Automania by Dr. Iain Corness

Volvo C30 3 door hatch

The Volvo C30 hatch was one of the stand-out cars at this year’s Bangkok International Motor Show. Compact and yet very stylish, something that you do not immediately think of when discussing Volvos, which, for my money, have always been very ‘ordinary’ - but the C30 is different.

Volvo C30 Hatch

This opinion was shared by GoAuto in Australia which tested the new C30 last week. “This Volvo has an obvious and definable character. In the new C30 T5, finding something ordinary requires you to look at the car’s inner schematics (it shares many components with the fine Ford Focus), because this car brims with a personality both corporate and individualistic.”
Take the styling, a mixture of several Volvos past - the nose is the 1998 S80 redefined; the profile recalls the 480ES Coupe of the late ’80s; the rear a combination of contemporary Volvo Estate for the tail-lights enclosing a 1960s P1800ES glass hatch.
This combination seems to work brilliantly on this little Swedish alternative to an Audi A3, BMW 1 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-class hatch - and perhaps the Mini Cooper and Subaru Impreza WRX.
As GoAuto has said in the past, the dashboard really lifts the Volvo as far as function, aesthetics and perceived quality are concerned. It is an extremely elegant and simple solution to using the various climate and audio controls without having a bewildering number of buttons or switches scattered throughout the car.

Volvo C30 Hatch

The C30 in T5 guise as tested is deceivingly well equipped too. Sited discreetly within driver’s reach are niceties like a comprehensive trip and car-function computer, climate control air-conditioning, auto-on headlights, cruise control, six-stack CD/MP3 audio, heated front seats, driver’s electric seat adjuster, and auto-on for the Xenon headlights.
We like the chunky quality feel of the switches in this car, and they have the added bonus of not looking like they are aping the established leader in this field, Audi.
And as with all Volvos of late, the cabin feels well made, cocooning from the outside world, and long lasting. Only the lower-console drink holder receptacles jar with the look of the rest of the interior.
While the high-shouldered waistline, big wheel arches and weighty doors give the C30 a masculine look and feel, there is a fetching floral pattern set against the metallic console finish that suggests otherwise.
Similarly, a pleasantly light six-speed manual gearshifter soothes the rorty sound of the turbo-charged five-cylinder engine.
And while there is the space efficiency of front-wheel drive at play in this hatchback’s pronounced cab-forward shape, the rear seats in the T5 are twin individual buckets (that, sadly, don’t recline), much like you may find in a coupe.
While we’re in the back here, the side windows don’t open either, but there is an armrest, a couple of storage areas and ample support on offer.
Our only major gripe concerns getting in and out from back there: the front occupants’ seatbelt cuts across the path, which could lead to feet and knees becoming tangled up (but this is the norm for most rear passenger entries in two door cars - Dr. Iain).
The hatch aperture is not especially large either, so maneuvering larger objects in or out can be tricky. But while the floor is quite shallow (a space-saver spare lives under there), the cabin itself is quite long - an upshot of the C30 using exactly the same 2640mm wheelbase (and MacPherson strut/independent multi-link suspension) as the S40/V50 models.
Better still, that glass hatch makes reverse parking simple, since you can actually see stuff through the twin rear seats as you are reversing.
Moving forward, the C30 is surprisingly easy to drive - and also deceptively fast. While the 2.5 liter five cylinder engine’s turbo does take a moment to spool up, it does deliver its 162 kW of power forcefully through a wide rev range, accompanied by a sizeable increase in speed and that appealing engine note we mentioned earlier.
Keep your foot down and the velocity just keeps on rising - right up to the 7000 rpm redline. 5000rpm is where power peaks, but the oodles of torque on tap (320 Nm of it in fact) climaxes from just 1500 rpm.
This is the Volvo engine found in the Focus XR5 Turbo, and so you might have some idea of how punchy it can be - particularly as the C30 weighs a significant 130 kg less than the Ford.
On the other hand, you pay for having this much performance at your disposal. We averaged only around 12.2 to 12.6 L/100 km, although we did often revel in the racy engine’s abilities.
With so much torque going through the front wheels, you might expect the T5 to be a tyre scrubbing mess, but in fact this car is more about swift and smooth progress rather than rubber-burning.
It certainly turns in eagerly enough, and cuts a fine line through a fast corner, aided by a nicely measured feeling of weight from the steering wheel. And even when you go really hard, the T5 just keeps on turning cleanly, with an impressive amount of body control and stability there for the driver to exploit.
But there isn’t terribly much feedback for a keen person to revel in, while the steering doesn’t egg you on to find a set of sharp turns in order to carve up. At least you are also spared unwanted feedback, like wheel shake or torque-steer tugging.
In keeping with the Volvo’s discreet nature, the ride is firm but not hard, with the suspension doing an admirable job in soaking up larger bumps and humps.
Even on really bad road surfaces, and with tyres as low and wide as these, the T5’s chosen line is kept straight and true. And the brakes stop the car with no drama.
We liked the value, styling, cabin fittings, safety, equipment, dynamic capability, but disliked the fact it was light on luggage space, a four-seater only cabin, and the rear-seat entry hindered by front seatbelt.
(That’s not a bad report card for something that looks as good as the C30 - Dr. Iain.)

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I asked what was the first diesel engined private car? Not trucks or buses. The correct answer was the Mercedes-Benz 260D of 1936. The first British diesel example was the Standard Vanguard Phase II of 1954. No wonder the British automotive industry went down!
So to this week. Who built a “wonder battery” for cars and said it would put the petrol cars out of business. Clue: it was the beginning of the 20th century.
For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email [email protected]
Good luck!


Put your money on batteries
There is much discussion as to the future of the gasoline engine. The ‘greenies’ are saying that the end is nigh (and with oil at $100 a barrel this is a self-fulfilling prophecy). Hydrogen and battery power are being touted as the next wave, but where hydrogen needs expensive refilling stations, with batteries you just plug the charger into the home socket. Cheap and easy.

But not these sort of batteries!
Now comes the news that VW is among the founding members of an alliance of German industries that will invest a combined 420 million Euro (21 billion baht) to develop high-performance lithium-ion batteries.
Announced last week at the Innovation Congress in Berlin, the project will strive to substantially increase the energy and performance density of the batteries and to accelerate its use in production. The other companies participating are BASF, Bosch, Evonik Degussa, Li-Tec and STEAG Saar Energie, along with the German Ministry for Education and Research. “In the future, there will be parallel use of various automotive drive systems, all the way to purely electric drive - (and) a high-performance lithium-ion battery as the energy carrier will be a key technology,” said Volkswagen AG head of group research Juergen Leohold. “Therefore, it is sensible and necessary to combine the potentials for the research and development of this battery in an alliance for innovation … For Volkswagen, this initiative is an important step on the way to zero-emission operation of vehicles.”
Earlier this month, Volkswagen unveiled the Tiguan HyMotion at the 2007 Bibendum Challenge in Shanghai, China, a prototype SUV demonstrating the company’s latest development work in hydrogen fuel cell drive. The system uses a 6.8Ah lithium-ion battery as an auxiliary energy storage device. VW betting on both horses in the race!