The Volvo C30 is a spiteful car. That's not because it's a dirty, oil-burning diesel, but because it's the car driven by wimpy so-called vampire Edward Cullen in the first Twilight movie. It does have some redeeming features, though. The Drive model promises a hugely respectable 74.3mpg and CO2 emissions of just 99g/km, which means it's exempt from road tax and the London congestion charge. It's available now for £17,995.
The C30 Drive doesn't adhere to the typical boxy-but-not-unattractive Volvo aesthetic. Volvo's insistence that it's a coupé is rather ambitious, but it's a relatively compact, three-door hatchback with a stylish, keen-looking front end that contrasts with its deep-set, slightly quirky rear hatch. It's by no means the most attractive small family car we've seen, but we'll cut the C30 Drive some slack -- on the whole it's a decent-looking motor that stands out from the crowd.
The C30 comes with a choice of several engines, the most eco-friendly of which is the 1.6-litre, 113bhp Drive model. The Drive engine is tuned to deliver good fuel economy and low emissions at the expense of performance. It's helped to do so by a start-stop system that switches the engine off to save fuel when the car is at a standstill, and switches it back on again when the clutch is lifted.
The C30 Drive also benefits from a series of eco-focused tweaks to its bodywork. The Drive model's suspension is 10mm lower than that of ordinary C30s, and it has a smoother underside, which helps it to cut through the air with greater ease. The car also has a tweaked front grille, aerodynamically optimised wheels that reduce drag, low-rolling-resistance tyres, and wind deflectors that channel air more efficiently around the front of the car.
Together, the tweaks give the C30 Drive fuel economy of 74.3mpg and CO2 emissions of 99g/km. That's as good as it gets for a car of this size.
It's worth remembering, however, that the C30 isn't as green as its low CO2 figures imply. Its carbon-dioxide emissions may be low, but its use of a diesel engine means it emits a range of nasty NOx and SOx fumes into the atmosphere. Such fumes are linked to respiratory illnesses and environmental damage.
Driving Ms Crazy
The C30 Drive may be a favourite of undead bore Edward Cullen, but it's far from tedious to drive. Rather, it feels spirited and dynamic, pulling away eagerly in a straight line. It handles well around corners, too. The car is closely related to the Ford Focus and it shows. It's agile, composed when changing direction, and grips hard, despite its use of low-rolling-resistance tyres.
We have a couple of gripes, though. Firstly, cornering enthusiastically can cause your knee to bash into the unnecessarily sharp faux-metal edges on the centre console -- and that hurts. Also, driving the C30 is rather like playing a computer game -- the driver is given very little feedback through the steering wheel, so it can occasionally be difficult to gauge when and where the tyres might break traction on slippery surfaces. Thankfully, because the car grips so well, losing traction is something you won't often worry about.
Safe as Volvos
Should you lose control in your C30 Drive, there's relatively little need to panic, as the car has a host of safety features, including an electronic-stability-program (ESP) system. This system reduces the chances of losing control of the car on sharp bends, slippery surfaces or during emergency manoeuvres.
Sensors in the ESP system monitor the behaviour of the car for indications of a loss of control. If one or more wheels locks up or spins faster than the others, the system assumes you're in a tizz and applies the brakes to individual wheels, as well as reducing the engine power if necessary, to bring the car back into line.
The C30 lacks some of the advanced safety features seen on luxury Volvo models, such as lane-departure warning and pedestrian detection, but, being a Volvo, it's built like a brick outhouse. It achieved the full five-star rating in the Euro NCAP safety tests and provides excellent protection for its occupants. Sadly, the same can't be said for those in its firing line -- the car affords pedestrians only marginal head and pelvis protection in the event of an accident.
The C30 Drive's satellite-navigation system is one we're very familiar with. It crops up in almost every other Volvo model and even in all Aston Martin cars. It's by no means the most accomplished sat-nav we've tested -- it lacks some of the features of high-end stand-alone GPS systems, such as live GSM/GPRS-based traffic info and an Internet-based points-of-interest library -- but it's a no-nonsense system that'll get you from A to B with aplomb. That's in large part down to a full seven-digit postcode-entry system, and a fairly logical user interface.
The C30 Drive's stereo system is relatively average. Our test car came with the standard 'premium sound' package, which consists of an RDS radio, an MP3 and WMA-compatible CD player, auxiliary and USB audio inputs in the centre arm rest, and 12 separate speakers. It'll help you pass the time, but it won't win any awards for sound quality, volume or features.
The Volvo C30 Drive is a very good all-round hatchback. It's great to drive, offers good protection for its occupants, and doesn't use a great deal of fuel. Its styling won't be to everyone's taste but, on the whole, there's very little to dislike.
Edited by Charles Kloet