Volvo, like the recently departed Saab, has long been imagined as the brand-of-choice for an associate professor at a small liberal arts college. You can almost hear NPR and feel the corduroy jacket when a Saab 900 or Volvo 850 passes. Those days are gone for Volvo, and the Swedish automaker can thank the C30 for that.
Earlier this year, Saab drove off to the great salvage yard in the sky, leaving Volvo as the sole Swedish automaker. If the C30 R-Design is any indication of the future of the brand, things are going to be just fine. Well, it’s going to be fine as long as the masses crave a car like the C30—equal parts quirky hatchback, sexy coupe, and crazy corner-carving Swedish insanity. The ante is further upped with the Polestar Edition we drove. Polestar is a Swedish tuning house, akin to Roush or AMG, but we’ll delve into the performance benefits of that particular option later. For now, let’s talk Swedish style.
Like a study in abstract design, the C30 is deceptive in its shape and proportions. The overall result is instantly recognizable as a Volvo but looks like nothing else on the road. Those seeking subtle daily transportation need not apply, even for the $35,720 base model.
At $27,450, the R-Design turns the style knob up to 11, with revised front and rear spoiler, side skirts and unique 18-inch wheels. The C30 has moved the brand’s image from horticulture society president to house/techno DJ.
Due to its radical styling, odd proportions, and premium packaging, the C30 plays in a niche market with the Mini Cooper, Audi A3, Volkswagen Golf/GTI, and Fiat 500. All are nimble runabouts with unique styling, but none holds a candle to the stylishness displayed by the C30. The simultaneous simplicity and flair have the same effect as a pair of Nike basketball shoes or the fi rst time you see a new iPhone. The visual athleticism of the C30 makes a loud statement at all times.
That coexistence of attitude and minimalism continues on the interior where the floating center sets the tone for design and functionality. It’s a fun feature found across the Volvo lineup. If you are ever in a new Volvo, put your hand through the open space behind the center console until it pops out the other side—the novelty never wears out and that space is inherently useful.
It’s not all rosy with the C30. The footwell is rather small for those with larger feet (like the size 14’s worn by this author) and will likely make for an occasional missed shift, unless slim shoes are worn. It’s a shame, too, because it detracts from one of the slickest shifters on the market. It’s not a clicky shortthrow like you might fi nd in a heavily tuned car, but it is crisp and smooth and you feel like you’ve done something right every time you make a shift.
Another real head-scratcher is the navigation system. It’s a flip-up, dash-mounted unit, that’s operated via a remote control. To make matters worse, it does not integrate well with other information and entertainment systems, and comes off as an afterthought. How is it possible that a brand that has exemplified design simplicity can drop the ball like that? Let’s hope that is a byproduct of the fact that the C30 has been around since 2006 and seamless NAV screen integration will be engineered into the next generation C30.
If you can live with these little gremlins, the reward is the pleasure of driving a useful hatchback that wants to be tossed through a turn. The R-Design package adds a sport chassis that results in a responsive ride that is never too harsh. There is some body roll tearing into the toughest corners, but overall, it’s a heap of fun for a front-wheel-drive car.
The C30 comes standard with a turbocharged inline-5 making 227 horsepower, but the subtle blue square on the rear bumper indicates this model as the Polestar Edition, signaling added power within. The $1,295 Polestar Performance option (our tester vehicle totaled $35,720) increases boost, adjusts fuel delivery, and alters ignition advance that ups output to 250 horsepower, and raises torque from 238 lb.-ft. to 273.
The result is an increase in power that you’ll come to appreciate when getting up to speed or passing on the highway, and coming out of a turn in haste. You won’t blow the doors off a Corvette, but it’s the final step in making the C30 one of the best players in that quirky, performance-driven hatchback segment.
If you’re going for your doctorate in Western Lit, the added swagger of the C30 Polestar does not exclude you, but you better moonlight as a mixed martial arts instructor or have an extensive collection of electronic dance music.
OK, ownership of a C30 requires neither of those things, but you get the picture. This isn’t your parents’ Volvo, and the C30 Polestar is proof-positive.