If you're concerned that cars all seem to look the same these days, you should take a look at the 2013 Volvo C30. Sporting a rakish rear roof line with a unique all-glass lift gate, the C30 draws inspiration from the classic Volvo 1800ES of the early 1970s rather than today's cookie-cutter cars.
So why hasn't Volvo sold more of these zesty little hatches? We can assure you it's not for lack of power: The C30's turbocharged inline 5-cylinder serves up plenty of entertaining thrust. The fuel economy's not bad, either. A more likely culprit is the C30's premium price, which probably makes buyers less forgiving of shortcomings such as the outdated navigation system and the surprisingly inconvenient cargo hold.
But the C30 looks great inside and out, it's comfortable and it can go pretty fast. And the C30's starting price of roughly $25,000 seems reasonable.
What's New for 2013?
The C30 is mostly not revised for the new model year. The hatchback's only notable changes are newly standard headlight washers and automatic wipers.
What We Like
Cool styling; slick cabin; powerful, personality-filled turbocharged inline 5-cylinder; comfy front seats
What We Don't
Old-school optional navigation system; one of the least practical hatchbacks you can buy
All C30 models come with front-wheel drive and a turbocharged 5-cylinder rated at 227 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque. A 6-speed manual transmission is standard, but you can pay extra for a 5-speed automatic. Fuel economy isn't great, but it's not bad, either, for a turbocharged engine that's getting on in years. The manual's rated at 21 miles per gallon city/29 mpg hwy, while the automatic comes in at 21 mpg city/30 mpg hwy.
Options & Standard Features
The 2013 Volvo C30 is offered in two basic models -- T5 and R-Design.
Base-level T5 models ($26,500) are generously equipped. They come standard with air conditioning, 17-inch alloy wheels, Bluetooth, a USB port, remote keyless entry, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, remote keyless entry and split-folding rear seats.
Shoppers who step up to the sporty R-Design ($28,500) get leather upholstery, sport suspension, 18-in wheels, aluminum interior trim, fog lights and a rear spoiler.
Three packages are optional on both models. The Premier Package costs $1,600 extra and adds a power driver's seat, a power sunroof, a cargo cover and -- in T5 models -- aluminum interior trim. The Premier Plus Package ($1,100 above the Premier) adds keyless access with push-button starting, steering-linked xenon headlights, LED daytime running lights and a power passenger seat. At the top end is the Platinum Package ($2,200 above Premier Plus), which includes navigation and an upgraded sound system.
We don't usually say this about hatchbacks, but the C30 really isn't practical for hauling stuff. Beneath that sexy glass lift gate, the cargo bay measures only 12.9 cu ft, which is barely more than you get in a typical economy sedan's trunk. Flip down the 50/50 split folding rear seat backs, and there's just 20.2 cu ft. Even MINI claims a maximum of 24.0 cu ft for its Cooper Hardtop.
The 2013 Volvo C30 comes with standard stability control and six airbags. Although the government has not crash tested a C30 lately, the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the C30 its top rating of Good in every category.
Behind the Wheel
The R-Design's aggressive looks might have you thinking the C30 is a real "hot hatch," but this Volvo is fancier than that. We mean that the C30 isn't some hard-core boy racer set up for track days you'll never attend. Instead, it's set up for daily life. The C30 can carry decent speed through a corner, but it's just as much about navigating the urban commute or making sure you're refreshed at the end of a long trip. It's an excellent real-world package.
The front seats will be a highlight of C30 ownership for years to come, delivering almost peerless comfort on long trips. The 3-spoke steering wheel likewise strikes a pleasant balance between sportiness and comfort. The back seat is certainly tight on legroom, but if the front occupants don't mind sliding their chairs up a bit, rear passenger space is otherwise adequate.
From a driver's-eye view, the C30's cockpit looks decidedly upscale and modern. The signature "floating" center control panel adds to the effect, and we continue to appreciate the unique font that Volvo has used for years on its gauges and buttons.
Our main issue is with the navigation system. For one, it lives on top of the dash and flips up when in use, so it's already like a portable navigation unit. Also, the controls consist of buttons behind the steering wheel spokes -- you know, where you can't see them. Throw in the system's rudimentary graphics and you have an option we recommend avoiding.
Other Cars to Consider
FIAT 500 Abarth -- The little FIAT is cheaper than the C30, and it certainly feels the part inside. But we like its spunky look and turbocharged verve.
MINI Cooper S -- The MCS remains one of the world's great all-around cars, combining scintillating performance with stellar fuel economy. The Volvo is much better on the highway, though, and we already discussed the back-seat situation.
Volkswagen GTI -- Probably the C30's biggest problem, the GTI combines Volvo-like refinement with a touch more athleticism, and you can even get it with four doors. However, you can't get anything like the C30's unique style.
We're real fans of the base C30 with the 5-speed manual. For the price of a Cooper S or a GTI, you get a satisfying, great-looking hatch with inimitable Swedish style.