urgent diesel engine
  • Small boot opening, cumbersome load cover, overly light steering, cramped rear cabin, miserly single-year recovery package

It’s no surprise the Volvo C30 is one of the most eagerly awaited cars of the year – just look at it! The Swedish company claims the newcomer is aimed at younger buyers who put style as high on their list of priorities as driver appeal – and they have been quick on the uptake. In the UK, Volvo says the C30 already has more pre-orders than the successful XC90 off-roader enjoyed.

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From the front, the hatch bears a close resemblance to the S40 saloon, with a virtually identical bonnet, grille and headlights. That’s hardly surpris­ing when you consider both models use the same underpinnings and chassis. But it’s at the rear that the designers have really been daring – this is where the three-door really stands out.

The unusual U-shaped glass hatch is framed by striking tail-light clusters, and there are strong echoes of Volvo’s last hatch, the 480, in the C30’s proportions and angles. The bodywork is certainly a welcome change from the ordinary hatchbacks we have become used to in this sector.

Little has changed from the concept version of the C30, which made its debut at January’s Detroit Motor Show. But it does seem as though the styling team has compromised practicality in order to accommodate the design. The shape of the rear hatch means that the C30’s boot opening is narrow and has a high sill. According to the figures, the Volvo features the largest boot of our trio, but in reality it seems considerably smaller than both rivals’. The load cover is a cumbersome affair, too – it’s a single fabric sheet that has to be clipped in place and doesn’t retract.

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Still, the rear seats are the most comfortable on test, even if there are only two and elbow and legroom is a bit tight. However, Volvo doesn’t pretend that this car is meant to be particularly practical; four adults can squeeze in, and the seats fold to give a 1,010-litre area, but this is more than many buy­ers will ask of the model. And besides, it’s the driving environment that will sell this car. Okay, the interior will be familiar to S40 owners, and while that’s no bad thing – with elements such as the floating control console carried over – we wish the designers had differentiated it in some way. Nevertheless, it’s far more creative and distinctive than the cabins in the Audi or Mercedes, and the seating position is excellent, with plenty of adjustment in the chair and steering wheel.

The Volvo’s 2.0-litre oil-burner is the quietest engine here, and delivers its power smoothly. With 320Nm, it matches the Audi for torque, but doesn’t feel quite as punchy low down – no surprise when you consider power peaks 250rpm higher. At the track, the C30 did 0-60mph in 8.9 seconds, which is 0.2 seconds faster than the A3 and 0.7 seconds up on the C-Class. The Volvo was also quicker than the Audi in every gear apart from sixth.

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Handling is similar to the S40’s, but the C30 is lighter and more responsive. The steering is short on feel, but the hatch corners sharply and only understeers when really provoked. How­ever, the A3 is more fun to drive and the Sports Coupé has more grip and better body control – although if your driving includes long motorway stints, the Volvo’s compliant ride will appeal.

At £19,295, the C30 is the cheapest model on test, and it gets cruise control, rain sensors, xenon lights and a CD changer as standard. It’s a great car for the money – but is it good enough to win?

Details

Price: £19,295
Model tested: Volvo C30 2.0D SE 2.0 litre/134bhp
Chart position: 1
WHY: Due in UK dealers early next year, the new C30 signals Volvo’s return to the premium hatch sector. The line-up features five petrol engines (including the 217bhp T5) and three diesels, plus four trims. We drive the mid-range 2.0D in SE trim.

Economy

Our Volvo arrived with only a few hundred miles on the clock, so it is no surprise that it fell short of the claimed economy figures. During its time with us, it averaged 40.4mpg, which is some way off the 49.6mpg it should be returning. However, we’d expect to see this figure rise over time.

Residuals

Our experts have yet to calculate residual values for the C30. However, we reckon it should match its German competitors as a long-term investment. Strong early demand – due to the handsome looks – will certainly keep second-hand prices high for a year or two.

Servicing

As it doesn’t arrive in showrooms until next year, dealers don’t have details of the C30’s servicing costs yet. But the S40 has the same engine, and using it as a guide, buyers can expect steep prices – the first three dealer visits for the saloon cost £1,316, with the third coming in at a hefty £536.

Tax

The C30 isn’t quite as clean as the A3; its 151g/km CO2 output is 2g/km higher, so the Swedish car sits in the next tax bracket up. And even with its lower list price, the Volvo isn’t the cheapest proposition for fleet drivers. Lower-band owners will pay the Inland Revenue £849 a year.

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