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2008 Volvo C30: Is This Niche Car Enough to Bring In New Blood?

Purely from an aesthetic perspective, this C30 is a gorgeous thing. Its super-Scandinavian modernist contours, its low-slung profile, and distinctive rear styling are all very novel and very appealing. Still, sales are confirming what we long suspected – that it’s ultimately very much a niche product. We expect Volvo to sell about 4,000 examples of this Swedish hot hatch in 2008. Even if the economy hadn’t crashed this year, we doubt its sales would have been much higher.


The C30 is intended to bring a younger and hipper buyer to this traditionally very rational brand. Think Volvo, and you automatically think of safety. Make no mistake, the C30 is very safe, but it was among the first Volvos to signal a new era of design flair from the brand that we’ll continue to see in the upcoming XC60 compact crossover.


Possibly the car’s best view, showing off its novel rear light and hatch design and its prominent shoulders


The rear hatch design hearkens back to the old P1800 without being overtly retro

Essentially, the C30 is a 3-door hatch version of the S40 sedan and V50 wagon. That being the case, it sits on the platform of the European Ford Focus, also known as the C1 platform. Incidentally, the Mazda3 also uses this platform. All of the cars on this platform are great drivers, with really accurate steering, enthusiastic but predictable handling, and strong refinement. Our C30 was equipped with the optional 18-inch wheels, which made the ride a little jittery over some surfaces, but overall the little hatchback had a refined big car feel most of the time.
The engine is a 227HP turbocharged inline-5 that is a veteran of the Volvo lineup. It has a nice yet muted snarl to it when pushed, but given the horsepower rating we were surprised it didn’t feel faster. It’s not slow by any means, but given the car’s size and specs, we were expecting more performance. A Volkswagen GTI, by comparison, will run rings around it.
This editor absolutely loved the interior. Being a huge fan of modernist design, the floating aluminum center stack was just too cool for words. Volvo actually first introduced this design cue in the S40 and V50 back in 2004 and is continuing to proliferate it on all new Volvos since.


The floating center stack is so…Scandinavian!

The orthopedically-designed seats, long a Volvo strength, are supremely comfortable. Many people are fans of the brand just for the seats alone! The rear only seats two people – but each get their own comfortable buckets. It’s not particularly spacious or easy to get back there (it is, after all, a 2-door), but once back there it’s actually fairly comfortable as long as you’re not too tall.

Rear seating area is not particularly spacious, but the individual buckets are very comfy

Ultimately, it’s a very likable car – one that this editor would personally love to own – but it’s a car with a very limited audience in the US. As we pointed out earlier, the C30 is meant to capture a young, design-savvy buyer into the Volvo brand. However, when the Volvo brand’s image is so rational rather than emotional, it will take a lot more than a car with as limited appeal as the C30 to really bring big numbers of young and hip buyers into the brand.
And why is C30 so limited in appeal then? For starters, it’s pretty expensive for what many Americans would perceive as a compact hatchback with only two doors. Our tester retailed for nearly thirty-large, and that didn’t even include leather or a trip computer. It’s rather similar in size and price to the similarly niche-oriented Audi A3…except that the A3 has four doors (plus a hatch), making it a lot more useful for those social young buyers, who tend to travel in packs.
In order for Volvo to really extend its reach into the hearts and minds of youthful hip buyers, it will take more than a car like C30, no matter how cool a small minority thinks it is. Having said that, if you’re a design geek Europhile like I am, chances are you will love it. Buy it and bask in the feelings of exclusivity that come with being the only one on your block (or maybe your entire city) with one of these stylish Swedes.

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