What is it that makes a person want a Volvo? Sure, thereâ€™s the safety factor, as these cars are known for saving lives with their side-impact beams, state-of-the-art seatbelts, and never-optional ABS and traction control. But up until a few years ago these cars were literally square. If you had a family (and graying temples), you felt at home in the boxy Parentmobile. It suited you, and the confidence of driving around with so many reinforcements shielding your heirsâ€™ bodies from harm resulted in a reduced number of worry lines on your middle-aged face.
That was the way it was. Life went on. As sure as the winter woods had sleeping bears, Volvos had corners, and the world expected it. But then something changed, slowly at first. In the name of aerodynamics crossed with a dose of gettinâ€™ with the times, some of those Volvo right-angles began to soften a bit. As if that wasnâ€™t enough, along came a Volvo SUV in 2003, followed by the release of a hard-top convertible for 2006. The times they were a-changing â€“ once again.
The latest old-new trick for the Swedes (who hadnâ€™t made a trunkless two-door in a few decades) is a 216-horsepower hatchback called the C30. An early form of this vehicle was unveiled as a concept car at the 2006 Detroit Auto Show, and it had its official unveiling last September in Paris.
By manufacturing a vehicle that is compact (and adorable), efficient (and cool), and affordable, with an MSRP starting under $25,000 (and itâ€™s European!), Volvo intends to win over a totally new clientele. The C30 is aimed at under-35s for whom owning this make of car never crossed their minds â€“ although they may have spent the â€˜80s and â€˜90s riding around safely in the backseat of their parentsâ€™ squared-off edition.
Speaking of those parents, now that their nest is empty they too are a C30 marketing target. This probably makes it clear to you that the two-seat back row is not that spacious, and thatâ€™s OK â€“ there are plenty of other Volvos that were made for transporting offspring. But that cargo space is perfect for a singleâ€™s or coupleâ€™s groceries or weekend gear, and when more space is needed the back seats oblige with their consent to be folded flat.
I admit that Iâ€™ve never owned a hatchback, mainly because I just didnâ€™t care for the look of them. Or maybe it was simply the word â€œhatchback.â€ Not that I can pinpoint exactly what it is that I donâ€™t like about that word, but I will say that I understand why the alternate word â€œliftbackâ€ exists. But while Iâ€™m in the mood for admissions I have to say that this is really a darned fine-looking hatchback. Without the opportunity yet to see one reflected in my rear-view mirror I can still say, thanks to photographs, that the front end is substantial, maybe even formidable (relatively speaking, of course â€“ itâ€™s no cowcatcher). But that Volvo logo with its trademark slash, which denotes the Swedish symbol for this solid makeâ€™s representative iron, gets instant respect every time (maybe even from Saab owners).
The Europeans know all this, since the C30 is for sale there already. Peppy in drive as well as looks, it is powered by Volvoâ€™s T5 engine, the turbocharged 5-cylinder found on the S40 sedan and the V50 wagon, the smallest model in each of those classes. It can be purchased with the standard 6-speed manual or optional 5-speed Geartronic automatic, which allows for manual shifting at the driverâ€™s preference (I dare you to do it without pressing your left foot down on that imaginary clutch pedal). You can expect city mileage in the low 20s and highway mileage around 30.
If youâ€™re in North America and you want one of these babies for sure youâ€™d better get your name on a list, since Volvo does not plan to ship that many of them over here at first (now thereâ€™s even more incentive to get one â€“ youâ€™ll stand out in the crowd). But with fuel prices where they are, and with the hybrid craze not so crazy anymore, itâ€™d be a surprise if the C30 doesnâ€™t take off in the U.S.