Friday, July 2, 2010

Volvo C30: Not a lot of loot, but lots of scoot

Sacramento, California – I can’t say I wasn’t fairly warned.

The guy delivering the 2011 Volvo C30 T5 R-Design – think two-door hatchback/sports coupe – noted that the vehicle had “surprising pick-up.”

When someone who drives cars for a living tells you that a vehicle has “surprising pick-up,” it’s the equivalent of the doctor telling you “this might hurt a little bit.”

Both are gross understatements, and the test C30 lived up to the not-so-subtle advance billing.

First off, this is a splashy-looking sports coupe, with aggressive, VW GTI-like styling and a back end that resembles a contemporary sculpture of glass, bodywork and metal.

Stepping into the C30, you think: Nicely laid out, sporty, little comfort to be had by two backseat passengers and, well, it probably has a fair amount of scoot for a little car.

All that works, except for the last part. The car has a lot of scoot.

The C30 is a rally warrior that flings itself around with jarring abruptness. The turbocharged in-line 5 is rated at 227 horsepower, but the ride feels much more robust than that. From a standstill, the tester sprinted away from virtually everything with four wheels.

So nimble was it in surface street traffic that I had to take one hand off the wheel, lest I oversteer the car up and over the curbs.

On the interstates, a tiny blip on the throttle produced remarkable – and seemingly effortless – acceleration. And yet, interior cabin noise was minimal.

It messed with my mind. The only confirmation I had that the C30 was performing at such a high level on the highway was the speed with which cars in my rearview mirror became smaller and disappeared out of sight.

Pocket rocket? Yes, absolutely. This C30 will win you some acceleration bets … not that I’m advocating that sort of thing, mind you. It’s a blast. Like seeing a 5-5, 140-pound shortstop crush a 500-foot home run.

Yet fuel mileage is pretty good at 21 miles per gallon in the city and 30 mpg on the open road.

The starting fare for this fun front-driver is a reasonable $26,950, although you can get the lower-level T5 for $24,600, happily with the same engine.

The list of standard features on the tester was incredibly long, with enough safety, comfort and convenience features to keep a classroom full of Swedish automotive engineers busy for a year.

Two people can travel in extreme comfort. Four people not so much, and the cargo-carrying capability of the car is limited.

For some reason, the Sirius Satellite Radio in the tester would not pick up ANYTHING outside the Sacramento city limits, and it was shaky much of the time within the city’s borders. I thought Sirius had changed its name to Acquiring Signal Radio during my time in the car.

Sun spots? Aliens? I have no idea.

One other note: The underside at the top of the steering wheel (maybe eight inches across) is made of metal. Believe me when I tell you that you do not want to be touching that portion of the steering wheel after the C30 has been sitting in the hot sun for an hour or more. Hit the AC and let it bring the thing down to a less-than-sizzling temperature.

Otherwise, I like this C30. Great car for a young family, or a super second car for a family with grown-up kids.

As for the “surprising pick-up” part, that’s a nice Swedish surprise.

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