Always go for the “avoid highways” option on Google Maps.
I spent several hours bonding with this little beast on the winding back roads of Connecticut and Massachusetts on my way to the wedding yesterday. So many sweeping forested curves and rolling hills of Yankee farmland and no one in front of me - I felt like I was on a point to point stage in the old-school Need for Speed games. The posted speed limit for much of the trek was 50, so I could play around the upper margins of acceptability and have a grand ol’ time. And I did.
The negatives first - the steering is kind of numb and the turning radius is too big. So despite the good suspension and torquey motor, depending on the situation it doesn’t feel quite as nimble as it should. It sticks to the road on a fast curve, but I found myself gripping the wheel extra-hard in the vain hope that it would magically give me just a little more feedback. It didn’t work, and my knuckles got a little sore after a while.
I mentioned the wonky clutch before, but like any other it just takes some getting used to. I’m not good at heel-toeing, but it’s pretty hard here because the gas pedal is set a couple inches deeper than the brake in the footwell. So if you’re into that, this isn’t the best setup.
But! This car has many positives, 5 of the big ones set up in a straight line in the engine bay. My first introduction to Volvo’s five-cylinder wizardry was in my mom’s 1994 850 Turbo wagon - I believe that version was a 2.3 liter putting out something like 240 horses. It sounded great under duress and had plenty of pull, but it was a bitch to maintain and ate premium gas an at alarming rate sometimes. Still, what a machine. You’d go to pass someone on the highway and it felt like the car was hunkering down as you pressed the accelerator and pulled into the next lane, ready to pounce through the empty space ahead.
Thankfully, the numbers in the C30’s turbo engine are only slightly off that mark in a package that’s smaller, lighter and sportier, so it’s kind of a hoot. I had the opportunity to pass several slow-movers on dotted-yellow stretches - even when you’re cruising along in fifth gear at 45 miles an hour, you don’t need to downshift to get it done. Put the pedal down and the torque curve starts to grow as you pull out of the slipstream, peaking at just the right moment to propel you past that RV. It was more than a little addicting. The torque is just plain there, waiting for you in almost every gear (sixth is understandably meek below 45).
The ride is also great, firm enough to give you confidence in the twisties but soft enough that your ass isn’t aching after three hours, though some of that success can definitely be attributed to Volvo’s legendary seat builders. There is a little more body roll than I would like to see, but it never got out of hand.
The interior is overall a very nice place to be. I will acknowledge that some people find Volvo’s floating center console design to be boring and dated, especially with the phone pad smack in the middle. I love it though. More buttons! Restrained luxury is the name of the game, because there’s nothing rich people like to do more than restrain things (or people). But thankfully there’s no bondage motif inside, just aluminum, silver plastic and dark leather. It did make me feel like a moderately successful young businessman.
I’d give this little Swede a 7.5 out of 10. Great looks, great motor, but a little empty where it counts.