Volvo long staked its reputation on safety, so you would not expect a hot hatchback to come from the Swedish automaker. But fit the little C30 with Volvo's R-Design trim and give it the new Polestar engine software, and the car becomes a delight to shoot down a twisty road.
The car did not make any more noise than a standard C30, the only things announcing the extra power being a blue badge on its butt and ample response to the gas pedal. The side-grip shifter for the six-speed manual slipped through the gate with European precision, but the most surprising thing was the handling. Banging the car through a series of tight turns, I found it held on well, and had plenty of overhead to go even faster.
The C30's cabin appointments reflect Volvo's premium car position, a big step up from other hot hatchbacks on the market. It loses some practicality with the split rear seats, limiting passenger room to four, but who really wants to stuff a fast little car with an extra 200 pounds of human?
It falls down a bit on the cabin tech, with a navigation system that is basically a portable device attached to the dashboard, and a completely separate interface for the stereo and phone system. There are some useful features here, including an iPod port and a Bluetooth phone system, but it lacks many newer features found among competitors.
Check out CNET's review of the 2012 Volvo C30 R-Design.