Last November I bought myself a 2009 Volvo C30 R-Design and now that I’ve lived with it for the average gestation period for a human, I figured I’d do a little report on how I find living with one of these. It had 32,000 miles when I bought it, and it’s now up to 36,500. The C30 is kind of an odd duck. It comes from the Ford ownership days, so it sits on a parts bin chassis. But, it’s from the Mazda3, so it’s a darn good one. It’s got styling reminiscent of the P1800, but it doesn’t look retro. I actually think it’s the handsomest small car made this millennium. Dat ass is just magnificent, and you might say the front just looks like a regular old Volvo, but proportionally it all adds up perfectly. It’s clean, it has a cool natural rake. It’s just a damn fine looking machine. It’s definitely sporty without being a sports car which kind of matches the performance. It’s powered by the 230 horsepower T5, Volvo’s venerable turbo 5 cylinder. On paper it’s not a hot hatch motor. It’s got an extra cylinder and it says “Volvo” on it. But, it’s got some oomph. It’s more powerful than a GTI and, even though the Volvo is 300 lbs. heavier, it still gets to 60 quicker. It’s also a great sounding engine and has just enough turbo lag to be fun. Steering and throttle response is definitely not as crisp as in a true sports car, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with it. It’s just a Volvo, not a Lotus. The R-Design adds a stiffer “sports” suspension, and a different steering ratio along with some cosmetic stuff like aluminum pedals and blue gauges and front and rear spoilers. The slight handling improvements do make a difference. I really love taking the thing canyon carving. It’s a total blast and every time I’m impressed with how flat the car stays around the bends. I can totally keep up with the fancier German cars so long as The Stig isn’t driving them.
Mine has the 6-speed manual which I’ve read bad things about. But, again, for not a sports car, it’s fine. The gear ratios are appropriate and do the job. The shifter is loosey-goosey compared to a 911, with not the shortest throws, but it shifts smoothly and I’ve never lost a gear. Again, it does its job just fine and is better than anything in an economy car. It’s also a hell of a lot better than an automatic. Downshift into 2nd or 3rd and you’re going to go. The clutch has a good weight to it for my liking. I hate a soft clutch, and this one has plenty of feel with a definite catch point. Inside, the seats don’t have much apparent side bolstering, but Volvo always uses this lovely soft leather, and ample stuffing and I find myself sinking into it like it’s gently hugging me. I’ve never found myself getting thrown about when we’re taking turns hard. I live in L.A., so spend plenty of time in traffic, and I never get uncomfortable in this car.
The wheels are the optional 17”-ers. 18” was standard, but the slightly smaller and lighter wheels seems to suit the car better. A little more air also mitigates the stiff ride a bit. One day I may add coil overs and a tune if I feel ambitious, but, like I said, the car is fun as is.
It’s not the roomiest, most practical hatchback. That rear glass doesn’t make for the biggest opening, but with the back seats down, you can fit a good amount of shit in there. I’ve stuffed almost an entire Renault Le Car interior plus a bumper in it.
There are definitely metrics by which you can say one car is better than another. And, performance wise, there are sporty hatchbacks that are better than the C30. But, I like to think of every car as a unique experience. Cars can be slow, clunky, and handle poorly and still be loads of fun. The C30 is none of those things, but it has its faults. Overall, though, I really love being in it. And outside it, looking in its direction. These cars were definitely too expensive for what they are when they were new. But, they’re quite reasonable on the used market, so if you want something a little different, go find one.